As stated in their mission, the Lego brand aims to “inspire and develop builders of tomorrow.” At Auburn’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, Legos are being used to do just that by allowing students to think creatively and reason systematically. Located on the ground floor of the Shelby Center, the operation is used to actively teach lean manufacturing principles to industrial and systems engineering (ISE) students.
The three-year-old lab comprises of various Lego kits and high-tech equipment such as robotics, programmable logic controlled conveyors and electronic vision inspection. Engineering students work in the lab several times during each semester over the course of their manufacturing studies.
“No matter how well you try to explain the discipline of industrial and systems engineering in a lecture format, it does not translate well,” said Tom Devall, director of automotive initiatives in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering. “The idea behind this Lego Lab is that we can create an environment that ideally simulates a true lean manufacturing environment with all the best practices displayed.”
Pioneered by Toyota Production Systems, lean manufacturing takes a systematic approach to its practices for industrial and systems engineers. These principles include increasing product efficiency, reducing new product development time and eliminating wasteful activities on an assembly line.
Throughout Devall’s lean manufacturing course, students learn these principles by including optimal inventory requirements, work in process and final assembly for the production line. They also study error-proofing strategies, as well as training and safety plans. Yet, the Lego Lab brings the lectures to life by allowing the students to plan, build and implement a finished product.
By the end of the semester, students learn how to build 65-second production cycles and produce two different types of vehicles: a 277-piece sports car and a 254-piece SUV. The lab accommodates more than 35 students at 15 workstations and features a U-shaped sub-assembly line that feeds a final linear assembly line. However, Devall will begin to incorporate an industrial automation system that will increase the quality of workflow in the lab.
“The Lego Lab has been such a great learning experience as a student,” said Kody Coggin, a senior in industrial and systems engineering. “Being able to see a manufacturing environment first-hand creates an experience that is unlike anything you read from a textbook.”
With the integration of automatic machines, ISE students will be offered the opportunity to simulate real-life manufacturing operations by applying various control systems. The new system will link the workstations with conveyors, robots and vision systems to reduce product development time. According to Devall, this experience will not only better assist students with their projects but set them at a competitive advantage for future employers.
“Industrial and systems engineering is about how our students can take a complicated assembly and disperse that among a multitude of stations in order to meet customer demands with high-quality levels,” Devall said. “Given that as the objective, the complexity of the industrial automation system is very similar, or even more complex, to the average manufacturer. Therefore, our students will now have the ability to see all aspects of a (manufacturing) operation.”
In addition to the lab focusing on experiential education, students are learning how to lead a group, solve complex problems and foster a strong work ethic in the midst of competition. According to Devall, these emotional lessons can only be taught in this kind of work environment and will impact the students past graduation.
“You see emotion around this,” Devall said. “And when people have emotion around what they are doing, it greatly magnifies the learning. It sticks because it is an event, and they have a vested interest in it.”
For more information on the Lego Lab and the industrial and systems engineering program, click here.
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