For MU’s Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering students, their final two semesters on campus are largely devoted to piecing together the skills they’ve acquired throughout their college experience.
“The main goal of our capstone course sequence is to create a synthesis of the topics studied over the course of their industrial engineering curriculum,” Noble said. “What we’re trying to do is give them a project experience where they work in a team within the real world, where they’re working with people that range from other engineers, line workers, managers, nurses and in some cases, doctors.”
The two-semester course requires students to work directly with a selected company. It’s Noble’s job to find the industrial partners, and from there, the IMSE majors work with their partner organization to scope out problems, collect data, conduct analysis, and provide progress and oral reports.
“At the end of the year, they solve their problems and present to our industrial advisory board,” he said. “Then they go and present to their companies at the very end.”
With Noble teaching the course for 25 years, and the capstone course running for even longer, it has continued to be a success. Though the majority of course sequence is structured as experiential learning, the beginning of the first semester is more traditional.
“We spend about half of it trying to bring IE curriculum topics together,” Noble said. “We talk about integration of industrial engineering knowledge, concepts they’ve had; we talk about how to go into a facility and recognize what issues need to be addressed.”
From there, the students go out and visit five or six companies and apply those lessons. They tour the companies and work to identify problems within their system. They then write an assessment report.
The second semester is when they’re paired with the companies and begin work.
“They are working with their companies the whole semester,” he said. “In that regard, there are teams of three typically. We also have our industrial advisory board members serve as mentors to them over the course of their project. This provides an extra resource they can tap into as they think about their problems.”
Companies include manufacturers, hospitals, distribution centers, dentists, labs and more. While new companies continue to join the program, many of the organizations have been longtime participants.
“We have a project right now with Schneider Electric,” Noble said. “We have had a project with them all 25 years I’ve taught the class. This year, we’re addressing their warehouse facilities to improve the ergonomics associated with operating the warehouse.”
According to Noble, for the IMSE students, this is their version of a lab.
“They’re getting the chance to take things that they’ve learned and have real constraints,” he said. “They’ll come up with ideas, and there will be economic reasons, safety reasons and environmental reasons that impact what they design.”
Laughing, Noble explained that while many of the students are stress free at the beginning of their capstone, the reality of the scope of the process quickly sets in.
“They start the semester and they’re like, ‘This isn’t that bad,’” he said. “And then four-to-six weeks in, I have a lot of them in my office. We’re talking about what’s not going to work. By the end of the semester, it all comes together.”
Although the capstone course is rigorous, the reward is unmatched.
“The students are getting real world experience, except they have a lot of coaching behind them,” Noble said. “It’s the last opportunity to bring it all together before they go out into the work force. Over the years our capstone course has prepared them to graduate.”
Ultimately, it’s a win-win. The students walk away with valuable work experience and the companies receive real benefit from the projects they sponsor.