FOCUS ON NEW FACULTY: Jingshan Li
n summer 2010, Jingshan Li joined ISyE as an associate professor. With a background in manufacturing and industrial partnerships, Li’s work is a blend of real-world practicality and a commitment to quantitative production principles.
Originally from China, Li received his PhD at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and spent six years the General Motors Research Laboratory. He returned to academia as a joint faculty member in electrical and computer engineering and manufacturing at the University of Kentucky for four years before joining UW-Madison. “UW is a very good school with faculty working in manufacturing in many different subfields. Wisconsin itself has a lot of manufacturing activities as well,” he says.
Li’s work focuses on discovering principles and developing rigorous methods for production systems engineering and operations management, like the scientific methods used in other engineering fields. “Traditional manufacturing methods are typically based on philosophies and qualitative principles,” he says. “My method is about trying to discover the nature of system operations and develop models to describe that nature and then derive solutions.”
Li outlined his philosophy in the textbook Production Systems Engineering, published by Springer in 2009 (co-authored with Semyon Meerkov from the University of Michigan).
His approach is to develop analytical solutions for productivity and quality improvement. An example is Li’s recent National Science Foundation Grant Opportunities for Academic Liasion with Industry (GOALI) project with General Motors.
Li developed a scheduling and control policy for the auto paint shop, which improved shop quality and reduced shop energy consumption by around five percent. This translates to an average of $500,000 in energy cost savings per year. A paint shop consumes more than 60 percent of the total energy consumption in a typical auto plant.
The GOALI grant isn’t Li’s only energy-related project. He is part of a Department of Energy-sponsored initiative to support the development of a battery manufacturing plant in the United States. Li is working with General Motors to develop a quality-control system for this kind of plant, which is critical since the battery of an electric car makes up a significant portion of the vehicle’s cost.
Li also is applying production-engineering principles beyond traditional manufacturing businesses. He has worked with a wide range of industries, including hospitals. “There are similarities between manufacturing and healthcare,” Li says. “The auto industry is about part flow. In a hospital, you look at patient flow.”
Emergency room overcrowding is an issue in hospitals nationwide. Li is working on a method to improve patient flow via improved equipment and staffing policies, which could then be extended to other hospital departments. Among other issues, he is looking at nurse scheduling, pharmacy and oncology operations, and patient safety in acute care.