U-M students on a site visit last semester.

Connecting with the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor can be a daunting prospect, given its size, breadth and decentralized nature. Shape Corp., a full service, tier-one automotive supplier in Grand Haven, was unfazed by the prospect.

Visit campus, leave with new connections

When University of Michigan alumnus and Shape CEO Gary Verplank (B.S.E. ’63) visited campus, he brought back a big idea to his team, and his Materials Science Engineer Brian Oxley got to work. The result is a foray into student program support at the Multidisciplinary Design Program through the College of Engineering.

Brian, the product manager who sets strategy for Shape in a core area of their business – the roll forming process for steel. In everyday life, we see their work in the bendability of important parts of our cars and their performance in a crash (and other applications). So when it comes to product design and maximizing performance, we want to make sure Shape has the best technology – and people.

That’s where U-M students came in.

Every year, the Multidisciplinary Design Program works with organizations on their engineering challenges and creates a (you guessed it) multidisciplinary team of the brightest U-M students to work for two semesters for a solution. The students are jointly mentored by a company employee and a U-M faculty member throughout the project.

Brian and Shape are asking the students to design and build a testing apparatus that allows Shape to characterize bending behavior of advanced high strength steel, have the output be usable in roll forming process and produce performance simulations, apply the simulations and create a numerical model of bending based on key outputs.

How it works

He’s been pleased so far. He shares, “Once that learning phase was over and requirements were well understood, the lights went on and everything accelerated towards the end of the semester.” This early learning curve is typically experienced in a short summer internship, or when a recent graduate joins a company.  By providing a hands-on engineering project to the students, there is an early jump on the core learning and background, providing a smooth onramp into summer internships and potentially full-time employment at the end of the project.

The team has been to Shape’s facilities twice and Brian has a two-hour weekly meeting with them. “Through the winter the team did a lot of research, defined expected outcomes, completed serial testing, so now they’re ready to move forward with their design and physically build an apparatus.” After summer, the group will reconvene over the fall semester to finish the project. In the meantime, one of their team members will work as an intern at Shape. (This certainly is a nice way to find talented and engaging summer interns and prospective employees.)

Infusing Student Ideas

“I’m impressed by the students’ ability to articulate the work they were doing. I could see they had a really good grasp on requirements and their contribution, and they were doing so in a formal and professional manner. They demonstrate a fearlessness to question and willingness to dig into the granularity. It’s making for what will be a very good project for us.”

Karandeep Singh Nayyar, a Master’s student in Automotive Engineering, is on the Shape team and reflects, “Working on this project has been an excellent experience for me as I got the opportunity to do both design and structural analysis as well as perform hands on experiments. Fortunately, I also got the chance to do a summer internship at Shape through this project, I am highly excited about it since I will be working on a project which is based exactly on my interests and prior academic and professional experience.”

Working with U-M and MDP is a new experience for Shape, one that shows the evolving and collaborative nature of business and academia. Oxley continues, “Education used to be so text book, classroom, chalkboard driven, but this sort of learning is incredible. That students have the opportunity to interact with real companies on a real working project is so beneficial. They’re developing a deeper level of teamwork on a deadline driven project where they’re really held accountable for the result – this is a great model for learning.”

More information about U-M’s Multidisciplinary Design Program can be found here.

More information about Shape Corp. can be found here.

Corporate engagement resources at U-M can be found at the Business Engagement Center.