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Mechanical engineering student Christian Gonzalez helped streamline production for popular toy

Christian Gonzalez and Tim Stevens

Behind every good toy company is a team of engineers that brings innovative design and quality assurance to products loved by children around the world. For Radio Flyer Incorporated—maker of the original little red wagon, tricycle, and scooter—Christian Gonzalez (BS ’16), a mechanical engineering student at UIC’s College of Engineering, is one of those engineers.

Radio Flyer’s products were a big part of Gonzalez’s childhood, so when he got the chance to intern at the company, he couldn’t pass it up. “Plus, when I tell people about it, everyone recognizes the brand. It’s pretty cool,” he says.

During his internship at Radio Flyer’s headquarters on Chicago’s northwest side, Gonzalez redesigned the fixture used by the company to assemble its most popular customizable product: the build-a-scooter. “Especially for the holiday season, the operators needed something more durable to handle larger orders faster and easier,” he says. Using his design, the company made almost 700 scooters in three months.

The experience gave him a broader perspective on how companies move products through the production line. Primarily working in the Quality Assurance Lab, he learned how to conduct consumer returns analyses, product testing, and replacement part inspections at Radio Flyer. “It was very hands-on, a different perspective from what I’ve learned in class,” he says, which he believes will be an invaluable experience for a student who graduates soon.

The sheer concreteness of engineering work is a big part of the appeal for him: at the end of the day, Gonzalez can point to something tangible and say, ‘I helped make this work.’ “Engineers have a lot of influence over a product,” he says. “We find better ways to make it safer and more cost efficient, and we get to help shape the way the product performs.” And that is, for Gonzalez the engineer, as good as a shiny new wagon is for a kid at the holidays.