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Getting Their Hands Dirty 

Pittsburgh -- Michael Wood doesn’t have to worry how he will do when he goes out into the real world. The real world has already come to him.

Wood, a senior in Robert Morris University’s manufacturing engineering program, co-authored a paper published recently in the International Journal for Service Learning in Engineering, detailing a project he and his classmates undertook as part of their Fundamentals of Manufacturing Engineering course.

The project involved a Pittsburgh-area manufacturer of automotive mirrors, which asked the RMU students to eliminate inefficiencies in its production process. By the end of the semester, the students came up with several recommendations – at least one of which the company adopted– to cut the total manufacturing time in half.

“That class has had the biggest impact on me as a student. It was awesome to see that the company actually incorporated our suggestions into their facilities,” said Wood.

That kind of experience is the rule rather than the exception for RMU engineering students, said Murat Tiryakioğlu, university professor of engineering. Tiryakioğlu taught the fundamentals course and was the lead author on the journal paper.

“Robert Morris University is situated in a wonderful environment for our Engineering Department, because everywhere you look there’s industry, and everyone is experiencing efficiency problems,” said Tiryakioğlu.

Tara Maxwell, who graduated last spring and now works for Philips Respironics, said that real-world experience separates RMU’s engineering program from the pack. She was another co-author on the service learning paper. “We were able to directly apply our lessons and labs at RMU to that company,” said Maxwell.

Kevin Kweder, a 2006 RMU graduate, recalls working for the same automotive mirror manufacturer in his senior capstone course, transforming the company’s manual packaging process into a robotic packaging system.

“I got to do a lot of programming and design work. It was very hands-on,” said Kweder, who now works as a quality supervisor at Schroeder Industries in Leetsdale. The company produces hydraulic filters for mechanical systems, and its customers include John Deere, Caterpillar and Waste Management.

Last fall, Tiryakioğlu asked Kweder to find a quality-related problem that RMU students could solve for Schroeder. One project Schroeder gave them centered on leaks in its filters, and Kweder had traced the problem to the steel rings upon which the filters are mounted. The rings need to be flat, but Kweder found that when the rings were welded to the filter housing they got distorted by 20 to 30 thousandths (.020” to .030”) of an inch, enough to cause a leak.

The students discovered that heat from the welding process and small vibrations were causing the rings to be distorted, and recommended improvements to the fixture that holds the rings in place during welding. The results were successful, and now Schroeder is working with RMU on other projects.

“Schroeder is very impressed with the Engineering Department at RMU. If they see an RMU resume coming in, most likely you are going to get an interview,” said Kweder.