Ellipses and I Have Come a Long Way

Industrial Design Internship - Aisha Thaj - WMU Student

Industrial Design Internship - Ellipses and I Have Come a Long Way

By Aisha Thaj, Industrial Design Intern

How do you start a blog post? On the same day you’re saying goodbye. Like a journey map, I’ll start with my desire for an industrial design internship.

As a first year Product Design student at WMU looking for an industrial design internship, I was apprehensive about all that I didn’t know and eager to learn everything I possibly could. After switching my major from Chemical Engineering to Product Design, I knew I wanted to gain as much real-world experience as I could. I wanted an idea of what being an Industrial Design intern really entails, more than what a classroom can provide. I found this, and so much more, at Tekna.

Industrial Design Internship - Aisha Thaj - WMU Student

First Impressions

My first week here was a whirlwind of people and projects. Hearing each designer describe their project and work process opened my eyes to the nuances of the field. I sat in on some conference calls (ooh, so official!) and picked up some ID terms and concepts right away: the subtle consistency of pattern and shape in a product line, what constitutes visual tension and flow, and the balance of a client/design firm relationship.

With very little (really, no) product design sketching under my belt, Simon’s “Crash Course in Drawing” (enrollment and registration pending for the next batch of students) is where my internship at Tekna really started. With many designers offering feedback and constructive criticism all summer, I don’t know how I’m supposed to go back to just one product design professor in a classroom full of design students.

The Project

The overarching focus of my internship was a tangent of an internal design project that Tekna is working on. I had grand aspirations for a crazy, sculptural piece that would blow everyone’s socks off. But it only took a few hours of market research and googling to adjust my expectations to a much more realistic end. It also helped that I was taking a “Materials and Processes in Manufacturing” class at the time.

After an initial image collection, we went through a few rounds of inspiration boarding, narrowing in on top priorities for form and function. Each discussion led to more questions about customer use and cultivating delightful moments vs. pain points…. which led to a brainstorming session…which meant figuring out how to run a brainstorming session. I learned about the balance of asking questions that are specific enough to move the project forward but vague enough to generate an unbiased discussion. Through this process, I discovered new ideas, new questions, and new problems.

Thank you, I have learned so much during my industrial design internship! I now understand that good design is a mix of plenty of research, scrapped ideas and countless sketches, along with engineering/functionality considerations. From a skills standpoint, my sketching has improved, and I was able to dip my toes into the world of modeling software. But even more importantly, I have a better idea of my career goals with something tangible I can work towards―and that makes my experience at Tekna invaluable. Thank you, Tekna!

Engineering Lunch & Learn: Exploring the Fluidized Bed Phenomenon

Fluid Bed Phenomenon

Engineering Lunch & Learn: Exploring the Fluidized Bed Phenomenon

By Kelly Oswald

The engineering team at Tekna conducts monthly Lunch & Learns where one of us presents on a technical topic to educate the rest of the team over lunch. At a recent Lunch & Learn session, we wanted to try something a little bit different: a proof-of-theory building exercise. (A fluidized bed occurs in conditions where a solid—in this case sand—behaves like a fluid). This concept is most often seen in material handling (e.g., to efficiently move grain in a silo) and was used recently in a hospital bed by Hill-Rom designed to help prevent pressure sores.

Fluidized Bed Phenomenon - Engineering Lunch & Learn

Once we were prepped with the what and the why, we were given the necessary materials to create a small-scale bed. It was a fantastic team-building challenge with real-world experience in theoretical behavior. Check out our work in action here:

To learn more about the fluidized bed phenomenon, take a look at this video by Mark Rober, the American engineer/inventor and YouTube personality who inspired our Lunch & Learn session.

A Common Thread: We Love Learning New Skills Together

Industrial Sewing

A Common Thread: We Love Learning New Skills Together

By Kyle Spieker, Senior Industrial Designer

Over the years, our shared interest in sports, travel, fashion, and exploring national parks has left us curious about the development of the soft-goods products we were using. But as much as we searched, industrial sewing classes seemed to be non-existent amidst a sea of quilting workshops. While we all appreciate a cozy quilt in the thick of a Michigan winter, we were looking to gain insights around the soft-goods products we’ve grown to love and trust—like our go-to day packs or our broken-in motorcycle gloves.

Industrial Sewing - A Common Thread - Love Learning New Skills

We finally struck gold with an article about a new GRCC industrial sewing course and decided to reach out to Blue Marble Threads founder, Camille Metzger (the mastermind behind GRCC’s curriculum), to customize a two-day class for Tekna’s Innovation team. It wouldn’t be long before we set out for Grand Rapids to collectively broaden our understanding of soft-goods development and production.

We spent the first day following Camille’s signature “Crash Course with a Sewing Machine,” which covered the basics of working with a walking foot machine. On day two, we learned about seams/assembly methods, pattern development, and tech packs. We also gained experience with the production/prototyping process. The classes were both enlightening and a lot of fun. We left feeling comfortable working on industrial sewing machines, confident of our new skills, and excited to learn more. Thank you, Camille, for sharing your expertise with our team!

Engineering Work that Inspires

Engineering Internship

Engineering Internship that Inspires

By Emily Gruss, Engineering Intern

As I’ve approached my senior year, I’ve frequently thought about what life will be like once I enter the professional world after graduation. I chose to study engineering because it seemed to be an interesting career path that could also offer job stability. Yet the two internships that I held in my first few years of college resulted in a disheartening lesson: what I want to do as an engineer wasn’t something that the typical engineer gets to do on a daily basis. Growing up, I had cultivated a passion for art and innovation, things that I hoped to incorporate into a reliable vocation. But I was beginning to think that the concept I had in my head of what engineers do was completely fictitious and that perhaps I had picked the wrong profession to pursue.

Engineering Internship - Emily Gruss - WMU Student

Towards the end of my junior year, I had an interview for an engineering internship with Tekna. Going into my interview, my expectations were admittedly low. I knew nothing about Tekna and assumed that it wouldn’t be much different from my other internship experiences—I couldn’t have been more wrong! After talking with the team, seeing the facilities, and catching a glimpse of the atmosphere at Tekna, I knew it was where I wanted to work. I excitedly accepted the engineering internship offer and anxiously awaited my first day.

As soon as I started, I was assigned to a variety of projects that involved testing, prototyping, sketching, and much more. I was asked to solve unfamiliar problems and given the time to learn and develop unique perspectives based on my own observations and experiences. The project managers encouraged me to tackle challenges without constraints, which led to inspiring collaborative discussions and original ideas. For the first time, I felt excited to come to work instead of counting down the hours until the end of the day.

Now, as I enter my last year of school, I begin the semester with a renewed interest in engineering. Although I still have some uncertainties about my future after graduation, I no longer doubt my career path. Moving forward, I will continue to nurture my curiosity and push the limits of my imagination, just as my time at Tekna taught me.

Tekna’s Diverse, Welcoming Culture Leaves a Lasting Impression

Amy Liang - Diverse Culture

Tekna's Diverse, Welcoming Culture Leaves a Lasting Impression

By Amy Liang, Industrial Design Intern

I have never consumed so much coffee or as many donuts as I did during my seven-week tenure at Tekna. But besides acquiring a caffeine dependence, I’ve also amassed a broad set of design skills and developed a deep appreciation for Kalamazoo and the friendships I’ve formed here—all of which will stay with me as I leave Tekna to enter my senior year of college.

Amy Liang Design Intern - Industrial Designer - Graphic Design - Research


Even before coming to Tekna, I knew this place would be a perfect fit. Tekna had been looking for an industrial design intern who could also participate in graphic design and design research projects. In previous internship interviews, I had always voiced my interest in design research, as well as my graphic design experience. Yet other interviewers didn’t seem as convinced that these were important assets. (I got a lot of “yeah,” “sure,” and “okay” responses when I mentioned the value of understanding visual brand language and GUI from an industrial design perspective, or the benefits of talking one-on-one with users to understand why they like, or dislike, a product’s design). I had begun to wonder whether the other firms were only looking to hire a “sketch monkey.” ???? But at Tekna, I could explore all three disciplines—industrial design, graphic design, and design research—because each project I touched placed an almost equal emphasis on all three. In good design, the three fields are co-dependent. Without enough research, you can’t make forms that address the user’s needs; and without clear, visual communication design, a user won’t be able to understand how to use the product. (There’s also the engineering side, making the actual thing work…I’m just glad Tekna has a really talented engineering team). That being said, I got to use and develop a range of skills: from sketching, to Photoshop rendering, to making prototype and CAD models, to crafting color schemes, to creating illustrations and icons for packaging design and banners, to marketing and user research, to presenting concepts, to playing with blocks, and to almost riding a unicycle (seriously!) … I really feel like I got to do it all—all while working on numerous real-world projects encompassing medical, cooking, and children’s toys. Without a doubt, I received great exposure to the varied and colorful life of a Tekna team member.


Another perk of my internship was moving to Kalamazoo for the summer. As a Hoosier, I thought I knew Michigan pretty well; it’s that neighboring state with the dunes where you go on Sundays if you want to buy liquor. However, I was pleasantly surprised by Kalamazoo’s vibrant culture. I could go on and on about how much I fell in love with the city: its local art scene (I saw an exhibit by my one of my favorite artists, Hung Liu, at the Kalamazoo Institute of Art), the world-class food and beer, the yoga and meditation groups, the parks, the number of adorable second-hand shops and cafes. There was definitely no shortage of things to do on the weekends.


But what really made the internship special was the genuine camaraderie I experienced here. During an interview with a different design firm, I had asked about work atmosphere and if employees felt encouraged to share personal projects and interests. The interviewer responded that the busy office environment was not conducive to this approach. While I can attest to the importance of diligence and a highly-focused work ethic, I also recognize the value of exploring and celebrating personal interests in the workplace. At Tekna, learning about my co-workers and their various extracurricular hobbies (e.g., rock climbing, native gardening, bike racing, knife making, fixing cars, yoga and photography) helped me see even more clearly how diverse outside interests both drive and bind successful creative teams. I would socialize often with my Tekna friends, grabbing a drink or catching a movie. And when a personal matter popped up into my life unexpectedly, members of my Tekna family reached out to share their support and encouragement. I’m truly grateful to have had the opportunity to intern at Tekna and will enter my last year of undergraduate studies confident that I have “eternal friends” out in the design community cheering me on.

“How Lucky I am to Have Something That Makes Saying Goodbye Hard” – Winnie the Pooh

Tekna Welcome Packet

"How Lucky I am to Have Something that Makes Saying Goodbye Hard" – Winnie the Pooh

By Sophie Fain, Winter Design Intern

When applying to be a winter design intern this past October, I came across a speech from the former Chief Marketing Officer of Frog Design, Tim Leberecht. He shared a story about two design companies undergoing a merger. In hope of rallying excitement and kicking off the merger on an upbeat note, the new company leadership planned to send every employee a token orange balloon representing the unified brand. But at the last minute, the idea was scrapped due to budget limitations. Sometime later the merger fell apart, with both companies experiencing significant financial losses.

Winter Design Intern - Sophie Fain - Industrial Designer

While the balloons were clearly not an essential component of the merger, Leberecht believed that it was a “cut the balloons” mentality that led to the merger’s demise. His point being that employee investment—no matter how small—is what sets a company apart. This takeaway really stuck with me through my internship at Tekna. I can attest to the importance of employee investment, how going the extra mile fosters talent, confidence, and loyalty. On my first day at Tekna’s Innovation Studio, I was greeted with a stack of personalized business cards and a welcome kit that set the tone for the next several months where I would call Tekna home.

Since January, I’ve been included in numerous projects across a diverse set industries, from medical to consumer. I’ve worked through iterative mock-ups, improved my CAD modeling skills, assisted with hands-on experiments/testing, and produced more sketches than I can count. I’ve taken part in competitive benchmarking and brainstorming sessions, synthesized research, and created cohesive client presentations. All along the way, I received insightful feedback and advice that challenged and inspired me. Each of these experiences has contributed to my newly holistic view of the design process, but it was the direction and mentoring that simply cannot compare to anything I’ve experienced in a university setting.

A testimony to Tekna’s generous investment in my education and experience, I’ve felt more like a teammate than a design intern since day one. From orchestrating manufacturing tours and chili cookoffs to challenging me to a hand of Dutch blitz—or group yoga—during lunch breaks, the people at Tekna have managed to create a culture that is equally fun and inclusive as it is hard working. It didn’t take long for me to recognize how lucky I’ve been to collaborate with such exceptionally creative and caring individuals. Whether it’s an orange balloon or a business card with an orange dot, thank you Tekna for investing in me beyond my expectations and for setting the bar so high!

From Designing Menus to Designing Product Experiences

Bryce Porter Reviewing Design Concepts

From Designing Menus to Designing Product Experiences

By Bryce Porter, Lead Industrial Designer

Back in January 2008, I was fortunate enough to contribute to the original HopCat opening in Grand Rapids, working alongside founder Mark Sellers, Garry Boyd, Chris Freeman, and others to flip the location at 25 Ionia in an aggressive 60 days. We completely gutted the facility, hired and trained staff, ordered equipment, and wrote menus—even installing a massive Chicago-built custom bar by hand.

HopCat Chef - Bryce Porter - Designing Menus to Product Experiences

At the Kalamazoo opening last week, I had a great time reconnecting with the original crew while sampling a few new offerings and some old favorites. As their founding chef, I helped develop recipes for many of the staple items that live on today. I still love visiting HopCat’s eclectic, welcoming space and feel it’s a fantastic fit for Kalamazoo’s vibrant craft beer and restaurant scene.

When HopCat opened in Grand Rapids eight years ago, I had been in the food industry for 13 years and was already in the process of transitioning my career to industrial design. I see many similarities in creating meaningful experiences around consumer products and menus—and with HopCat’s newest location right here in Kalamazoo, you can expect some exciting Tekna/HopCat collaborations in the near future!

The Vacuum Cannon Chronicle

Vacuum cannon pointed at a pingpong paddle

The Vacuum Cannon Chronicle

By Jonathan Penrod, Engineering Intern

When I applied for an engineering internship at Tekna, I had no idea what projects awaited me. Long calculations and paperwork were at the forefront of my imagination. But rather than a tedious stream of desk work, I’ve found myself engaged in interesting assignments every week—the most memorable involving a vacuum, PVC tubing, and a Ping-Pong ball.

One of my advisors had seen a video of engineers shooting a Ping-Pong ball through a Ping-Pong paddle and challenged me to reenact this during an “entertainment break” at a team luncheon.

A Method to Our Madness

First, I’ll tell you about the working concept behind our cannon design. The ends of a 1 ½” PVC pipe are sealed using tinfoil and duct tape after a Ping-Pong ball is placed inside. The PVC pipe has a pneumatic fitting in its wall allowing a vacuum pump to remove air molecules. This means that when either tinfoil cap is punctured, outside air rushes in, filling the vacuum space and forcing the Ping-Pong ball out the opposite end. The Ping-Pong ball accelerates as quickly as the air enters the chamber, as there’s hardly any air resistance on the vacuum side of the ball. This experiment can accelerate a Ping-Pong ball to over 400 mph!

To give the same ball more kinetic energy, we needed to accelerate it faster than the speed of sound. This poses a problem, as air does not naturally fill a vacuum any faster than the speed of sound due to micro eddies and swirls propagating the air. But the supersonic barrier can be broken if we use a converging/diverging nozzle. When a volume of gas (air in our case) moves through a narrowing tube, the particles accelerate due to the conservation of mass (the same volume of air that goes in one end has to come out the other). If the tube begins to diverge or get bigger, the air particles traveling subsonic begin to slow down.

Diverging Air(y) Quite Contrary

Something strange happens when air is traveling at the speed of sound: in the condensing nozzle (going from big to small), the air particles do not accelerate because they are already traveling at the speed of sound. If the same supersonic air passes through a diverging nozzle (going from small to big), the pressure of the gas decreases and the particles actually accelerate! Think of it as cars in a traffic jam on the freeway, when suddenly six lanes open up. The little air particles spread out and begin traveling faster. While this seems counter-intuitive, coupling a converging nozzle with a diverging nozzle actually accelerates air to the speed of sound on the converging side, but then it diverges and continues accelerating past supersonic speed—exactly the behavior we sought for our cannon!

Roll Out the Barrels

I designed a converging/diverging nozzle with SolidWorks and 3D printed a part overnight. I epoxied this nozzle into a section of PVC tubing and connected it to the end of our vacuum chamber. On the other side of the nozzle, I used a union to sandwich our tinfoil seal, which held back the pressure from a final pressure chamber. So now we have a vacuum tube for the Ping-Pong ball, a nozzle, and a pressure barrier made from aluminum foil that withholds the pressure from a final chamber. The idea is that I can pump up the pressure until it ruptures the middle aluminum barrier. The pressure difference will cause air to accelerate into the converging/diverging nozzle, which speeds the air past the sound barrier, potentially propelling the Ping-Pong ball out the barrel faster than the speed of sound.


After assembling pneumatic fittings, pressure gages, PVC couplings, and hoses, I decided that the cannon was finally ready to go. I ran about 30 tests to figure out how many sheets of aluminum foil would be adequate for the vacuum chamber end caps—settling on three for the barrel end and 10 between the pressure chamber and the nozzle. We set up a few cameras and even included a thermal imaging unit to capture the cannon in all its glory! Filling the pressure chamber for the final run was verysatisfying. The pressure climbed to just over 80psi before rupturing the aluminum seal with a loud crack. Different runs sent the Ping-Pong ball through a pizza box, into a block of structure foam, and cracked the handle of a Ping-Pong paddle. While our process didn’t quite achieve the same clean hole that we saw in the initial video, we decided that we could improve our design in the future.

Team Tekna for the Win

Reflecting on our cannon vacuum experiment, I’m amazed at how unique and fun the experience has been—where else but Tekna would I be able to build cannons for lunch entertainment? Ultimately, aside from the good times, I also gained some very valuable lessons. The project pushed me creatively, mathematically and also helped me understand how to pace my research while adhering to deadlines and a budget —all while working in a team environment. I am so grateful for the resourcefulness and fun that Tekna encourages every day, and I can’t wait for the next chapter!

Vacuum Cannon - Engineering Internship - Jonathan Penrod

Teams that Weld Together…

A Tekna team member welding

Teams that Weld Together...

Tekna’s professional development “from innovation to realization” model plays out in every aspect of our business. We encourage our people to continually learn new skills, expanding the boundaries of their functional roles. We also believe in helping them do this by investing in professional development that is both relevant and fun!

Professional Development - Teams that Weld Together...

We decided to try something a little different this year and chartered a custom welding class with Kalamazoo Valley Community College. Over a five-week period, a group of nine designers and engineers gained exposure to commonly used manufacturing methods including: MIG, TIG, Plasma, and Oxy-fuel cutting and brazing processes. Coursework was divided between classroom lectures and shop time with welders.

The result? New friendships forged (pun intended). Knowledge gained. A great time had by all!

Licensed to Grill

Hot dogs grilling on a traeger

Licensed to Grill

We were invited to join Kevin Laroc of Kevlar BBQ for our second Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS) sanctioned event. Dan and Eric spent the weekend at the Blues, Brews & Barbecue competition observing and assisting with food prep and cooking.

Kevlar cooks with Traeger grills, sporting two of the new Pro 34’s. The crew cooked up ribs, brisket, chicken, and pork, putting another long night of smoking meats in the books!

Smoke Off - 2016 - Tekna BBQ Competition Design Research