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Oakland University’s Industrial and Systems Engineering department prepares students for Industry 4.0

Oakland University

Oakland students use Tecnomatix and Teamcenter software to design, analyze and manage complex systems

Educating engineering students for the digital age

When Oakland University’s Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE) department was founded in 2005, the faculty recognized the need to select a theme for the department. The members chose product lifecycle management (PLM) because it covers all aspects of their educational and research programs including simulation, ergonomics, quality, lean manufacturing, project management and more. The ISE department joined Siemens’ global academic partner program in 2009.

Through the program, the department obtained the Tecnomatix® portfolio of digital manufacturing solutions (including the Plant Simulation solution, Jack™ software and the Process Simulate solution) and Teamcenter® software tools, as well as training and support. These and other PLM tools were integrated into several existing courses such as Introduction to Industrial and Systems Engineering, Ergonomics and Work Design, and Computer Simulation of Discrete Event Systems.

In these courses, students are given assignments that require the use of PLM tools. For example, in a laboratory assignment in the Introduction to Industrial and Systems Engineering course, students use Plant Simulation to simulate a production line and collect cycle time data from selected stations. They then use this data to construct probability plots of the cycle times and analyze system performance. The students receive a user manual detailing how to use Plant Simulation to complete the particular assignment.

Concerning the use of Jack in her courses, Dr. Megan Conrad, assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering, notes: “The use of Jack in the classroom allows our students to visualize ergonomic issues in another dimension. The students not only see how the worker fits in the customized workspace, but simultaneously can compare timing and throughput information while minimizing risk factors like low back injury and unsafe joint postures. Gaining hands-on experience using the Siemens PLM Software solutions has made our students desirable to many companies. Several of our ISE students have found positions working in digital human modeling even prior to graduation.”

The first course the university developed focusing directly on PLM is aptly entitled Product Lifecycle Management. The course provides a complete overview of the business value of PLM. The course description states: “Systems engineering management of a product’s lifecycle through its four stages: create, manufacture, sustain, and dispose. Considers the central management of all product data and the technology used to access this data. Topics include integration of CAD into PLM, requirements and configuration engineering management, engineering specifications change management and process planning.”

New application-focused courses on PLM

“We receive very positive feedback from students and employers upon assessing the use of PLM tools in existing courses,” says Dr. Robert Van Til, Pawley Professor of lean studies and chair of the Industrial and Systems Engineering department. “But one issue was clear: while the students were learning how to use and apply these PLM tools to particular problems, there was a desire to take a deeper dive into the tools themselves and their use in engineering design and analysis. Feedback from both students and employers noted that it would be valuable to learn more about how the tools operate and how they are used.”

This assessment led to the development of several PLM courses with a focus on applications. These courses consider how to use a particular PLM software tool, followed by the use of the tool on several assignments. Four such courses have been developed and offered to date: PLM Applications - product data management (Teamcenter); PLM Applications - Robotics (Process Simulate Robotics); PLM Applications - Ergonomics (Jack); and PLM Applications - Change Management (Teamcenter).

For example, the course description of the PLM Applications - Change Management course is: “Methodologies and application of Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) software tools used to capture a complex product’s definition, functional and physical requirements towards designing, developing and managing it through its lifecycle. The course will emphasize hands-on use of state-of-the-art PLM tools and their application.

The PLM Applications courses are for two credits, rather than the four credits of most other ISE courses, and are taught in a hands-on manner in the PLM laboratory rather than a lecture-style classroom. The initial assessment of the PLM applications courses from both students and employers has been positive. Based on this feedback, the department is considering development of additional PLM applications courses.

Expanding into K-12 STEM outreach

The Industrial and Systems Engineering department, with the assistance of Oakland University’s Pawley Lean Institute, is working to bridge the gap between industry’s need for work-ready, highly skilled engineers and the availability of students who identify engineering as a career path of choice. Together, they have developed a pilot science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) outreach program that pairs ISE students and faculty with K-12 students and their teachers in a successful, interactive program that is providing hands-on experiential learning in a university setting.

The program has been conducted over the past three years with the intent of introducing industrial and systems engineering as a potential career path for K-12 students. It currently consists of visits to ISE department facilities and laboratories on Oakland University’s campus by classes of high school students and their teachers. Distance-learning techniques may be implemented in the future to expand the program’s reach beyond southeast Michigan.

The high school students work with ISE students and faculty and with volunteers from local companies to conduct hands-on projects focusing on the areas of lean manufacturing and PLM. A group of about 20 to 25 students from each high school visits the campus three times over a three- to four-week period. While on-campus, each group spends two to three hours working on a project. Most groups also attend lunch on campus in the ISE student lounge.

During their initial visit, the students are given a brief overview of the ISE profession and then they conduct a physical simulation of a factory that builds all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). After receiving an overview of discrete event simulation on their second visit, the students use data collected from their first visit to build and run a digital simulation of the ATV factory using Plant Simulation. On their final visit, the students are given a short introduction to ergonomics, then construct and run an ergonomics simulation using Jack.

Assessment of the K-12 STEM outreach program has been very positive from student attendees, their teachers, and parents who have attended the sessions. Doug Blatz, Seaholm High School teacher and recipient of a 2015-16 Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship, notes, “Seaholm High School students are enrolled in a course called STEMx Research and Design. The course develops research and engineering methodologies while embedding students in externships with professionals from the surrounding area. One of the initial externships we developed involves a learning experience with Oakland’s ISE department. Our students have had a very positive experience while participating in simulations that involve industrial and systems engineering applications. For example, students are introduced to the Jack software program, which provides design protocols concerning ergonomics. Our students are also exposed to career pathways in product lifecycle management. The ISE Department has established a long-term STEM partnership with Seaholm and other high schools involving PLM activities.”

Empowering the next generation of engineering talent

The use of Siemens PLM Software solutions has helped Oakland University students develop next-generation engineering skills and career advancement opportunities.

“While I am still completing my Industrial and Systems Engineering degree, I recently accepted a position and began working at an automobile OEM,” says Russell Bauer, an undergraduate student in Industrial and Systems Engineering. “I am currently working with them on advancing technologies such as motion capture and virtual reality to speed up the new vehicle launch process. The ergonomics side of Oakland’s ISE program introduced me to motion capture, while its PLM side has given me a knowledge set which is sought after in industry.”

John Katona, a recent graduate of the ISE program, has also found career success through his academic experience with PLM. “As a student, I used Plant Simulation to create a computer simulation to study the flow of patients in a local hospital’s emergency room,” Katona relates. “A company learning about my project on LinkedIn cold-called me for an interview, and they gave me a job offer the same day in their simulation group.”

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