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From the classroom to the kitchen: ISE students learn recipe for manufacturing success

Professor Aimee Ulstad recently had a sweet idea to help bring to life the key concepts taught in her production planning and facility layout course.

With 30 years of industry experience under her belt, the associate clinical professor of integrated systems engineering (ISE) was actually inspired by her childhood. Growing up, she often helped her mother can vegetables from their family’s gardens.

“The production planning involved trying to figure out how to get all the tasks done in a certain amount of time when you’re preserving bushels of tomatoes or bushels of corn and it is analogous to what the students do in ISE when they have to plan a manufacturing process,” she explained.

That experience inspired Ulstad to take her students from the classroom to the kitchen. For their manufacturing simulation assignment, the students would conduct a line trial exercise using a classic American treat—chocolate chip cookies.

A line trial is a simulation of a production process that companies use when considering a new product, said Ulstad. “Students like the physical activity of doing things and often times we forget how important it is to get your hands on something and do it yourself—you just learn so much more that way.”

Working in the Ohio Union’s culinary learning kitchens, students were divided into teams and tasked with performing a small trial run to prepare for a full-scale cookie baking business. The ultimate goal? Determine how long each step takes so that the process could be scaled up to bake 40 dozen cookies per day. Students needed to maximize profitability while considering several important ISE skills, including efficiency, quality and human factors such as safety, cognitive processes and teamwork. A team of chefs judged the cookies on size, taste and overall appearance.

Not only did the students have fun, but they learned important lessons about the challenges that can arise in the world of manufacturing.

“It is important to know what equipment you are using. We had a problem due to mis-measuring our ingredients which I guess could happen in a real-life production setting without proper equipment,” said third year ISE student Catherine Wang. 

To Ulstad, the mistakes are when the best lessons are learned.

“One team put in half the amount of flour they were supposed to because they didn’t read the measuring cup correctly and their cookies were a disaster,” she said. “To me that’s wonderful! It really shows students the type of problems you can have even with something simple. The problems are where the learning takes place and students recognize the importance of clear standard operating procedures and good systems thinking.”

Along with the cookie baking exercise, Ulstad’s class was also treated to a presentation from industry leader Whirlpool.

“We decided to get involved with this class activity because we loved the creative approach to learning. It’s a fun way to solidify the students’ understanding of the challenges that can arise in production,” said Whirlpool Senior Sourcing Specialist Jens Ashton. “Manufacturing is an environment that requires a strong understanding of processes and the ability to improvise, react quickly and implement solutions. A line trial allows the students to start thinking about cycle times, task time and long lead times that every engineer needs to understand.”

Thanks to Ulstad’s creativity, her ISE students now have a clearer understanding of the ingredients needed for production and manufacturing success.

Written by Meggie Biss and originally published on the College of Engineering website.