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May 2, 2017

Class helps students tackle real-world design problems with confidence

Written By: Silke Schmidt

Taking the “senior design project” class, better known as ISyE 450, is a requirement for graduating with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE). As a capstone course, it challenges teams of seniors to design a system, component or process that meets an external client’s needs while satisfying real-life constraints, such as cost, sustainability or safety.

Each year, the student teams—typically including four members—also compete for the Ratner Award, a cash prize for the three best senior design projects. The students presented their projects to department chair Jeffrey Linderoth and a panel of faculty members in January 2017.

The first prize ($1,500) went to the project, “UW Health blood pressure visit improvement,” with team members Katie Ruge, Katie Bluske, Robyn Sreenivasam and Sherry Gao. The students designed a process that made nurse visits for patients on blood pressure-regulating medication more efficient by eliminating redundant information and standardizing follow-up communications with both the patients and their treating physicians. The students tested their new workflow design at several UW Health clinics, with nurses reporting not only a lower average task completion time, but also greatly reduced variation. “We were excited that our procedure was actually tested before the semester was over since that was a pretty ambitious goal,” Ruge says. “Learning whom we needed to get on board to make this a sustainable solution for the long term was really valuable. We are hopeful that our new procedure will be implemented at many of the UW Health clinics that specialize in long-term blood pressure monitoring.”

The second prize ($1,200) went to the “Madison-Kipp Corporation facility layout project,” with team members Nick Marks, Nate Renner, Carter Ziemann and Hailey Rowen. Madison-Kipp produces aluminum die cast components for industrial and transportation clients and recently completed a 90,000-square-foot expansion of its Sun Prairie facility. The students used a ranking tool to identify the company’s top criteria for designing the new space. The final layout maximized space use, included ergonomic workspace designs, and enabled an efficient flow of materials. This will improve operator safety while allowing for increased business in the future. “Our most important lesson learned was to remain flexible throughout the design process since criteria and project constraints changed over time,” Marks says. “We also realized the importance of developing relationships with the entire team of employees who will use the space, not just the main project sponsor, and of establishing credibility early on.”

The third prize ($900) went to the project, “Verona clinic telephone response system,” with team members David Zhou, James Curland, Jackson Miller and Randall Pulfer. The students were tasked with raising the family medicine clinic’s percentage of patient calls answered within 20 seconds; a more-than-20-second wait increases the likelihood of abandoned calls, reducing patient satisfaction rates. The team developed a new staff incentive program and a streamlined process that routes all incoming calls to the call center first, only redirecting to clinic receptionists if both call center agents are busy. Pilot testing indicated a significant improvement toward the UW Health organizational standard. “Doing contextual interviews with the receptionists helped us understand the process we were asked to improve, prior to collecting and analyzing the quantitative data,” Zhou says. “At the end of the project, we found that a data-driven solution really helped convince our client that our proposed improvement was effective and reliable.”