RIT engineering students win national material handling competition

Students from industrial and systems engineering take top honors for second straight year

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Michelle Cometa

Undergraduate industrial and systems engineering students, clockwise from top left, Alexandra Woodward, Justine Nichols, Jessica Jeffery and Margaret Bates won the recent College Industry Council on Material Handling Education student design competition. This is the second year in a row that RIT engineering students won the national competition.

For the second year in a row, undergraduate engineering students from Rochester Institute of Technology took top honors in the College Industry Council on Material Handling Education student design competition. Four industrial and systems engineering students in RIT’s Kate Gleason College of Engineering shared the $2,000 grand prize and travel funds to the organization’s annual conference and trade show in Atlanta in March.

Student teams were given a case study, and over five weeks during the semester, they had to redesign the processing system for a large sporting goods facility, targeting distribution of a new product for the company and enlarging space at the distribution center. The best plan from the class was submitted for the national competition.

The case study objectives were typical of the responsibilities they might have to assess in the workplace, said Margaret Bates, a third-year student on the winning team.

“For this particular project, especially, the different layers and levels of the project were far larger than any I had ever worked on in my college career,” said Bates, a Webster, N.Y., resident. “What did help us on the project is that all four of us have a lot of different strengths. Had we been a different group, or had a different make up, I don’t know if we would have been as successful.”

Bates and teammates Jessica Jeffrey, Alexandra Woodward and Justine Nichols drew upon strengths in organizational management, data analysis and experience understanding concepts of utilization and process-flow to complete the lengthy project objectives.

Components of the project included developing a plan that would help the company increase its core business as well as adapt its physical structure and processes to accommodate the growth. The team had to assess the current state of the operation and build a “real world” plan to expand, including equipment needs, cost estimates and resource allocations. A management presentation was also required, and it included cost justifications.

“Everyone wants to see the numbers,” said Nichols, laughing. Nichols is originally from Potsdam, N.Y. Woodward grew up in Chester Springs, Pa., and Jeffrey is from Marlborough, N.Y.

“The big part of this project was taking the information and analyzing it, then using what we had learned in class or common sense to make educated assumptions, then move forward based on that information,” said Bates. “You had to wrap your head around a lot of different pockets of information.”

RIT industrial and systems engineering student teams have been successful in past competitions, taking first place last year and top-five placements over the past five years.

“To win this competition in back-to-back years shows our commitment to practical application of industrial engineering methodologies. The students handled themselves very well,” said Scott Grasman, industrial and systems engineering department head.

This year’s competition had more entries than previous years, with 16 universities represented, and judged by industry professionals and academic representatives. The College Industry Council on Material Handling Education and the Order Fulfillment Solutions Council sponsored the competition, and corporate partner TranSystem provided the competition case based on an actual industry project.