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Student Project Pays Off for Local Manufacturing Firm

Alissa Kalkwarf and Jeff Dousharm needed a senior design project for their industrial engineering degree. Hughes Brothers, a local manufacturer, wanted help with process improvement.

Six months after the end of the project, the firm is realizing gains in productivity while the students have gained valuable work experience.

“The opportunity to implement our skills as industrial engineers and to help their operations was invaluable,” said Kalkwarf.

Hughes Brothers, established in Seward since 1921, makes wood, steel and fiberglass transmission and distribution materials for the electric utility industry. The students focused their efforts on the brace assembly operation at the plant. These workers make braces that support cross arms on electrical distribution poles.

As the students noted in their report, worker motivation was not an issue. But the company realized that productivity could increase if the work area was laid out more efficiently. They also saw the benefit in making the job easier on its workers ergonomically.

The students went to work. They noted every step of the brace operation process from start to finish. They meticulously recorded movements of each worker and machine involved in the process. They also videotaped the process in order to conduct a time study.

The next step was to design a new layout for the work area. The students created an activity chart to help decide which parts of the operation should be placed close together or further apart.

They also looked at the process from an ergonomic standpoint. They found that using self-dumping hoppers or tilters could eliminate workers’ repetitive bending motions and save time. To increase worker comfort, they recommended anti-fatigue mats, seat stands and new tabletops.

With data gathered from the time study, operations process charts and the activity chart, the students redesigned the work area. The new layout eliminates unnecessary twisting motions and walking time for several of the workers. The space is utilized more efficiently without crowding. Bracket and nuts and bolts fill-up areas are centrally placed for more convenient access.

The students estimated that Hughes Brothers could gain more than 10 percent in productivity just by implementing the new layout. They wrote up their recommendations in a report to the company.

“We put Alissa and Jeff’s proposal to work before they got back to Lincoln,” said Plant Engineer Matt Stryson. “I took the final design out to our Assembly Department Foreman, Mike Stauffer. He moved all their machinery and completely changed his layout. His department has loved it ever since. This has increased our productivity and made the material handling much more ergonomic.”

Originally from Malmo, Kalkwarf graduated last December. She is working with Avaya in Omaha. Dousharm is close to finishing his degree. He is self-employed and lives in Lincoln.

“This program that the college has going with local industry is really helpful,” Stryson said. “The students are very smart, energetic and have great ideas. I highly recommend it to anyone willing to put forth a little effort to help students.”

For more information, contact Associate Dean John Ballard or Morris Schneider at (402) 472-3181.

— Deb Derrick

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