Since 2013, over 70 University of Michigan students on multidisciplinary teams have worked on pressing manufacturing issues at Detroit Manufacturing Systems (DMS). Doing so has filled an important role for the company – and for the students – in solving critical problems, identifying costs savings, and finding ways for a local business to grow and thrive in a competitive economy.

DMS participates in this opportunity through the Multidisciplinary Design Program every year and shares how it fills a critical gap and serves as a strategic recruiting resource. Mark Granderson, a U-M alum who is now the Plant Manager in DMS’ Toledo operation, got his alma mater involved in the program and DMS hasn’t looked back. “Our experience has been outstanding in all cases.”

A core goal of MDP is to give students real world experience applying their classroom knowledge. A related and equally important goal is to provide organizations with access to student talent and potential solutions to barriers or problems in their organization. “We gave the students a real case, something we wanted to work on but didn’t have the resources, and they came up with real solutions that can help us manufacturing wise. Overall, the program has been outstanding, demonstrating a great benefit to both sides. We’ve worked very well together.”

Picking a Project

Each year, DMS works internally to select a potential project and connects with MDP staff to select the right team of students. In January, Mark met with the group and

U-M students on the MDP team that is currently working on the Material Handling Optimization project at DMS.

coordinated time for them to come out to plant. “We showed them DMS process (he was the lean manufacturing lead in their Detroit facility) and they took the ball and ran with it,” he says.

“The team was so invested in their project that they came onsite once a week, sometimes on different shifts and over the weekend to collect data on the production line. This allowed them to come back with a strong set of recommendations to reduce line balance and manpower. “In this case, we implemented all their ideas and saw the financial benefit of doing so. It was a win-win: the students got to do work on a real production line, talk to real supervisors and engineers, and come up with a real solution. We let them know what we ended up implementing so they could see the bottom line impact they had on our organization.”

Over the years, most of students’ recommendations have been incorporated in some form: either they were directly implemented or the information presented was used to inform other areas of improvement.

Recruiting mechanism

Over the years, DMS has hired students from their teams as summer interns, and they recently hired one of them as a full-time employee. This year, a summer intern is directly applying one of the cost saving suggestions the team identified in their first semester on the project. He will be able to use that to push the team’s project further along once they reconvene for the second semester of the program.

Dan Shiveley is the new Director of Production Control and Logistics at the Detroit facility, and this year his COO asked him to continue the program. Previously unfamiliar with MDP, Dan has become a big fan this year.

He shares why: “We challenged the students to come up with a 15% materials handling efficiency improvement, basically saving us $500,000.  The students have approached the project wide eyed and eager to learn our processes. Once they got their feet on the ground, saw the challenges here, it was interesting how easy improvements started coming to them.”

It didn’t take long for Dan to see the value, in terms of impact on the bottom line and on the students. “This was very mutually rewarding. I like the students coming in and asking “why?” It is not only an excellent way of learning, but they were helping us get back to the basics, while also considering new technology. They were a fresh set of eyes and different perspective. I love that the program takes students from the textbook setting and marries them with a hands-on, real life project in a manufacturing facility. When we have these two elements coming together, there’s so much more learning and appreciation for manufacturing that takes place.”

Local Values

Being a manufacturing company in the heart of the Motor City, DMS is grounded in representing their community and industry. Dan continues, “We want people to see, and understand and feel manufacturing, especially in the Detroit area. It’s important that we continue to do that. The students coming out of U-M are the leaders of tomorrow; we want them here to see what we do and what makes manufacturing so exciting.”

And these students represent much of what Detroit represents as well: “Another phenomenal aspect of the program has been the diversity of the students and their backgrounds. All those things are real life, it happens every day. Students are working together in this group, and that helps them to prepare for the working world.“

Dan says, “I’ve never been part of something like this; I didn’t know it existed. I would recommend this program and if I get the chance to have a team next year, I’ll be the first in line in Detroit to say throw a team my way.”