Aggie, Ingeniero December 2013

Local manufacturer and engineers team up

It might not be at the top of your agenda, but Friday, Oct. 4 is National Manufacturing Day, an effort to showcase the work and innovation of the 12 million men and women who make the United States the world’s largest manufacturing economy.

Manufacturers make a respectable contribution to the New Mexico economy, accounting for 6.7 percent of the total output in the state, employing 3.6 percent of the workforce. Total output from manufacturing was $5.1 billion in 2009, with computer and electronic products manufacturing the largest sector. Manufacturing workers earn 40 percent more than other nonfarm employers in the state, reports the National Association of Manufacturers. NAM is one of the sponsors of National Manufacturing Day.

The College of Engineering at New Mexico State University has an extensive history of providing engineering assistance to state manufacturers and businesses, formally since 2000 through the Manufacturing Technology and Engineering Center (M-TEC), and much longer through informal associations. Working with products as varied as chile de-stemmers to motorcycle air cleaner covers, one element remains constant: students have the opportunity to gain valuable, real-world experience.

“Under the umbrella of our Engineering New Mexico Resource Network, M-TEC and our other outreach efforts are an example of the college’s commitment to advancing economic development statewide,” said Patricia Sullivan, assistant dean of the College of Engineering and director of the Engineering New Mexico Resource Network. “It is also wonderful for our students who graduate with so much experience. Their job opportunities are greatly expanded.”

One such example involves a local manufacturing business and a group of NMSU industrial engineers who have developed a mutually beneficial relationship.

Precision Technology was launched by Jose Carrera in the 1990s. With the assistance of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s SCORE program, a nonprofit association of volunteer business counselors. Carrera wanted to start a business that would help people materialize their inventions. He started with his own list of 20 ideas and was so successful that he never got past number five.

Carrera’s business serves a worldwide clientele and employs just under 50 people who manufacture more than 500 products used in the assembly of the wire harnesses that are part of automobiles and other electronic products. The pieces hold the wires in place during the assembly process. The pieces are shipped to places as far afield as Rumania, the Philippines, Morocco, Poland and Mexico—none of his clients are U.S. based.

A chemist with a strong background in math and mechanical engineering, Carrera designed and built his own plastic-injection molding machine, the foundation of his business. His shop now comprises 25 various machines.

In 2010 Carrera and  Delia Julieta Valles-Rosales, professor of industrial engineering at NMSU who specializes in injection molding, among other things, and shared their expertise about the technology. When Valles’ injection molding machine that she was using for a research project broke, Carrera opened up his shop to her. That led to a class tour of the facility and Valles asked if her students might use the business as a lab class.

Carrera was a bit reluctant but agreed anyway. In fall 2012, students from Valles’ Methods Engineering class began visiting Precision Technology twice a week. A new group of students has begun this semester.

“I’m reaping all kinds of rewards from this experience,” he said. “It’s tough for a small business to pay for professional help.  It’s also tough to hire an engineer only to find out later that they didn’t work out. You can lose a lot of money.”

Carrera has since hired Lisa McGrath who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering in May 2013 and was part of that first class.

The students observe and videotape the step-by-step processes of manufacturing in the facility to study human factors—time studies for analyzing efficiencies and ergonomics in work station design.

“It’s not just about speed,” says Valles. “It’s about improving quality and minimizing worker fatigue, which can lead to mistakes and accidents.”

This past summer, another class led by Valles and fellow Industrial Engineering Professor Hansuk Sohn, used industrial engineering concepts to establish systems to monitor quality and to identify quality problems within the manufacturing process and ways to solve them.

Yet another group of students is analyzing the facility layout and design to propose efficiencies in the work flow of employees and use of materials, including a mathematical scheduling system that will help Carrera satisfy his customer demands with orders ranging from one to thousands of pieces.

“Jose has an amazing machine shop with extremely good fixtures and tools and it’s expanding and growing,” said Valles. “We’re providing him with some sophisticated tools to help him manage his lot size, the number of parts and workers that he will need to fulfill his orders, how much storage he will need.”

Carrera said that when he began his business he had no “industrial engineering mentality.”

“Through this experience I’ve gained an idea of how we can improve quality and employee safety. As a business owner, I pick what I think is most beneficial to my company and I don’t implement all of their suggestions, but some I implement the minute they walk out the door,” said Carrera.

“Every business owner that I know should take advantage of all the intellect that is available to them from NMSU,” said Carrera. “The impact of the information that I’ve gained is tremendous. And the students bring that spark that we all had at one time. That spark is so valuable—it’s beautiful, really.”

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