Montana State University

MSU engineering students win national design competition

October 10, 2016 -- By Jessianne Wright for the MSU News Service

A team of industrial and management systems engineering students won top honors in a national design competition that challenged them to develop a material handling system and solve design problems. Shown from bottom: Sarah Linkenhoker, Ross Wolfe, Kayley Gaustad and Lin Li. Courtesy photo

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BOZEMAN – A team of Montana State University industrial and management systems engineering students took top honors at a national design competition that challenges students to develop material handling systems and solve design problems drawn from actual manufacturing industry case files.

The competition is sponsored by the College Industry Council on Material Handling Education and the Order Fulfillment Solutions Council and runs from September to June, with a new challenge presented each year.

Durward Sobek, team adviser and coordinator of MSU’s Industrial and Management Systems Engineering program in the College of Engineering, integrates the design competition into his 400-level senior capstone course, “Facility and Material Handling Systems Design,” every fall semester.

Material handling systems, Sobek explained, are technologies used to move and store goods or materials, ranging from simple storage racks to conveyor systems to automated sorting, storage and retrieval equipment.

The students form teams and complete the design competition’s challenge as their term project in the course. Sobek then submits the most competitive project to the competition, which asks students to provide solutions to a host of material-handling problems and meet a real business need, then justify their answers with data.

“Where are they going to store products? How are they going to store it? How are they going to move products through the facility? They have to figure out the staffing ... and they have to justify all of this with an economic analysis,” Sobek said. “It’s a very involved project. They have to get estimates on how much all this stuff is going to cost and they have to run calculations on how much equipment they are going to need.”

Seven independent judges from the industry and academia reviewed this year’s submissions and in August the MSU team was awarded first place. The students will share $2,000 and MSU’s Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering will receive $500, which will be used to help students fund the final senior design projects they complete during the spring semester before graduation.

Kayley Gaustad of Absarokee, Ross Wolfe of Dillon, Sarah Linkenhoker of Billings, and Lin Li of Shanghai, China, comprised the first-place team. MSU teams have won first, second or third place awards in five of the last six years.

Other competing universities included the Rochester Institute of Technology and California Polytechnic State University, which Sobek called “formidable.”

Gaustad, who will graduate in December from MSU's College of Engineering, said she enjoyed working on her team’s project last fall.

“I enjoyed the class project because it brought a new opportunity,” she said. “Unlike other school projects, we were not allowed to get advice or assistance from professors. We had to use our own knowledge from previous classes to tackle such a large project.”

Fellow team member Linkenhoker, who graduated in May and now works as a technical support engineer with Oracle, said she also enjoyed the challenge; however, she admitted the workload became quite consuming.

“It was a huge project,” she said. “Despite that, I definitely enjoyed the project. It was really challenging to be given bare-bones information and have to make something out of it.”

Linkenhoker said that of all the projects she had at MSU, the design challenge had the most real-world application because it forced her to consider the big picture.

“It wasn't like you could solve one piece at a time,” she said. “You had to look at the whole thing holistically because each aspect affected the others.”

“So much of school is solving really small pieces of bigger problems in an attempt to understand concepts, but this project made the team consider all aspects at once, which I think is much more reflective of real-world work,” Linkenhoker said. “I think that participation in these types of activities makes your college education worthwhile.”

Contact: Durward Sobek, dsobek@montana.edu or 994-7140

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