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Undergraduate Research in Automotive Manufacturing Systems at                         Auburn University                   ...
Fig. 1.   Automotive Suppliers in Alabama and REU Student Activities                                                II. RE...
The REU Site benefits from current research activities at Auburn University that involve multidisciplinaryefforts between ...
informal setting. The students live in a university residence hall which is within a five-minute walk tocampus. We provide...
Fig. 2.   Research facilities   Last year, the Industrial and Systems Engineering department purchased and installed two m...
Fig. 4.   Inspection Station of an Automotive Audio System.        The student was involved with modeling the optimization...
IV. PROGRAM ASSESMENT   To assess our program objectives, we conducted two surveys. One survey was administered during the...
“Yes, it has helped me realize there are many aspects of the automotive industry that relate to all            kinds of en...
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  1. 1. Undergraduate Research in Automotive Manufacturing Systems at Auburn University J. Valenzuela1, G.A. Davis, and L. Sims Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering Auburn University, AL, USAIndex Terms: undergraduate research, automotive research, manufacturing systems, industrial engineering.Abstract In order to address the research needs of the growing automotive manufacturing industry and the newemployment opportunities for engineering students in the southern United States, we have developed aresearch experience for undergraduate (REU) site with a focus on automotive manufacturing systems. TheREU is currently funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) for three years. The site consists ofhosting ten engineering undergraduate students from different academic institutions each year for an 8-weeksummer research experience at Auburn University. The REU Site provides participating students with hands-on experiences in research and encourages them to pursue a research career in engineering as well asadvanced degrees. In this paper, we describe our experiences with the REU site in terms of studentrecruitment and selection, communication, program administration, organizational involvement, and researchresults. We also provide an analysis on student and faculty feedback following the first year of the program. I. AUTOMOTIVE MANUFACTURING INDUSTRY IN ALABAMA The effect of globalization is dramatically changing the face of the automotive manufacturing industry inthe United States [7]. Due to business incentives, rural development, and low-cost labor available in thesouthern states, foreign automotive manufacturers and their suppliers have recently establishedmanufacturing complexes of production facilities in the southeast. In Alabama, these include industry leaderssuch as Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Hyundai, and Mercedes-Benz. In the southeast, the automotive industryaccounts for more than 150,000 jobs, and the region has the greatest employment expansion rate of anygeographic region in the U.S. A study conducted by the University of Alabama Huntsville reported 263automotive related plants in the state of Alabama alone [1], encompassing 44,834 jobs in 2005, an increaseof 44% from 2003. The study also indicates that there were 29 new automotive related plants established inAlabama between 2004 and 2005. Recent expansion announcements by Toyota (in Huntsville, AL),Mercedes (in Vance, AL), Honda (in Lincoln, AL), and Hyundai (in Montgomery, AL) demonstrate that thegrowth of the automotive industry in Alabama has not yet finished [4]. These newly expanded facilities aresome of the most advanced assembly and manufacturing plants in North America. Hyundai, for example,constructed a $1.1 billion plant in Montgomery, AL (about 60 miles from Auburn University) and employsmore than 3300 workers. This year, KIA Motors Corp., a subsidiary of Korean automaker Hyundai, hasbegun the construction of a $1.2 billion manufacturing plant in West Point, Georgia, which is about one halfhour from Auburn University. International automotive suppliers have also been attracted to Alabama. Hyundai has more than72 suppliers located in the U.S., primarily in Alabama. Uni-Tech, a Korean automotive supplier thatproduces a variety of automation technology products for tier one suppliers of Hyundai, has opened inTallassee, Alabama. Maxforma Plastics LLC, a division of the leading Korean plastics manufacturer HanwhaL & C Corporation, has located one of its plants in Opelika, Alabama. Mando America Corp., a maker ofbrakes, suspension and steering systems, expanded its facility and relocated its U.S. headquarters fromDetroit to Opelika. Fig. 1 provides an illustration of the widespread automotive supplier base withinAlabama [1] and some of the REU student activities.1 E-mail:
  2. 2. Fig. 1. Automotive Suppliers in Alabama and REU Student Activities II. REU SITE DESCRIPTION In order to address the research needs of the growing automotive manufacturing industry and the newemployment opportunities for engineering students, we have established an REU Site with a focus onautomotive manufacturing systems. The REU Site hosts 10 undergraduate students each year for an 8-weeksummer research experience at Auburn University. The short-term objectives of the program are: • Educate qualified students to develop a diverse engineering research experience to prepare them for future engineering careers • Expand student participation in multi-disciplinary engineering research. The long-term objectives are: • Motivate qualified undergraduate engineering students to conduct research and to solve challenging problems that involve technology, people, and capital. • Encourage students to attend graduate school • Track participants in the early stages of their career to quantify the impact of their REU experience. The recruitment of students for this REU Site is based on their career goals, academic achievement, andinterest in the automotive manufacturing industry. They are recruited through advertisements, personalinvitations, and by research faculty involved with the REU Site program. To recruit industrial engineers, wesent emails to the Council of Industrial Engineering Department Heads (CIEADH) and also directly to everystudent chapter of the Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE) in the U.S. We have developed a Web site [8] forthe student recruitment and selection process. In support of NSF goals to recruit women, underrepresentedminorities, and persons with disabilities in research, we used the national website of Society of WomenEngineers (SWE). Additionally, our college hosts the BellSouth Minority Engineering Program which isinvolved with our Department to recruit underrepresented minorities nationwide. Our recruitment efforts arealso directed toward colleges where research is not their principal activity. Immediately after the deadline passed for students to apply for the Auburn ISE-REU, all the applicationswere input into an Access database for analysis. Our goal was to have a diverse group from many differentinstitutions (especially those without research opportunities for students), matching the student’s primary orsecondary research interest to an appropriate project, and matching the student’s undergraduate studies andcoursework to projects. We also considered the student’s GPA and their interest and/or experience in theautomotive industry. After this analysis, 10 applicants were chosen for invitations and all 10 accepted. OurREU students included 7 males and 3 females including 3 ethnic minorities. They came from 10 differentuniversities and from 9 states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, NorthCarolina, Oklahama). Most of the students were matched to their 1st or 2nd research area of choice. All ofthe students were either junior or senior Industrial or Mechanical Engineering majors.1 E-mail:
  3. 3. The REU Site benefits from current research activities at Auburn University that involve multidisciplinaryefforts between the Departments of Industrial and Systems Engineering [3], Mechanical and MaterialsEngineering, and Electrical and Computer Engineering. Some of these research activities are performedunder the NSF Industry / University Cooperative Research Center (the only IUCRC located in Alabama) andthe Center for Advanced Vehicle Electronics (CAVE) [2]. At Auburn, this research center provides a richresearch environment as it is dedicated to working with industry in developing and implementing newtechnologies for the packaging and manufacturing of electronics with special emphasis on the cost, harshenvironment, and reliability requirements of the automotive industry. The center focuses on the vehicleelectronics supply chain including tier one suppliers, such as DaimlerChrysler Electronics and Yazaki’sNACOM facility, as well as component and materials suppliers including ST Microelectronics and CooksonElectronics. The center also includes other non-automotive vehicle designers, notably, NASA and the USGovernment’s Army Aviation and Missile Command (AMCOM) operation. These industrial partnersroutinely guest lecture within the classroom to promote a better understanding of “real world” applications ofvehicle electronics technology. Our REU Site provides participating students with hands-on experiences in research and encourages themto pursue a research career in engineering. The participants are involved in projects that aim to expose themto theory and practice of problem solving techniques involving data collection, statistical analysis,computational modeling, and experimental design of problems related to the automotive manufacturingindustry. We offer structured training activities to guide experiences in research. During the 8-week period,we offer seminars on research methods, safe laboratory practices, research ethics, intellectual property, andcommercialization techniques. We prepare students pertaining to their professional development as well byoffering workshops on oral presentations and technical report writing. A seminar on how to apply tograduate schools is also part of the training. These seminars are organized by the PIs with the support of stafffrom the Library and the Graduate School at Auburn University. During the first few weeks, we introducethe students to skills such as literature searching and review, research design, laboratory research techniques,written and oral presentation, as well as working in a team environment. Students participate in their researchprojects starting the first week of their REU experience. Table 1 provides the agenda of the program for2007. Visits to automotive related companies provide students with exposure to advanced technologies, andan appreciation and insight into engineering issues of industrial applications. Table 1: List of Activities of 2007 REU Site Week Professional Activity Social Activity 1 Research Methods Opening lunch 2 Library Research Skills 3 Industry Visit to Hyundai Automotive and a Pizza Night logistics tour of a minor league baseball stadium 4 Research Involving Humans 5 Sharing Research Findings Atlanta Aquarium & Baseball 6 Industry Visit to Mercedes Benz 7 Career Development Burger Night 8 Graduate School opportunities 9 Industry visit to Mando America Corp 10 Poster Session Appreciation Dinner A faculty mentor, a faculty advisor, and a graduate student are assigned to each REU student. Theyprovide the necessary guidance, encouragement, and support to the students. The PIs make sure that theresearch projects provide the students with opportunities to learn the fundamentals of research and applythem to solve real world problems. We look for research projects that involve activities such as datacollection, data analysis, system modeling, result interpretation, report writing, and poster presentation.Although participating students interact one on one with their faculty mentors, seminars and workshops areconducted in a group. Engineering professionals from local companies are invited to give technicalpresentations. We have also social events where student participants and faculty sponsors interact in a more1 E-mail:
  4. 4. informal setting. The students live in a university residence hall which is within a five-minute walk tocampus. We provide lockers, computers, and desks for the REU students in one of the labs in the IndustrialEngineering department, in close proximity to the mentors and graduate students. This also allows thestudents to have informal interaction with each other during the work day. The mentors and graduate students are primarily concerned with the research efforts of the REU student.Each of the PI’s also serves as an advisor to 3-4 of the REU students. The advisor’s role is to help resolveany problems that might arise for the students in housing, meals, transportation, relationships with otherREU students or their mentors, etc. In this way, we could insure that corrective action is taken quickly ifproblems arise. III. RESEARCH ENVIRONMENT The REU Site is hosted by the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE) at AuburnUniversity. Auburn University is one of the Souths premier land grant institutions and the largest universityin Alabama, with an enrollment of approximately 23,000. The university provides the highest priority ofresource allocation to undergraduate and graduate education and research. The Department of Industrial andSystems Engineering has a long and respectable reputation in providing an excellent teaching and producinghigh quality research. The Department has been awarding degrees since 1931 and has over 4,000 livingalumni. The undergraduate program is ranked 26th and the graduate program ranked 20th by GourmanReports [6]. In 2008, U.S. News and World Reports ranked the ISE program 21st in the nation and 15thamong public institutions. The ISE program is the highest ranked engineering program at AuburnUniversity. The Department offers bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees in industrial and systemsengineering. The annual research expenditures are over $1.5 million. The technical capability existing at Auburn University in vehicle technology and Auburn’s commitment tothe automotive industry is shown in part by the development of a new minor in Automotive Engineering &Manufacturing. The minor includes courses in vehicle design, power-train performance, and automotivemanufacturing systems. This educational program builds on several existing courses in vehicle design andperformance, materials, electronics, devices, and manufacturing. It also adds new courses targeting theeducational needs of the automotive industrial or manufacturing engineer. The educational program hasinvolved a multidisciplinary effort between the Departments of Industrial and Systems Engineering andMechanical and Materials Engineering. This program was initiated by a recent $400,000 award from theNational Science Foundation (NSF) for undergraduate automotive education. The ISE Department currently has six full professors, three associate professors, two assistant professors,and one research assistant professor. The Department is very much a mid-sized department relative to allother Industrial Engineering departments in the U.S. The Department is within the Samuel Ginn College ofEngineering, which is home to three of the seven Auburn University Peaks of Excellence, as well as totwelve research centers, and numerous department laboratories. In addition to two computer laboratorieswith a total of 40 personal computers with technical software, the Department has numerous laboratoriesdedicated to occupational safety and ergonomics, electronics manufacturing, and machining and metrology. The Samuel Ginn College of Engineering is in the final stages of constructing the new $108-millionTransportation Technology Center. The Department has recently moved into the new Shelby TransportationTechnology Center (figure 2). The Center is equipped with state-of-the-art laboratories and classrooms thatsupport the Departments mission of teaching, research, and service. Participating students have access to theAuburn University Libraries that contain over 2.7 million volumes as well as 2.6 government documents and2.5 million microforms. The Libraries receive over 35,000 current periodicals, many which are availableonline. In addition, the library provides access to over 227 electronic databases.1 E-mail:
  5. 5. Fig. 2. Research facilities Last year, the Industrial and Systems Engineering department purchased and installed two major newComputer Numerically Controlled (CNC) machines (see figure 3). The addition of these two industrial grademachines, along with the recent department upgrade to MasterCAM X and Eclipse, provide us with state-of-the-art CAD/CAM/CNC research equipment. A primary leverage for additional research equipment isCAVE. This center offers superior laboratory equipment such as a MPM solder paste screen printer, AQAssembleon Placement Machine, Heller Reflow Oven, Phoenix X-Ray Machine, Viscom InspectionMachine, and CAM/Lot Dispense Machine. Ergonomics and safety equipment available to undergraduatestudents includes; physiological monitoring (heart rate, blood pressure, and EMG), biomechanical equipment(force plate, balance master, lumbar motion monitor, and Vicon Motion Capture System). Additionally, thelabs are equipped with a number of hand-held human factors and environmental (noise, thermal, andvibration) testing equipment. Fig. 3. ISE New CNC MachinesA. Representative Sample of Automotive Manufacturing System Research Projects 1) Improving the Inspection Process of Automotive Audio Systems The inspection process of an audio system manufactured by Siemens VDO, a tier one supplier to the automotive industry located in Huntsville, Alabama, involves a series of 124 tests. Due to the fact that more than one million systems are manufactured every year, even a small reduction in the testing time would greatly impact the cost drivers of production cost and profit. The inspection tests are categorized into three types, namely functional, calibration, and procedural. The calibration tests are performed early in the inspection process and precede the functional tests. Certain precedence constraints also exist among the calibration tests. Functional tests, on the other hand, do not have any precedence relationships among themselves but most require all calibration tests to be completed before them. Procedure tests do not have any precedence relationships among them or with the other calibration and functional tests. There are 65 calibration tests, 55 functional tests, and 4 procedure tests in the inspection process of an audio system. Once a fault is detected on a unit, the inspection process is terminated and the unit is sent for repair. The objective of this project was to find the sequence in which the tests should be carried out so that the expected total inspection time can be minimized while satisfying all precedence constraints.1 E-mail:
  6. 6. Fig. 4. Inspection Station of an Automotive Audio System. The student was involved with modeling the optimization problem and using collected data corresponding to inspection times of each test and the number of defects from the production lines of the electronics manufacturer (see figure 4). The data was used as a basis to characterize inspection times and probabilities of failure for developing the optimization model. 2) Characterizing Automotive Manufacturing Tasks in Terms of Fatigue Measurements This project was designed to measure physiological work loads associated with tasks typically associated with certain aspects of automotive manufacturing (see figure 5). The underlying safety and ergonomic principles are directly applicable to the development and modification of work-rest schedules of interest to automotive manufacturers and their associated suppliers. This research project integrated two REU engineering undergraduate students into a project team comprised of safety & human factors graduate students, and the faculty mentor, to design, construct (experimental apparatus), collect human performance data, analyze, propose improvements to existing work-rest rotation schedules, and write a project report, dealing with all aspects of the study. The project team completed enough of the initial effort (obtain human subjects testing approval, construct initial test apparatus) timed such that the undergraduate students were seamlessly integrated into the project without unnecessary delay. The undergraduates work closely on all parts of the project, under the direct supervision of industrial engineering senior doctoral students, and are monitored daily by the faculty mentor. Fig. 5. An Assembly Task The project intends to characterize each particular task in terms of the physiological, biomechanical, and psychophysical consequences to the worker. An experimental apparatus, typical of automotive manufacturing environments (large shelving unit and assembly line section) has been constructed in a laboratory setting, providing a controlled environment. Four measures (physiological, biomechanical, psychophysical and work measurement) were determined. The REU undergraduates learned to use laboratory techniques to collect basic human performance data typically associated with ergonomics research projects.1 E-mail:
  7. 7. IV. PROGRAM ASSESMENT To assess our program objectives, we conducted two surveys. One survey was administered during thefirst day of the research program and a second survey was carried out during the last day of the program.During the entry survey, the students were asked questions pertaining to how they selected the REUprogram, the quality of the application process, effectiveness of communication with program PIs,assessment of their previous technical knowledge on automotive manufacturing, and statement of theirdemographics. During the survey after the program was completed, the students were asked questionspertaining the quality of the housing and meals, quality of the provided information during orientation, andeffectiveness of the communication during the REU program. They were also asked to rate the workshops,tours, social activities, the mentors, and program leaders. In this report, we provide a sample of the answersto three important questions that we think summarize the success of our program during the first year.A. Question 1: Rate the people that you were involved with in the project. Choose from the following list of ratings: Strongly Disagree, Disagree Somewhat, Neither Agree nor Disagree, Agree Somewhat, Strongly Agree. Results: The Program leaders were helpful/accessible: 9 students Strongly Agreed and 1 student Agreed Somewhat. My advisor (non-technical) was helpful/accessible: 8 students Strongly Agreed and 2 students Agreed Somewhat. The other REU students were helpful/accessible: 9 students Strongly Agreed and one student Neither Agreed nor Disagreed. My mentor was helpful/accessible: 8 students Strongly Agreed, 1 student Neither Agreed nor Disagreed, and 1 student Disagreed Somewhat.B. Question 2: What did you learn from your experience? Answers: “I learned more about what Industrial Engineering is and what areas it encompasses. I learned how important it is to like what you are doing for work and that you should really like a research project before you start it”. “I learned the importance of ergonomics (with respect to physiology) in a manufacturing environment and how it can be used as a lean manufacturing technique.” “How to better motivate myself to work independently. Also, how to help form a cohesive group of people when everyone is so different”. “I learned how to do a literature review in a more systematic way and other research tools. I learned different things to help with graduate school. “Working with people is always a learning experience”. “Persistence”. “I leaned how to use Excel and Visual at a very advanced level. I saw algorithms that are usually taught at a graduate level. I got to see state of the art plants (Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai)”.C. Question 3: Has this REU experience changed your perception of automotive manufacturing research? Answers: “I didnt have any perception before. Now, I am more interested in research relating to automotive manufacturing”. “Yes, there are more things that can be applied to auto manufacturing than I had realized”. “Yes, I can now see that suppliers are essential for the integrity of automotive assembly plants”. “Yes, it has, I did not know much about the automotive industry. This program helped me to learn more information about it! I enjoyed all the plant visits and hands on learning”. “Yes, it was nice to see many different types of factories and how they manufacture differently but similarly”.1 E-mail:
  8. 8. “Yes, it has helped me realize there are many aspects of the automotive industry that relate to all kinds of engineering”. “Yes I came with no knowledge at all. Now I do know what research is; especially in automotive manufacturing”. On his REU exit survey, one of the students wrote “I plan on applying to Auburn University (for graduateschool). I feel as if I would get a great education here and have enjoyed every moment of this REUprogram.” The student was true to his word, and he did apply and has been accepted to pursue his MSdegree in our Department starting Fall semester (08). He intends to work in the Ergonomics/Safety area, andbecause of his outstanding undergraduate record and research experience during the REU, he has beenawarded a full tuition and stipend fellowship from the Department’s NIOSH funded Center for OccupationalSafety and Health. Additionally, a second REU student has been accepted to graduate school in ourDepartment, and we have had a repeat visit from a third REU student who intends to apply to our graduateprogram, next year. We believe that we are very fortunate to be able to use the REU for recruiting some ofthe nation’s best engineering students into our graduate program here at Auburn University. This indirectbenefit of the REU has truly been beneficial for our program and we look to repeat this experience thissummer, where ten students coming from Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Louisiana Tech University,Jacksonville State University, Rice University, University of Oklahoma, University of Arkansas Fayetteville,University of Michigan, Auburn University, and Milwaukee School of Engineering will participate in theprogram. V. CONCLUSIONS We believe our first summer’s REU program was successful based on the feedback from the participants.However, we plan to continuously improve the REU program as we become more knowledgeable about theprocesses of recruitment, administration, and execution of the program. Some of the improvements weintend to make are discussed in this section. Although we believe that our participant population wasdiverse, we plan to use an NSF-funded computer program developed by Dr. Juan Gilbert [5] at AuburnUniversity to help us choose our students for next summer’s REU. Also, we plan to lengthen the applicationwindow to attract more applicants. The first summer we had all applicants living two to a room, except onemale and one female lived alone because there was an odd number (7-3). This arrangement required theprogram to pay for one extra room and we received negative feedback about the “unequalness” from theparticipants. We will attempt to have an even number of males/females for the remaining two REUprograms. We had some of the students work alone and some work on two-person teams and the feedbackreceived is that working on the teams was more productive and satisfying for the students and mentors. Nextsummer we will have all the students work on two-person teams for their primary research project. This alsoallows us to reduce the number of projects (and subsequently the number of mentors) from 10 to 5, which ismuch easier to manage. We also plan to have our REU students interface with students attending REUs inother departments at Auburn University. Another enhancement is that we will have our students give morefrequent and informal updates on their projects to each other, the PIs, and the mentors.ACKNOWLEDGEMENTThis research program was supported by the National Science Foundation under the grant ECS-0648112. REFERENCES[1] Alabama Automotive Manufacturers Association, “Alabama’s Automotive Manufacturing Industry is Sizzling,” press release, available at:, February 17, 2006.[2] Center for Advanced Vehicle Electronics,[3] Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, Auburn University,[4] Economic Development Partnership of Alabama,[5] Gilbert, J.E., “Applications Quest: Computing Diversity,” Communications of the ACM, 49, 3, pp. 99-104, 2006.[6] Gourman Report, available at:[7] Span, M. S. “Tracking the Growth of Alabama’s Automotive Manufacturing Industry”, Office of Economic Development, University of Alabama in Huntsville, May 2003. Available at:[8] REU in Automotive Manufacturing Systems, website E-mail: