by Tim Crosby
CARBONDALE, Ill. — A group of engineering students from Southern Illinois University Carbondale is helping a major heavy equipment manufacturer improve its factory floor layout.
The students, who are members of the Leadership Development Program at SIU Carbondale, worked with Caterpillar Inc. on its factory in Corinth, Miss. Advance Technology Services, the company that is responsible for maintenance and operations at the plant, sponsored the project. Dick Blaudow, an SIU Carbondale engineering alumnus who, along with his wife, Brigitte, founded the Leadership Development Program at the University, heads ATS.
Last semester, a group of 16 aspiring engineers participated in the project, which tested not only what they learned in their engineering majors, but also how quickly they could learn and grow as a new team, said Bruce DeRuntz, professor of technology and director of the Leadership Development Program in SIU Carbondale’s College of Engineering.
“If they could learn to work as a highly efficient team and apply leadership skills that have taught in the Leadership Development Program, they could succeed in accomplishing the challenging project objective,” DeRuntz said.
The project involved reorganizing two manufacturing “cells,” or specialized areas of the factory floor where the company reconditions old engines into engines that are like-new again.
The team also was tasked with documenting a process that had no current operating procedures and improving customer relations.
The team worked long days — 13 to 14 hours each — to complete the project within a week’s time. DeRuntz said the Leadership Development Program exceeded the expectations of those involved.
The team successfully improved the company’s manufacturing efficiency and eliminated operational waste, DeRuntz said. Team members did so by employing lean manufacturing techniques studied in engineering classes at SIU Carbondale. Lean manufacturing refers to techniques that improve an organization’s efficiency.
“We have all said to ourselves, ‘If I could just reorganize my workspace, kitchen or garage, I could be much more productive,’” DeRuntz said. “This same idea has been applied to manufacturing to the tenth power. If there is something on the floor that is not part of the process, it will be thrown away that day.”
Kaleb Schwartz, a senior in industrial technology from Winnebago, and a project manager for the Leadership Development Project, said the experience was invaluable.
“This experience was one that I’ll never forget,” he said. “I got to see a team evolve and perform at levels that were unimaginable.”
A side benefit of the project involved Advanced Technology Services making a cash donation to the Leadership Development Program that will in turn be divided among the Registered Student Organizations in the College of Engineering represented by the team members.
“During these tough budgetary times, the Leadership Development Program has shown that they will elevate the College of Engineering’s RSOs by using their own hard work and technical knowledge,” DeRuntz said.
Alex Watson, a senior in electrical engineering from Eldorado, said he was proud of the way the team came together on the project.
“I would have never believed that a group of new students could come together in such a short amount of time and accomplish so much,” he said. “We really learned how to work together as a team and the fundamentals of good leadership. I’m very excited to be part of a program that is going to teach me not only how to be a student leader, but also a technical leader in my career.”
Additional team members included: