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From the Desk of Jack Healy

Training the Future Leaders of Manufacturing

By Kathie Mahoney, Events Marketing Manager, MassMEP

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and Time Wise (TW) Industries have received a grant from the National Science Foundation to bring the Time Wise Lean training program into colleges and universities. The purpose of the grant is to develop hands-on curriculum materials demonstrated to improve students’ ability to apply lean ideas and to use data to effectively support decisions. 

In response to the need of manufacturing companies for professionals with lean knowledge, a plethora of short courses on lean manufacturing are available for working professionals, but there is nothing for students wishing to enter manufacturing-related industries at the undergraduate level. In a recent survey of area manufacturing organizations, conducted by Quinsigamond Community College, 27% of the respondents stated one of the key occupational areas in which the industry is facing the most severe employee shortages is training in Lean and Six Sigma. The survey also noted that 45% of the respondents indicated that improving the knowledge of Lean Enterprise or Six Sigma Process is needed in order to help their present technical skill-level employees become more effective in their positions.

Lean principles provide systematic guidelines for designing effective processes, focusing on eliminating waste by specifying value, simplifying flow, and pulling from customer demand. Lean ideas have transformed process design and significantly improved lead times, quality, and cost for many manufacturing companies, all critical needs in today’s global environment. Because of this success, diverse organizations are applying these ideas to more complex processes. More departments are getting involved, as well, including engineering, manufacturing engineering, and operations management, who are often hired into positions that support or lead lean transformation efforts. As a result, we need graduates who have the ability to design lean processes grounded in data-based analysis.

While lean principles are simply stated, the design process is complicated because every process has unique constraints and competitive drivers that limit waste elimination. To be effective designers, students need to be able to apply the variety of tactics used to achieve the principles, as well as understand when these tactics are likely to be effective. Although many programs expose students to lean topics in courses, limited opportunities are provided to practice application and to integrate tactics with the underlying principles. 

The new NSF-sponsored program is designed to make use of professional quality simulation materials in a higher-education environment, where students are likely to have less work experience and have more time to reflect and process course material through homework assignments. 

Hands On Experience
The materials that the grant is utilizing to develop the program are designed to supplement curriculum materials based around a physical simulation, Time Wise Lean products. These products are currently designed for use as one-day seminars that provide a foundation for understanding the principles of lean manufacturing. These seminars are typically geared for employees of small to medium size manufacturers. In each simulation, participants assemble clocks using a multi-stage process. 

WPI and TW have adapted the TW Lean 101 hands-on simulation for the classroom.  As the schools work to implement the curriculum developed by WPI and TW, the benefits to their students are learning not only the principles and text book knowledge of lean, but also how to implement and apply lean in a manufacturing setting. 

Part of the curriculum includes a hands-on simulation that ties into the performance based training methodologies of the MassMEP. The simulation allows students to reproduce the chaos of a manufacturing facility prior to lean and work through the process of implementing lean through waste reduction, cell development, and work flow. This provides "real world experience" for the students in the classroom environment. 

The curriculum will be implemented at such schools as University of Rhode Island, Elizabethtown University, and University of Pittsburgh and in such courses as Principles of Lean and Productivity Analysis. 

As part of the grant process, a school recruitment training session was held recently where schools that are interested in the curriculum program attended and participated in the Time Wise training simulation. Eight schools interested in the program recreated a successful manufacturing facility through the implementation of lean principles. 

This is the first year of a three year grant and in the Spring 2008, WPI will be recruiting additional schools to participate in the program. If you are interested in participating, please contact Kathie Mahoney at [email protected] or (508) 831-7020.