Industrial & Systems Engineering students tackle business challenges in senior design projects

The winning team in the fall 2018 Ratner Senior Design Project Award competition (from left to right): Maximillian Shakal, Allen Dowe, Dhananjay Prahladka, Samantha Leblanc and Andrew Ochoa.

When University of Wisconsin-Madison industrial and systems engineering student Andrew Ochoa left his group’s senior design project kickoff meeting, his mind was swirling.

He and his four teammates had just listened to management from their assigned client, local trucking company BCP Transportation, detail gaps in the parts-tracking process in the enterprise’s service shop. Now it was up to the UW-Madison students to home in on one specific issue and come up with a remedy that would recover lost revenue for the company.

“We just had tons and tons of information thrown at us,” recalls Ochoa.

By the end of the fall 2018 semester, the group had sifted through all that information and delivered a solution that BCP embraced: hiring an additional, dedicated employee to manage all parts inventory using a reengineered business process.

ISyE student Allen Dowe consults with workers from BCP Truck Services, the serving entity of BCP Transportation. Photo courtesy Andrew Ochoa.

UW-Madison industrial and systems engineering students uncover those kinds of answers—recommendations that impact companies’ bottom lines and shape business processes—every semester in ISyE 450, Senior Design Project, the department’s capstone undergraduate course. They work in teams to tackle significant problems, curated by course instructor and Robert Ratner Chair Professor Raj Veeramani, for local manufacturing companies, healthcare organizations, service businesses such as insurance providers, and more.

The students also compete in the long-running Ratner Senior Design Project Award competition, which rewards the best work with certificates and cash prizes to emphasize the late professor Robert Ratner’s belief in giving students opportunities to work on industry problems.

Ochoa and groupmates Allen Dowe, Dhananjay Prahladka, Maximillian Shakal and Samantha Leblanc took first prize in the fall 2018 competition for their work with BCP Truck Services.

To arrive at their final recommendation, the student team employed the Six Sigma DMAIC problem-solving methodology, exploring and analyzing data from the company’s inventory software, creating affinity diagrams, talking with mechanics, and leading brainstorming sessions. After that turned up a handful of possible solutions, they used a Pugh matrix to determine which one most effectively addressed BCP’s pain points. Ultimately, the group’s solution predicted savings of more than $250,000 for the next year.

“In classrooms, you get a lot of data given to you. You get a problem, you have all the numbers and then you just plug it into a software and you solve your problem,” says Ochoa, who will join Eaton Corporation’s Operations for Engineers Leadership Development Program after graduation. “But in the real world, it’s not like that. It’s messy. Data’s not there or the data’s messy and you have to do a lot of cleaning, and you have to problem-solve. It was nice that we were able to transfer our skills to a real-world problem and then also, in the process, create a job for somebody.”

Students Caleb Michiels, Dorian Staeven, Edward Lei, Matthew Munts and Nicholas Schueller took second prize in the Ratner competition for their work improving the food delivery system at Madison’s UnityPoint Health-Meriter hospital. Jack Pulito, Jennifer Murray, Morgan Adkins, Nathaniel Buswell and Sai Yarlagadda placed third for helping Hoffman Manufacturing with the layout design for an upcoming facility expansion.

When selecting and helping craft the projects, Veeramani looks for opportunities that can leave meaningful marks on the sponsoring companies while empowering students to apply theoretical knowledge. He hopes the experience builds confidence in the soon-to-be graduates and prepares them for whatever comes next.

“The real-world project experience that students gain in this course will support them for their entire professional career,” he says, “because they can use the systematic approaches to system design and process improvement that they learn in this course to tackle any project that they are asked to lead in the future.”

Tom Ziemer | College of Engineering