sealPurdue News

February 2001

Mock factory brings operations home to students

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – There are no lectures, books, papers or exams in Management 669 - Manufacturing Practice and Models. The professor describes it as a "learn-by-doing" class, and what the students are learning is manufacturing – from raw material to inventory to machining, manufacturing, testing and shipping.

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"It's a team-based, active learning experience," says James E. Ward, a Krannert School of Management professor. There are seven students on a team charged with designing manufacturing operations and then running a simulated factory, Velocity Manufacturing. The products are hose assemblies, simulated with PVC pipe of varying colors and lengths, for the aerospace industry. There are standard and custom assemblies. Factory "days" are eight minutes long. There is a six-day work "week."

Velocity Manufacturing has seen better days. Competition has brought about price reductions and a shrinking market share. The company is down to a single shift, and the only hope is to run as lean and efficient an operation as possible.

With these parameters in place, the teams get points for successfully delivered product and are penalized for late deliveries.

"The primary goal is to meet customer deadlines," Ward says. "We view just-in-time manufacturing as a philosophy, so teams get extra points by running lean factory operations with six, or even five, students. Teams also can earn extra points by improving customer service by reducing the time between when an order is received and when the product is shipped."

The student teams' second goal is to run Velocity Manufacturing with as little inventory as possible.

Ward, who adapted his mock factory from a case study exercise by two Cornell University operations research and industrial engineering professors, has been overseeing his mock factories for six years.

Each semester, there are more students who want to take the class than there are available slots. Ward thinks some of that popularity can be traced to U.S. News and World Report's ranking production operations/management at the Krannert Graduate School of Management third in the nation, behind MIT and Carnegie Mellon. This means, says Ward, that Purdue attracts MBA-level students who have an interest in operations.

The state of Indiana may be a factor in the interest in manufacturing operations at the Krannert School. Indiana ranks first nationally in the percentage of its work force (23.4 percent in 1999) engaged in manufacturing, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce reports Indiana is number one nationally in steel production and first in the production of truck trailers, elevators and escalators, motor homes, mobile homes, travel trailers and campers, vehicle lighting, electrical and electronic equipment.

Indiana, according to the Chamber of Commerce, ranks second nationally in production of motor vehicle power train, transmission, steering, body and suspension components; and second in surgical appliance and supply manufacture.

Velocity Manufacturing gears up for the work week in a small classroom on the fifth floor of the Krannert Building. The students have met before the class to design their system and test it. When they go into action on the assembly line, they move quickly and with purpose, working on filling standard and custom orders concurrently. Time is money in this operation. It is a competitive atmosphere. There is a three-minute planning session between factory days.

There are two manufacturing "sectors," the first where fittings go through simulated machining, brazing and testing and are then sent to a stock room to await the hose assembly process in the second sector. In the second sector, the hoses are joined according to order specifications, pressure tested, visually inspected and, if they pass, certified as ready for shipment.

The members of the student team work on an assembly line. This day they are working on a "pull system" of manufacturing. This means that immediate demand in the form of customer orders triggers action, as opposed to a "push system," where a preset production schedule determines what the factory produces. The team started the class by designing and operating a push system.

By time the seven-week "module" is complete, the students, in addition to having worked with push and pull systems, will design and operate a strategic manufacturing operation that will incorporate marketing decisions to choose products to manufacture that will maximize profit.

"These are second-year master's degree students, so they've already had their basic operations classes," Ward says. "They're applying the concepts in the mock factory operation. I only give the students articles to read if they ask for them."

Source: James E. Ward, (765) 494-4509,

Writer: J. Michael Lillich, (765) 494-2077,

Other source: Cindy Monnier, director of the Business Research Center, Indiana Chamber of Commerce,

Related Web sites:
Krannert School Operations Group homepage

Students in Management 669 - Manufacturing Practice and Models, design and run a mock factory operation called Velocity Manufacturing under the guidance of Professor James Ward, whose role in the class is that of a customer. (Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)

A publication-quality photograph is available at the News Service Web site and at the ftp site. Photo ID: Ward.mockfactory

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