Day 3: All the Views

7 May 2019 – Hirschvogel and Oberammergau 

Writing this at the conclusion of the day, and before visiting any of the other sites, I don’t know how today could be possible topped: and this way just Day 3 of the trip. 

We left early in the morning to first visit Hirschvogel, a steel forging company that fabricates car parts (it might not seem so exciting, but when you walk by machines that apply 4,000,000 pounds of force every few seconds, it’s quite enthralling). 

When we arrived, we were brought to a neat room and given a presentation by one of the Vice Presidents of the company, who went over business strategy, innovation management, and some other neat topics that appealed to both the business and engineering students on the trip. The details of the lecture don’t seem appropriate for this blog post, so I’ve attached a PDF file of my notes instead. Then we embarked on the tour; I just knew we would be encountering something amazing when we were given neon safety jackets, steel reinforced safety boots, and soft ear plugs to reduce noise and headphones to hear the tour guide who would be speaking into a mic. 

We went through multiple different facilities and saw many different types of forging machines and processes taking place. We witnessed steel rods turning into intricate car components by experiencing many compressions of thousands of tons of force. Since each machine cost tens of millions of euros and each facility cost hundreds of millions of euros, many of the facilities were old since it didn’t make sense to replace anything if it wasn’t broken or absolutely unusable. The last place we visited was the most modern facility with every process from raw material preparation to quality check and shipment preparation, allowing for maximum efficiency. This is the first exposure I would have to the manufacturing industries’ obsession with efficiency. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures of the interior of the facility (a common theme for every company visit, and quite understandable too), and I’m afraid I’ll bore you with the technical details of the manufacturing process if I go into further detail, so I’d like to discuss something more relevant instead. 

This visit really impacted me deeply because it created an epic engineering visual representation of some of the stuff I leant last semester in classes. Specially two of the classes I had taken at Pitt were really helpful in understanding the forging process. The first one, workshop and design in bioengineering, was essentially a SolidWorks, 3D modeling and printing, and fabrication course where I had modeled several components, but never actually got to fabricate or print any of them. Some of the things I had designed included a pressure plate, a universal joint, and valve systems. To see the vast difference between designing a part on the computer with thousands of clicks and 30 foot tall machines applying thousands of tons of force to create that part was rather revolutionizing. The second course I took that helped a lot was static’s and mechanics of materials, a course that applied classical mechanics to properties of materials to determine strength, strain, and other properties important for engineering. Between our design problems and practice questions, I had encountered many situations related to forging, which gave me a deep appreciation for the materials, forces, and structures being used. Overall, as an engineer who took courses that went well with manufacturing the semester before, I was in technical heaven for the time we were at Hirschvogel. 

After a nice lunch at the canteen, we headed to our next destination, into the wonderful Alps. Oberammergau was the cutest little village I’ve ever seen, and reminded me of really medieval settings. 

We first visited a coffee shop, as I had just recently woken. Ironically, I didn’t get coffee since I saw cheesecake and I do love me some cheesecake. I took a little restroom break and noticed that even in the restrooms, the trash cans in Germany don’t have trash bags (pictured below, first noticed on the streets). I found this really interesting since I always assumed the plastic was there for sanitation as well as easy disposal and it made me think twice about our Germany’s commitment to  the environment as compared to ours. 

My group and I did all the touristy things, visiting different shops and getting a mug here, a shirt there, a sculpture around the corner. It was just so nice seeing the history imbued with the tourist aspects of this little village and it was definitely pleasant to walk around. Soon we headed back to the bus so we could take the gondola up to the top of the mountain. 

As an engineering student, I have little faith in things that I’m supposed to entrust with my life since nothing me or my colleagues make ever works (quite a bit of faking the functionality in our products and devices, there is). So I was a little terrified on our ride up but the EPIC views were very well worth the ride — pictured below. 

I cannot emphasize enough how breathtaking the view was. I was truly stunned by the aesthetic beauty of the mountains and how perfect nature is without the mark or influence of humans. I blissfully fell asleep on my way back, and dreamed about the mountains and nature as we drove to Augsburg. I’m amazed that I saw a machine pressing steel with 4 million pounds of force – the height of industrialization – and the most epic view of the alps – the height of nature. 

That night we got back in the evening and went to a Döner place, a typical evening Turkish food in Bavaria, before rolling out with the group to visit some ice cream places on Maximillian Strasse. Jeff and I started with a large bucket of Sherbert and then we had some vanilla ice cream. I had some Superman as well, and that’s where the blog ends for today. See you tomorrow! 🙂

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