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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Charlestown URI student makes his mark

URI student advances from mechanic to mechanical engineer for Pawcatuck company

Lyle Topa, a polymer compounding engineer at Cable
Components Group in Pawcatuck, Conn.
Photo courtesy of Lyle Topa.
Working as an auto mechanic in high school, Lyle Topa knew he wanted a career that would enable him to use his hands as well as his mind.

He found it two weeks after graduating from the University of Rhode Island last year, advancing from mechanic to mechanical engineer when he was hired by Cable Components Group, of Pawcatuck, Conn., to help with the installation of two new compounding lines.

A manufacturer of extruded products used in wire and cable, optical fiber and industrial non-woven products, the company invested in two lines to produce the plastic compounds used in its products.

Topa created a chart to track each piece of equipment as it arrived at the company and worked with a team to install the lines. 

Now, after completing a six-month training program, he has a new title—polymer compounding engineer.

The compounds Topa helps produce are designed to meet high fire-retardant and low-smoke generation requirements, and to make wire and cable lighter and more efficient. 

The company’s new lines operate at below-standard temperatures, which enable foaming agents and fire-retardant loading to be incorporated into the products without degradation.

“Working closely with the manufacturer, Lyle has played an integral role in commissioning and troubleshooting our new compounding equipment,” said Cable Components Group President Charles Glew. “In addition, he has already assisted in developing compounding processes that will create the foundation for future business.”

Topa found out about the job from his capstone project advisor, Professor Bahram Nassersharif, who received an email from Glew saying he had an opening and that a URI graduate with a mechanical engineering degree would make an ideal candidate.

For his capstone, Topa designed a system for Hope Global in Cumberland, R.I., to reduce the cost and time involved with manufacturing shoelaces. He led a team that created an optimized process for fusing the ends with heat.

Nassersharif provided Topa with Glew’s contact information, Topa said, and “I decided to give him a call. The conversation went well, and I was able to set up an interview.”

Topa had applied for many other positions, but he was attracted to the company by both the opportunity and the location. 

Topa had some exposure to the wire and cable industry during an internship at Web Industries, Inc. in Dayville, Conn. 

The commute to the cable company is just a 25-minute drive from his home in Charlestown, R.I., so the job allows him to live at home and keep his expenses low while remaining close to his family.

“It was perfect to start at the opening of the compounding business,” said Topa. “Now there are two fully commissioned lines that I run every day. Being here from the start, I assisted with installation of the machinery and planning its operation. When I’m not operating the lines, I’m making compounds and training new operators.”

Location also played a role in Topa’s decision to attend URI, but so did the reputation of its engineering college. He chose mechanical engineering as his major because math was his best subject in high school.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he said, “so I gave mechanical engineering a try and ended up liking it.”

Topa credits his URI classes with preparing him for his position. His course in mechanics and materials provided insights into the physical and chemical properties of materials. He sees his current position as a good fit with his education.

Topa is thrilled with his new job: “It’s a very important business with a bright future. And I’m not sitting behind a desk all day.”

This release was written by David Kowal, of Kowal Communications, for Cable Components Group.