Skip to main content
Students examine an anesthesia delivery unit at GE Healthcare
March 7, 2022

Industrial engineering undergrads get glimpse of real-world challenges in senior design

Written By: Tom Ziemer

Less than a month away from the conclusion of their senior design project, University of Wisconsin-Madison industrial engineering students Josie Beres, Conner Boldt, Jasmine Brewer and Will Gallagher uncovered a considerable problem: Their analysis showed their client’s desired goal for their project wasn’t actually feasible.

“Our team was kind of panicked,” says Brewer, whose group was tasked with reducing manufacturing lead times by implementing generic configurations for anesthesia delivery systems at GE Healthcare.

But the four graduating seniors regrouped, plotted a path forward and found a way to still impress their client in ISyE 450: Industrial Engineering Design II, the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering’s capstone design course.

To deliver that kind of positive result, though, the students had to rebound from the major roadblock they encountered. GE Healthcare had asked them to recommend a production approach that would allow the company to move away from making fully customized products for specific customer orders to producing 10 generic configurations that could be rapidly adapted as needed to meet 80% of customer demand. But after analyzing the relevant data on GE Healthcare’s high variety of anesthesia system configurations, they discovered serving the targeted level of demand using only 10 generics wasn’t possible.

Undeterred, the students sought guidance from E-Business Chair Professor Raj Veeramani, the longtime lead instructor for the senior design course, who helped them consider design changes that could consolidate the number of configurations and optimize the manufacturing line workflow to achieve a significant reduction in lead time for demand fulfillment. Armed with these ideas, the foursome pushed forward with the project, sitting down with manufacturing line workers to gain a better understanding of the build process for anesthesia systems and the feasibility and potential impact of their design simplification ideas.

In the end, the students presented a set of recommendations that would allow for any customization to happen near the end of the manufacturing line with 11 generic configurations, covering 70% of customer demand. But they also provided GE Healthcare with their data analysis model, allowing the company to adjust parameters to reflect its priorities (better demand coverage at the expense of more configurations, for example).

As a result, one of GE Healthcare’s regional sales teams has already reduced the number of configurations it’s offering. Mark Brown, senior lean manufacturing leader at GE Healthcare, says the project has also spurred the company to consider changes at regional distribution centers to accommodate region-specific configurations, as well as how it should devise future designs to better align with customer needs.

“Their investigation allowed us to really question what we were doing from a customer supply standpoint and why we had so many configurations to start with,” says Brown. “What we expected to find, we didn’t find. And so they had to pivot and dug deeper into the data. It maybe didn’t end with the conclusion that we expected, but probably has a bigger impact to the organization than what we expected.”

The experience was just as beneficial for the students.

“I feel like that’s the best way to learn: getting that actual, tangible experience,” says Beres. “Because, yes, you can learn all the concepts in school, but actually being able to apply them and see them in action in the manufacturing line or just a company in general was a great experience.”

For their efforts, the team took top honors—along with a cash prize—in ISyE’s fall 2021 Ratner Senior Design Project Award competition, in which teams compete each semester while working with a range of business clients.

Beres and Brewer are now pursuing master’s degrees in industrial engineering, with a focus on systems engineering and analytics, through UW-Madison’s one-year accelerated program. Beres will intern at GE Healthcare in summer 2022, in part because of her work on the project, while Brewer will intern at Boston Scientific. Boldt and Gallagher graduated in December 2021 and started their careers at AprilAire and Husco, respectively.

Students Sheehan Breyne-Grace, Brandan Carlson, Ian Leonhardt, Collin Nelson and Justin Stollberg took second place in the Ratner Award competition for their work on driver safety and accident prevention strategies for BCP Transportation, the Deerfield, Wisconsin-based trucking company owned by alumna Nancy Spelsberg (BSIE ’99).

Keegan Chesney, Margaret Nolan, Spencer Pellmann and Morgan Vareberg placed third for their project on behalf of Madison-based biomanufacturer Promega. The undergraduates recommended process improvements for controlled-temperature picking and packing ahead of a major facility expansion.