BRADENTON, Fla. -- A simple project making toy cars for kids overseas is teaching students at Southeast High School a valuable lesson. The students are learning how to make things better when they are not working good enough. That lesson could change the way things are manufactured in the United States.
Making the toys is a tiny gesture that is traveling a long way.
"We have VW bugs, trucks, vans and campers," said Zach Morris, a junior at Southeast High School.
"The world is a lot smaller than it used to be that’s not something that most high school students think about," Morris said.
Morris and his classmates were hoping to give back on a global scale by making toy cars for refugee children in war-torn countries.
"You may be seven or eight years old and all you’ve done your entire work life is work," Morris said. "For us, we have a consumer culture, I can go home and walk outside, I can go buy something, I have an iPhone in my back pocket at all times. They’ve never experienced that."
"If we can play a small part in easing tensions between nations, I think that’s a really cool and that is something I definitely would be proud of putting on a resume," said Albert Ales, a junior at Southeast High.
The machine the students are using to make the cars is aging and on the verge of breaking.
"When it breaks we are out of business," said Richard Platt, an engineering teacher at Southeast High.
Platt started problem solving and decided to make his own bigger, better and cheaper machine.
"It uses open source components that we buy off Amazon or eBay. The controller in this machine is a $65 controller and the other machine, if we can get it, is $3000," said Platt. "We started studying about globalization and we found that the original intent was the arbitrage of labor, getting things made cheap. But what came out of that was cheap products that we can now take and build our own means of production."
But the new machine wasn't big enough. So Platt and his students made another, naming it Big Chief.
The bigger machine would have cost about $50,000 to buy, but the class made it for less than $8,000. He says they partnered with some local companies to get some of the parts made they could not actually manufacture themselves.
The old machine could only make more than 400 cars every two weeks. The new machine can make more than 1,000 toy cars in a single week.
The students still weren't finished. They decided to design and make their own robotic arm to move the finished toy cars.
"I don’t know about you, but I don’t have $30,000 to go spend on a robotic arm," said Morris.
Instead, the class spent approximately $1,200 to make their own.
Platt is hoping to make even more of the machines and pass them out to schools around Manatee County and hopefully the country. He says they plan on doing online video tutorials so that if something breaks or if somebody doesn’t know how to use the machine they have an easily-accessed resource available.