Industrial engineers improve process, create work opportunities
Classroom experiences that enable students to solve real-world problems are the hallmark of an MSOE education and an illustration of the MSOE Mindset—and students are enjoying those opportunities in spades this year through a new partnership with Careers Industries.
Dr. Leah Newman, associate professor of industrial engineering, and students in her ergonomics classes have been working to improve the ergonomic conditions of the Racine-based company’s switch assembly and cord wrapping processes.
Student groups toured the facility, spoke with employees, and conducted evaluations. They wrote a paper detailing their observations and recommendations to improve the processes, then presented the report to the class. Two students, senior Jacob Rusch and junior Kate Wallschlaeger, took the project even further.
“One of the vocational tasks that is currently out of reach for most workers is wrapping cords,” Rusch. “The process is extremely stressful on the hands and can lead to inconsistencies in how tightly the cords are wrapped. There are only a few individuals who are capable of doing this at the company and the demands are growing.”
Rusch’s group was tasked with creating designs of a prototype that would allow more of the workforce to participate in wrapping cords. Rusch built the two most promising prototypes on a desktop fused filament fabrication 3D printer at his home.
“The idea behind the design is to coil the cord, starting with the plug, by laying it down inside the mold and working inward until it was neatly coiled,” Rusch said. “We ended up adding a cutout to the design in order for the tape to be applied to the cord more easily.”
Wallschlaeger, an industrial engineering major who has a background in mechanical engineering, worked with MSOE Lab Technician Roger Hajny to build a fixture that would improve the switch assembly process. She and Hajny spent 60 hours outside of class working on the project.
“The ergonomic issues related to the switch assembly included finger callouses, risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome, and very few people being able to complete the entire assembly which leads to very specific and repetitive tasks,” Wallschlaeger said.
Wallschlaeger and Hajny created a fixture that, using universal design, enables any person—even those with the control of only one arm—to complete this moderately difficult manual assembly with a greatly reduced risk for cumulative trauma disorders.
“The hope is to provide the people working on this assembly with physical relief, more interesting and diversified work, and a greater sense of achievement overall,” Wallschlaeger said.
The relationship between MSOE and Careers Industries Inc. is mutually beneficial, said Joe Greene, executive director. “First, it exposes our participants to people from other backgrounds and our participants are very proud to show people what they do. Secondly, coming in to Careers exposes the MSOE students to people from other backgrounds and abilities. It takes the skills being learned by the students and puts a personal touch to it as they can see directly how they can make a difference in people’s lives.”