Senior design projects are one of the many ways for students to gain hands-on experiences working on real-world projects—a hallmark of MSOE education. But students aren’t the only ones gaining valuable experiences: the businesses and organizations they partner with also see measurable results.

Dakonte Product Group (DPG), a Milwaukee-based manufacturer of sewn and heat seal vinyl products, is one of the many organizations that offers senior design project opportunities for MSOE students. Donald Hill, vice president of DPG, expressed his gratitude to the MSOE students whose projects helped his business during a challenging time.

“It is difficult to imagine how our small business would have survived the pandemic followed by the workforce challenges without the MSOE students,” said Hill.

Over the last two years, three MSOE senior design teams have worked with DPG to help with process improvement, shipping and packaging, and a facility layout redesign.

The first project was conducted in the 2020-21 academic year by industrial engineering students Tori DeGrave, Nathaniel Jahns, Michael Muller and advised by Dr. Douglas Grabensetter. The team examined the production of clear vinyl partitions, which were a COVID-19 pivot product and in high demand at the time.

Due to the high demand of the vinyl partitions, DPG needed immediate improvements to their cycle time. MSOE students identified bottlenecks in the production process that were then eliminated through improved equipment, proper tooling and new procedures. With these improvements, the production time was lowered from 19 minutes to eight minutes per unit, with six minutes being feasible after additional implementation recommendations.

“We needed that new capability to pivot into making sneeze guard partitions to offset the loss of restaurant menu cover sales during COVID,” said Hill.

During the 2021-22 academic year, two industrial engineering teams worked on the semi-automated packing machine and overall production floor organization and layout at DPG to enhance processes. The teams were able to achieve their goals of reducing the average production time by 3.7 minutes, reducing manufacturing lead time by 20%, and reducing travel distance on the floor by 34%.  “The new machine and layout allowed us to overcome workforce shortages in two positions,” said Hill.

As MSOE approaches another academic year, DPG hopes to host another team of industrial engineering seniors to continue their mutually beneficial partnership.