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Five questions ... about manufacturing systems engineering education

Frank Pfefferkorn in his lab

Mechanical Engineering Associate Professor Frank Pfefferkorn. Photo: Mark Riechers. 

Frank Pfefferkorn is an associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Manufacturing Systems Engineering Program at UW-Madison.

Q: What is the Manufacturing Systems Engineering Program?

A:
The Manufacturing Systems Engineering (MSE) program is an interdisciplinary master’s degree-granting program that was founded in 1983. The MSE program is part of the College of Engineering and is led by an executive committee of faculty from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, Department of Engineering Professional Development, Department of Biomedical Engineering, and the Wisconsin School of Business. The MS in MSE lets students combine engineering and business courses for a world-class interdisciplinary curriculum that provides a solid foundation for individuals seeking to manage manufacturing operations in internationally competitive environments. The highly flexible curriculum allows students to work toward individual interests and career choices.

Q: What major challenges do today’s manufacturers face?

A:
There is constant pressure from international competition, requiring manufacturers to be increasingly more agile, innovative and efficient. Manufacturers also face a shortage of highly skilled workers and engineers with knowledge of manufacturing processes and operations. 

Q: In what ways is UW-Madison uniquely positioned to help the manufacturing industry—in Wisconsin, as well as globally—address those challenges?

A:
UW-Madison is perfectly positioned geographically to be a nexus to help advance the manufacturing industry. There are thousands of manufacturers within a three-hour drive of Madison. We are world-renowned for our manufacturing and business education and research. These focus on both advanced technologies of immediate importance to industry and on the fundamental technologies that will enable future competitiveness. Cross-disciplinary research and education is fostered at UW-Madison—for example, among engineering, business and medicine. Also, we have the Madison Area Technical College in Madison, which is the primary source for training skilled manufacturing workers in south-central Wisconsin. Our partnerships with Madison College allow the more rapid transfer of new technology to skilled workforce training.

Q: What knowledge and skills do Manufacturing Systems Engineering program alumni bring to the workplace?

A:
The MS in Manufacturing Systems Engineering gives its graduates the cross-functional expertise required to drive creative product and process development, efficient production, and timely delivery to the customer. Students in the MSE program all have an undergraduate degree in engineering and at least two years of work experience in manufacturing. Their engineering fundamentals are reinforced in the MSE coursework and team projects, plus advanced training in operations management, finance, and implementation of new technologies. It is this combination of strong fundamentals in engineering and management, as well as our emphasis on real-world team-based projects, that gives MSE alumni an edge.

Q: You recently took over as director of the Manufacturing Systems Engineering program. What’s your vision for the program’s future?

A:
I am really excited about the future of the program and the opportunity to expand its service to manufacturing engineers and manufacturing industries. My first goal is to create a new online master’s degree in Manufacturing Systems Engineering. Our on-campus degree is highly respected and sought after by engineers with an average of two to four years of work experience, but does not serve the needs of working professionals who are more settled in their careers and communities. The online degree will enable us to serve a student population that does not wish to disrupt personal and professional lives by commuting or moving to Madison. The executive committee has started the process of developing the online degree and I hope that we can officially accept our first students for the spring 2014 semester. My second goal is to expand the MSE program’s course offerings in areas such as entrepreneurship, new technology implementation, biomedical manufacturing, sustainable manufacturing, food manufacturing, energy manufacturing, and chemical manufacturing. 

Renee Meiller
7/15/2013