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The University Magazine

Work means play for toy company engineers

Engineering grads Tim Trapp ’04 (center) and Brian Argauer ’07 (right) joined Harvey Palmer, dean, for a presentation to a group of engineering honors students.

Some serious play is taking place at Fisher-Price Toys Inc. in East Aurora, N.Y., and two RIT engineering graduates are among the most serious players.

For Tim Trapp ’04 (mechanical engineering) and Brian Argauer ’07 (computer engineering), each day involves not only developing the newest toys, but playing with them – all in the service of the company’s primary consumers: children.

“In my role as product development engineer, I follow the product through the whole lifecycle, turning design intent into reality,” Trapp told an audience of engineering honors students during a visit to campus. “And seeing a toy you helped design and build on the shelves in local stores is great fun.”

Trapp joined Fisher-Price in 2004. He is part of the company’s Baby Gear team that develops products such as baby monitors, high chairs, swings and entertainers.

Behind the playfulness, Fisher-Price is all business, says Argauer, who is part of a team that develops toys for infants. He handles things such as creating schematics, programming the desired functionality and incorporating music.

“We even have professional musicians on staff, many with music degrees and in bands,” he says. “There’s a lot more to it than just putting audio on a chip.”

A project team could consist of mechanical, electrical and audio engineers working side-by-side with design and marketing professionals. In many instances, the engineers use the latest in rapid prototyping, a three-dimensional printing process where individual parts are made on site to be used as part of a demonstration model.

All the toys need components that not only work well but can withstand dropping or throwing. All toys are tested throughout the development process and during production, Argauer explains. He says that some of the most effective testing is done by parents and young children, who act as volunteers at the Fisher-Price Child Research Center.

“We have a drop test from table tops, even bite tests,” says Trapp. And he knows firsthand how important – and fun – the tests can be. As a pre-schooler in the 1980s, he was a toy tester, speeding around with a toy lawn mower.

As part of their visit, Trapp and Argauer called upon Kate Gleason College of Engineering honors students to help put a new toy through its paces. The students received one of the newest Fisher-Price toys, the Color Flash Laptop, to re-engineer.

Playing with toys knows no age. For the college students with their first Color Flash Laptop, the connection between fun and work begins with the technology.

Michelle Cometa