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Department of Industrial Engineering

FALL/WINTER 2001-2002

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Putting IE education to work on co-op

Senior Kirk Wittwer learned even more about industrial engineering on his Friskies co-op

Senior Kirk Wittwer learned even more about industrial engineering on his Friskies co-op (27K JPG)

"I have learned that great ideas can come from anyone and that if you are careful and listen to people, great things can be done," says fifth-year senior Kirk Wittwer.

Wittwer returned to campus this semester from an eight-month co-op at Nestle USA's Friskies plant in Jefferson, Wisconsin. Not only did he want the break of a semester away from school, but Wittwer hoped to get hands-on experience in production at the pet food maker. "I've always been interested in production, and Friskies gave me an excellent opportunity to see the speed and the level of technology production facilities use today," he says.

Throughout his co-op, Wittwer worked on a variety of projects that enabled him to spend time both on the shop floor talking with and observing machine operators, and also in the office updating documentation or analyzing data. Among his projects, he designed a recirculation system for can fillers for the plant's canned cat food and worked with the maintenance department to find out how long it took mechanics to perform one of the plant's 100 forms of preventive maintenance. Wittwer also determined where some of the already-small pieces of Friskies dry cat food are being broken during the production process. "All of these projects included documentation work as well as time observing the lines," he says.

Though it is not yet complete, Wittwer's UW-Madison education served him well on the job. "My IE knowledge has really helped me out in the way that I plan out projects as well as how to analyze the data," he explains. "Sometimes my projects have been somewhat vague, but the approaches that have been taught to me in class have really helped me tackle very large projects."

During the co-op, Wittwer also developed both his listening and information-processing skills. "Some of the best suggestions that I heard came from our operators, as well as plant engineers," he says. "But gathering this information is key. There is an explanation for everything and with enough hard work and determination, these answers can be found." Attending daily production meetings and working with the other co-op students, an intern and a management trainee to brainstorm problems, he also learned the importance of solving problems in groups.

Now back on campus for classes, Wittwer still makes the 40-minute drive to Jefferson a couple of times a week to put in 12 to 16 hours of work at Friskies. When he graduates in May 2002, his experience will have given him a valuable start on his next endeavor: a master's degree in industrial engineering from UW-Madison.


IE NEWS is published twice a year for alumni and other friends of the UW-Madison Department of Industrial Engineering.

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Date last modified: Tuesday, 04-Dec-2001 08:40:00 CST
Date created: 29-Nov-2001 14:09:00