Mathematician’s Talent Adds Up To Customer Savings

John H
John with his Nonlinear Perpendicular Least Squared Line Formula

John Hanenburg, Wyoming Machine’s cost estimator and manufacturing engineer, developed a proclivity for math at an early age—very early. As he explains it, “My mom told me that one day when I was three years old I was staring at a calendar. After a while I looked at her and asked, ‘is the next number [on the calendar] 32?’”…Yes: solving his first math problem at age three.

So it’s no surprise that John excelled in math throughout school, as well as when a mathematics and industrial engineering major at St. Cloud State University. Interestingly, throughout college (and high school) John took extra math classes to, as he says, “keep my grades up.” Math comes that naturally to him. He graduated from SCSU in 1978.

Although (unfortunately) many don’t associate math with creativity—John has always taken, as he calls it, “a clever” approach to math. One of his favorite school activities was to deduce related math ideas—beyond the teacher’s, or the text book’s, math idea. John did this regularly in math classes. In fact, on occasion professors would ask John, after presenting an idea to the class, “John, do you have any insights to add?” And John, of course, did.

Not surprisingly, this math guru has taken the same approach to estimating at WMI. Cost estimating is, indeed, all about math. It’s also all about finding the most effective and efficient approach to creating a part.

No doubt, purchasers and engineers want quotes fast and flawless. That’s why WMI customers highly value WMI’s quote turnaround time and accuracy—all made possible by John’s system and WMI’s teamwork approach. From his system, to engineers, shop floor technicians and many more at Wyoming Machine, all contribute to better parts at a lower cost for customers.

Imagine the endless array of options considered when manufacturing a part. John notes that, theoretically, there are an infinite number of variables. There are choices involving processes like shearing, lasering, punching, forming, rolling, hardware assembling, sawing, machining and welding. And thereafter, there are many choices for how a specific process will be performed. As John says, “You need to consider as many factors as possible to have the estimate as accurate as possible.” For example, here are the factors John uses to estimate just the forming process:

Material thickness, size of part, number of bends, number of bend radii, number of operators, bands 90-130, ends nonsquare to back stop, bends with gooseneck, bends with tip-up punch, bends with window punch, bends with risers, bends with special forming of offset dies, bends with Tuff Brake lining film, dimensions with tolerances of .029-.020, dimensions with tolerances of .019-.010, bends with lift 49”-72”. Bends with lift 72” to 96”, bends with lift 96” to 120”, bends with backup strip, number of hems or bends 130-180, number of open hems, number of back bends.

That’s 22 considerations for forming/bending, alone, and they’re all critical to the estimate. Mind-blowing? All in a day’s work for John.

It‘s easy to see why John wanted a faster, more accurate way to estimate projects, beyond what the old hard-copy template or a traditional spreadsheet offer. (Of course it didn’t hurt that it was another chance to apply his creativity.) Over the course of 20 years or so, John developed a proprietary template with a set of standards that made estimating at least three times faster, while reducing the margin for error many times over. John’s system simplifies even the most detailed custom orders, for which Wyoming Machine is so well-known.

Wyoming Machine Co-President Traci Tapani sees additional benefits: “John and his math ability have helped bring consistency to Wyoming Machine’s estimating process. Results are consistent from one estimator to another and new employees can be trained faster and easier than in the past.”

John’s math isn’t limited to his occupation. For him, it’s a passion. He has been a member of the Math Association of America—North Central Section. Although the association consists primarily of math professors, John has presented papers at their conferences, including his first while a student at SCSU. And it doesn’t stop there.

On Feb. 8 John gave a presentation at SCSU on how he uses math as an estimator. He addressed a group of 30-plus mathematicians and an engineer—mostly professors. The title is innocent enough, “Creative Mathematical Solutions in a Manufacturing Environment.” It’s the abstract that reveals his depth:  “…Often, a least squared polynomial is not a good enough solution. I will present a couple methods that I use to generate Exponential or Power approximating equations. Also, how I generate Weighted Least Squared approximating equations and Perpendicular Least Squared approximating equations…”

Old Man John
Never underestimate an old man with a mathematics degree.

Whatever formula John is using, it’s clear that he’s got a formula for success and is a highly valued employee. According to Lori Tapani, WMI Co-President, “John is a fascinating human! Most people look at a math problem and think, “what’s the formula for that?” John looks at a given formula, dissects it to determine what is working and what isn’t, and then develops a whole new formula that is better than the original. One Friday John came to work wearing a t-shirt that said, ‘Never underestimate an old man with a mathematics degree’ – 100% truth.”

John and his wife, Susan, live outside Stacy. They have two adult children, Michelle and Eric.

The Secret to Inspiring a New Generation of Manufacturers: Amber Carlson

As programs ensue to showcase manufacturing careers to middle and high school students, the question remains, “How do you get kids who know nothing about manufacturing to be interested in simply checking it out?” There are a variety of ways, but if you’ve got one hour to inspire 10 eighth grade young women, bet on Amber Carlson, Wyoming Machine’s project analyst, to make it happen.

When Rich Wessels, Career Navigator for the Manufacturing Careers Pathway program at White Bear Lake, Minn., Public Schools, invited Wyoming Machine to speak to eighth grade women about manufacturing careers, he needed someone who could relate to these young students, and motivate them. The Pathway program at WBL is a manufacturer’s dream-come-true. In addition to a new curriculum that appeals to both hands-on types and math lovers, WBL School has equipment the envy of schools everywhere including CNC machines, a virtual welder and 3D printers—talk about real-world manufacturing experience. WBL’s 25-year veteran technology teacher, Delroy Nyren, is well-suited to lead the program. Thus, their need to inspire younger students to pursue these classes.

Amber, 29, has risen through the ranks of manufacturing in 13 short years. Since beginning as a “wire wrapper” summer high-school intern, Amber has worked in thin film production, logistics/shipping, production planning, customer service and now, a project analyst.


As Traci Tapani, co-president of Wyoming Machine with sister Lori Tapani, said, “Amber’s knowledge, years of experience, and ability to relate to a younger audience all played into why she was asked to speak with these young ladies. You often hear that people don’t become what they can’t see. Giving young women the chance to see another young woman who is successful and excited about manufacturing increases the chance that manufacturing or engineering might become part of their dreams for their future.”

Excited about manufacturing? To put it mildly. As Amber exclaimed, “I have always loved that in manufacturing you can take very simple materials or components and make them into something that could help protect our armed forces, for example…If you look around, everything is manufactured, from every aspect of the room you are sitting in, to the car you are driving, clothes you are wearing, and the tools you use. It is amazing to think about how much impact the manufacturing industry has on our daily lives, and I am proud to say I am part of that industry.”

Knowing that eighth graders knew little about manufacturing, Amber brought along small parts and products made at Wyoming Machine. She started with a miniature metal bike and frog, describing all the processes involved in their production, from the request for quote through packaging and shipping.

Central to engaging all the young women was convincing them of the many skills and talents that manufacturing needs—not just math geeks and hands-on people, and not just men, but women, too. Likewise, Amber sought to overcome internal objections girls lacking self confidence may have. She shared that just because they haven’t earned high grades, doesn’t mean they can’t work in manufacturing. As Amber explained, “I didn’t get the best grades in school—but once you get passionate about something, everything just clicks.”

Internet Television Classes: A Game-Changer at Wyoming Machine

It’s no secret that technical college customized training is a life-saver for manufacturers. What you may not know is that Lori Tapani and Traci Tapani, Co-Presidents of Wyoming Machine, helped make that happen in Central Minnesota. Now they and their employees—are reaping the benefits.
For 21 years, Lori and Traci have worked closely with Pine Technical and Community College in Central Minnesota. Because WMI hires many carefully selected low-skilled workers and promotes them, training is vital. Ten years ago, a consortium of five manufacturers including Wyoming Machine, began brainstorming how they could collaborate to train workers for technical and managerial jobs.
The consortium helped write a grant. According to Lori, “We shared what types of training we needed and how it could be accomplished via the ITV (Internet Television) system. We also made a commitment to match the grant funds ‘in kind’ by paying employees during work time to take the classes.”
Lori added that when Pine Tech received the grant, the companies offered input for training needs. Pine Tech chose courses most helpful for the majority of the companies. After the initial roll-out, individual companies could request specific classes and either pay for them, or share costs with other companies needing the same classes.
Customized training brings classes to worksites via ITV. WMI employees take Pine Tech classes at work and can gain college credits and/or a certificate. Employees enrolled love that there’s no commute to school. In fact, even text books and materials are sent to WMI. It’s a true turn-key program. Classes are offered all four quarters. Subjects range from print reading, auditing, quality, safety, maintenance and manufacturing processes, to managing and much more.
Best of all, courses apply directly to work. According to Dani Guy, a parts finisher at WMI who is taking a manufacturing process class, “You learn things you’d learn on the floor—but before you deal with it. I love the classes. I use the skills every day.”
In fact, approximately 25 employees at WMI have taken the classes. Adam Peterson, production manager, facilitates the program. He sees a real difference in those who enroll. “They’re more engaged and conscientious after taking classes. It’s nice to see the transformation. ”You can see that they take additional pride in their work after their additional learning.”
Traci sees the difference, too. “I think for low skilled employees, in addition to improving job knowledge and skills, it helps to build confidence. Many people are surprised to learn that they can be successful taking college courses. Additionally, the added training gives our newer employees some ‘street cred’ or respect from more seasoned sheet metal fabrication workers.”
Heidi Braun, Program Director at the college, sees two-way benefits. “Our success has led to participation in another statewide department of labor grant to continue the program. As we grow, we hope to add welding and other training programs that will benefit industry in this region. They [the Tapani sisters] are a real inspiration.”
According to WMI employee Jill Clark, “I’d love to take more classes. The professors are very good. Now I’m looking at print reading; I hope to advance at WMI.”

Tapani Sisters, Co-Presidents of Wyoming Machine Inc., Share Their Lifetime Achievement Award from NAWBO

On October 26, we received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Women Business Owners. While we’re honored to have received this, we humbly share this award with you, our employees, customers and vendors. The award acknowledges our success in business and we attribute that success to all of you.


Businesses, of course, can’t exist without customers, and we believe that our customers are among the finest around. Their products serve an incredibly diverse range of markets, from electronic enclosures to heavy construction equipment, and these companies are industry leaders.

Their—and our—success is due to their willingness to partner with us to find the best and most expedient ways to produce parts that exactly and economically meet their needs. Our customers’ longevity is further testament to that success. We have customers who have been with us for since we opened our doors in 1974.

Next, are our 54 employees. Day in and day out they make things happen. It starts with our estimators and engineers who always ask, “Is there a better way to make this product to improve quality and reduce cost?” Then, to the shop floor, where laser cutters, formers, punchers, welders, machinists and finishers always ask, “How do we approach this part to best meet our customer’s needs?” Our staff in quality inspects each part with eagle eyes making sure we exactly meet our customers’ specifications. Our shipping department fastidiously packs and delivers to ensure parts arrive in stellar condition. Our maintenance staff ensures that our operations run smoothly and everything works. They create company-wide pride with a building that guests have said has a “floor you could eat off of.” Our front office staff smiles while tending to the minutest of details that continually impress customers, visitors and vendors while keeping our employees happy. They all share a commitment to meet everyone’s needs—and keep those many balls juggling.

Our vendors, in turn, work with us closely and cooperatively to provide exceptional materials and services that allow us to please our customers. They never hesitate to exceed our expectations so we can do the same.

It’s the care, concern and pride you all show that have created opportunities for us to share our ideas and success with trade organizations, universities, business associations, government and much more on local, state and national levels. Enjoy this award with us. You’ve earned it, and we thank you.


Hot Idea: Wyoming Machine Works with Entrepreneur to Create Award Winning Camp Stove

Kent Hering and his wife, Betsy, have come a long way since their first camping trip in 1976 where they discovered they couldn’t start a fire. Years later, Kent is owner and founder of Littlbug Enterprises, producer of light-weight, stainless steel camp stoves. They require no maintenance kit, spare parts, wind screens or heat exchangers. Best of all, the stove can be rolled up in a sleeping pad instead of taking up space in a pack. At just five ounces. Littlbug Jr. is a backpacker’s dream-come-true. Wyoming Machine teamed up with Kent to enhance the design and produce it.

The inspiration for Littlbug came during Kent’s first backpacking trip. He learned the hard way that his 60 lb. backpack weighed far, far too much. So he shopped for an ultra-light, wood and alcohol-burning stove—to no avail.

An electrical engineer, Kent likes to tinker. Thus began his pursuit to make the ideal backpacking stove. However, Kent had no tools and no sheet metal experience. But always the optimist, as Kent says with a smile, “I learned a lot of lessons.” Yet his concept remained the same: create a small stove of two interlocking pieces that join to cook, but separate and nest to pack. In 1999, Kent received a patent for his design.

Eventually, Kent discovered Wyoming Machine. “My company is based on respect for the earth and fellow human beings. We donate 10 percent of our profits to environmental and humanitarian causes. What I discovered about Wyoming Machine is that they’re a women-owned business also committed to helping people and communities. That was important to me.”

Wyoming Machine Estimator John Hanenburg and Kent Hering, founder of Littlbug Enterprises

Also important, of course, is Wyoming Machine’s eagerness to team up with customers. When Kent met with John Hanenburg, estimator, Kent quickly discovered that John’s 16 years sheet metal experience meant exacting advice and a product that precisely met his needs.

According to John, “Working with those who lack sheet metal experience often means we have only sample parts, verbal descriptions, drawings or incomplete sketches. To proceed, we create drawings so everyone is working with the same design. Then, we recommend modifications to allow standard off-the-shelf material and/or processes that will minimize the cost or enhance the design.” John was especially impressed with how Kent made the stove so easy to erect and collapse. “It was very clever,” he said.

John isn’t alone in that assessment. Littlbug won an award from the Minnesota Inventors Congress. It’s also the top rated small, wood-burning camp stove and has received numerous endorsements by leading outdoor adventurers.

Kent is equally pleased with Wyoming Machine. “The folks at Wyoming Machine have always gone the extra mile for me, making the sure the job is done right and that I am fully satisfied with the results.”

And what’s the most valuable lesson Kent has learned as an entrepreneur? “I used to view a bump along the way as a problem. What I initially perceived as a problem usually turned out to be an opportunity. Now, instead of looking back to recognize opportunity, I anticipate the opportunity hidden in every bump. Perceiving events as opportunities instead of problems is a paradigm shift that enables me to embrace the vagaries of business, and has spilled over into my personal life as well.”

To order, or for more information, click here: Littlbug Enterprises.

Wyoming Machine, based in Stacy, Minn., is a women-owned sheet metal fabricator established in 1974. Traci and Lori Tapani, owners and Co-Presidents, guide the 56-employee business in a 55,000 sq. ft. facility. They compete internationally, creating parts and products for companies ranging from medical device and computer manufacturers to heavy machinery. The longevity of their clients and employees is a testament to how well they serve both.

From Homeless to Happy: Robert Bjoraker’s Ascent at Wyoming Machine

Remember Robert Bjoraker—the husband and proud father whose family was homeless at one point? Wyoming Machine Inc. hired him as a part-time custodian three years ago. But Traci and Lori Tapani believe in employee growth, training and promoting from within. In fact, they’re now national leaders for that practice. As a result, Robert has advanced to the highly technical position of laser cutter. Here’s how:

When Robert started as part-time custodian at WMI in 2013, he proved himself quickly. Adam Peterson, production manager, promoted him to full-time custodian and maintenance worker, and then some time in metal finishing. In 2015 Robert became a full-time metal finisher. There he learned what it takes to make great parts.

Traci saw Robert’s drive and recommended him for a laser cutting seminar. When a position opened, Robert was chosen. According to Traci:

“We’re committed to training because there’s so much untapped talent out there—people who are highly capable, but didn’t go to technical college. We look at the skills they’ve gained from whatever job they’ve had–attitude, dependability, ability to work with others–to name a few. We love taking people like that and watching them grow into challenging positions. It’s good for them, as well as us.”

Because of the Tapanis’ conviction, many in technical positions started in basic positions, acquired new skills and advance. As a result, these employees understand fabrication processes, the challenges and solutions. That big-picture knowledge along with a culture of camaraderie allow them to successfully train others.

Ron Farr, manufacturing engineer and 33-year employee, rose through the ranks and understands each process, from metal finishing and punching, to laser cutting and welding. Ron also helps Robert. “We’ve had other people start on laser without tech college degrees, so I know we can train them. Robert knows the importance of getting it right because he was a metal finisher. He always wants to improve.”

Scheduler and coordinator Greg Orvis is a 20-year metal industry veteran who also knows laser cutting. He had some doubts about how a former custodian would do as a laser cutter, but “Robert shut down those concerns immediately…he’s a very loyal and valuable employee.”

Robert says laser cutting presents daily learning opportunities. “Even weather affects how metals respond, so each day is different—even on the same job. I’m prepared to adjust any of many, many variables to get it right,” he said.

And what does a one-time homeless person say about his life now? “There’s a definite ‘spring’ in my step now. I don’t worry about feeding my kids anymore or where we’ll live. I’m incredibly grateful that the Tapani sisters gave me a chance. It’s turned my life around.”

Established in 1974, Wyoming Machine is a woman-owned family metal fabrication business. The longevity of our clients attests to our superior quality, efficiency, capabilities and customer service. We serve industry leaders with micro-to-large parts for medical equipment, retail store fixtures, heavy-duty machinery parts and much more. We truly enjoy serving clients and managing day-to-day operations with our 56 employees in a 55,000 sq. ft. facility based outside Minneapolis, Minn.

Traci and Lori Tapani, Sisters and Co-Presidents of Wyoming Machine, Inc.


From Seeds to a State Model: How a High School’s STEM Program Became a State Inspiration

Lori and Traci Tapani, sisters and Co‐Presidents of Wyoming Machine,  love volunteering for STEM‐related causes. They serve on regional, state and national boards. Locally, they’ve assisted Pine Technical College—from curriculum development to speaking at their commencement. The sisters also lend a hand to middle school STEM events and camps. Now, an area school district they’ve assisted is a state leader in STEM programs.


In 2012 the Tapanis began plant tours for high school students including North Branch Area High School (NBAHS). “We want to plant seeds. We want our efforts to inspire a generation of students to pursue STEM careers, for their benefit, and for manufacturers,” says Lori.


Around that tour time, Coleman McDonough, NBAHS’ principal, instituted a prestigious Project Lead The Way STEM program. PLTW is a national organization which trains teachers and develops K‐12 STEM curriculums.‐programs.


Now in its third year, 65 of 940 NBAHS students are taking PLTW classes. Current classes include Principles of Engineering, Intro to Engineering Design, and Computer Integrated Manufacturing. In the fall of 2016 they will add the final course in the pathway, Engineering, Design and Development, the capstone course. In addition, many students are enrolled in the school’s more traditional industrial technology courses like welding, woods, and construction.


“Our efforts are to continually develop a comprehensive academic program to provide a ‘pathway’ to college and career for all of our students. When it comes to STEM, some students are ‘hands on’ and like the practical application of engineering, like ‘wrenching’ and more hands on learning. Others prefer developing the idea from inception and creating engineering designs. We offer classes for both, and students are excited about it,” says Coleman.


One strength of the PLTW program at NBAPS is that the curriculum is present at all levels K-12. In the middle school program, 7th and 8th grade students are required to take one trimester each year of PLTW curriculum and many more take advantage of PLTW elective courses. With that first group of middle school students entering the high school next fall, Coleman believes enrollment in PLTW classes will mushroom.


“I’m very excited about our PLTW/STEM programming and the impact that it can have both for our students and for the manufacturing businesses in our community; By providing our students with this level of curriculum and instruction, our students will graduate with skills they can apply immediately, and in our back yard. How cool is that?” says Coleman.


In the spring of 2014 Lori addressed middle school students at their 9th grade orientation. She spoke about PLTW, the benefit of the curriculum and how this type of program can provide students with a direction for a great career in the manufacturing industry.

In addition, Lori spoke specifically to our female students on the potential and rewards of manufacturing careers and the value of STEM classes. “STEM is for all students and we are trying hard to encourage our girls to give it a try.  Lori was instrumental in carrying that message forward,” Coleman adds.


PLTW‐certified schools must also incorporate a Partnership Team (advisory board) including business leaders and school district personnel. The business representatives offer insights, equipment and program recommendations and provide funding for scholarships and other program needs. Meanwhile, STEM students and school representatives’ present progress reports and activities to the Team.


Coleman’s ability to recruit exceptional business people has resulted in seven prominent business representatives on the team including those from Andersen Windows, Lori Tapani and other area leading manufacturers. Next year, North Branch’s PLTW Partnership Team businesses will provide $2,000 to fund scholarships for students who plan on attending a college or certificate program in the STEM or manufacturing fields, as well as $2,000 for other program needs in the classroom.


In fact, North Branch’s program has become a model for the state. The Partnership Team is so successful that Coleman and middle school principal, Todd Tetzlaff, were chosen to present at the Minnesota State PLTW conference last November on building an exceptional community Partnership Team. Lori joined the pair at their presentation to represent the Partnership and to answer questions.


“Lori is awesome,” says Coleman. “She personifies what it means to be a complete business leader.  She walks the talk when it comes to being active in the community. I am on the Pine Technical Community College Foundation Board with her and she has been an active member of the PLTW Partnership team since its inception. She took time away from her busy schedule to attend the State conference… not all business leaders would or could do that and I think that is what makes her special. She takes the time and her efforts are genuine. We feel blessed and grateful to have Lori on our team!”


Meanwhile, Lori and Traci are thrilled to watch the seeds they planted during their North Branch school tour contribute to a program that has become a state model.