Unique partnership between researchers and industry helps train future engineers
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – While manufacturing industry professionals and researchers generally work separately, a unique partnership between Penn State, two other universities and an industry leader in manufacturing is demonstrating the value of collaboration.
National Oilwell Varco, Inc. (NOV) is a leading manufacturer of oil and gas drilling equipment worldwide. The complicated nature of NOV’s products can lead to struggles in efficiency.
“NOV makes a combination of products that are standard, made-to-order, assembled-to-order and custom-engineered,” said Sushanta Sahu, director of manufacturing systems at NOV. Sahu is providing technical and administrative leadership to this collaboration.
“Driving efficiencies and responsiveness becomes difficult with non-standard products and the problem magnifies with custom-engineered products where no two orders placed by a customer are ever the same,” he added.
In 2010, NOV executives set out to find a way to face such challenges encountered by facilities that make many of the non-standard products. This led to a visionary partnership between NOV and research universities. The partnership began in 2011 with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and grew to include Texas A&M University and Penn State later that same year.
Each university team is led by one professor, who oversees his/her students’ research. Students that are involved are either seeking their master’s or doctoral degrees and the NOV project is part of their studies.
“NOV was looking to partner with research universities to develop new solutions, as well as help train future manufacturing engineers,” said Robert Voigt, the lead researcher at Penn State and a professor in the Harold and Inge Marcus Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering.
At the beginning of the semester, various stakeholders from NOV come together to create a list of company challenges for students to work on throughout the 16 weeks of the semester.
“These students are getting a truly unique experience,” Sahu said. “The problems they face are real world situations and their work has an actual impact on NOV’s processes.”
When NOV identifies an area of focus for a project, one facility is selected as a pilot. Students then work in the NOV facility to identify and implement solutions. If successful, the students’ ideas are then used in another facility, to guarantee success at different locations. After review from NOV operations leadership, the system is rolled out in NOV facilities worldwide.
Camila Pizano Correa, who earned her master’s degree in industrial engineering in 2013 from Penn State, worked for NOV for six months through the partnership. One of Pizano Correas’s major projects was the development of a management tool that tracked delays in assembly.
“Some of our engineered products are complex,” explained Sahu. “One piece of equipment can take thousands of hours to assemble. If even one part is late, that has the potential to set us back.”
Pizano Correa was able to create a tool that allows facility supervisors to monitor which parts are late, how often the part is late and how long the delay in assembly will be. She also developed a scheduling tool that allows supervisors to see when assembly will be completed, given any delays in parts.
“When I started working to improve the assembly process, it was like going back to the basics and fundamentals of industrial engineering,” Pizano Correa said. “Participating in this program was a great opportunity for me both professionally and personally. I was able to apply what I had been learning throughout my academic career and see the positive impact of it, while having the chance to work with people from different backgrounds.”
Since her time as a master’s student working at NOV, Pizano Correa’s ideas have been implemented across other NOV facilities. She is now a full-time employee at NOV headquarters in Houston, Texas, where she is a senior industrial engineer for the global manufacturing strategy group.
When the partnership began in 2011, it was only intended to last four years. However, the work students have accomplished since then led NOV to extend the contract until 2020. Not only has the partnership given NOV solutions that are tailored to its needs, it has saved the company money in employee training.
Currently there are four Penn State students that were hired by NOV after their master’s or Ph.D. research. By working with NOV throughout their studies, the students become familiar with the company, its systems, employees and products. This makes them an ideal candidate for a full-time position.
“We know these students,” Sahu said. “They are the best from their universities so we are confident in their abilities when hiring them. Their familiarity with the company allows us to skip a lot of the training and have them start contributing right away.”
The NOV program is helpful for students that don’t go on to work for NOV as well.
“Having master’s and Ph.D. students working in-house for a company is something that is exclusive to this NOV-Penn State partnership,” Voigt said. “These students are learning valuable lessons about how to collaborate and problem solve in industry.”