Accidents in facilities such as nuclear power plants and petrochemical facilities can be deadly; fortunately, few occur. But because the accidents are rare, ordinary statistical analysis cannot be used in trying to prevent them. Instead, Associate Professor Vicki M. Bier studies accident precursors or "near misses." Accident precursors are the mistakes or failures of systems during normal operation that, when combined with additional elements, could result in an accident. In May, Bier hosted an international three-day conference at which researchers pursued consensus on the best method by which to analyze precursors in order to prevent accidents.
When Wisconsin faced the mammoth task of automating 374,000 child support cases maintained in various paper and computer forms in 72 counties, hundreds of workers had concerns about physical discomfort, job satisfaction, job pressure, workload and computer anxiety. Assistant Professor Barrett S. Caldwell and his research team traveled the state to conduct surveys, on-site interviews and ergonomic measurements to determine how these workers could best make the transition to the new Kids Information Data System. Caldwell recommended many ergonomic improvements to work environments and methods for implementing training. The KIDS system is projected to save the state and federal governments more than $136 million dollars by the year 2000.
The Department of Industrial Engineering is re-engineering itself. Professor Harold J. Steudel said response to the department's survey of alumni and students was exceptional. Survey recipients were asked about their current positions and how well they felt the department had prepared them for their current jobs. The department asked alumni what kind of knowledge and skills are most important today and what will be important in the future. Alumni were also asked to look back at the courses they took to determine which were least useful. In general, respondents stressed the importance of group problem solving and teamwork, communication and presentation, and practical experience with local industry. "This is a unique approach," Steudel said. "It is an honest attempt to develop the best program in the country."
In today's manufacturing environment, lead time reduction is the name of the game. Assistant Professor Dharmaraj ("Raj") Veeramani and his students are working with industry to develop methodologies and tools for rapid and accurate cost-estimation. For example, working with ABB Flexible Automation, Veeramani's team developed a method to accurately estimate cycle time for robotic systems. Cycle time is defined as the amount of time it takes a robotic system to do a programmed task from start to finish. Precise cycle time estimation is important in making a competitive bid on building a flexible robotic system. If a proposal includes a cycle time that is too long, the customer could be lost to a competitor. If the cycle time is underestimated, a prohibitively large amount of time and money will be spent optimizing the system during the installation to meet the quoted cycle time.
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Date last modified: Wednesday, 29-Nov-1995 12:00:00 CST
Date created: 29-Nov-1995
1995 Annual Report Contents