Release Date: March 20, 2012
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- University at Buffalo student Benjamin Wilson figured that helping a company improve its operations could only be a good thing for his resume. Little did the Orchard Park resident know it would be the entryway to full-time employment.
As the capstone to his pursuit of a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering at UB, Wilson increased one product line's consistency and operational efficiency at Saint-Gobain Ceramic Materials in Wheatfield. The experience -- and the process-engineer job he accepted at the plant after graduating in December -- was possible because of UB's Six Sigma Black Belt Student Certification Program, offered through the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering in the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
The program was developed and is administered by UB TCIE, the bridge between the business community and UB's engineering resources. It pairs companies with one or more students who apply a problem-solving approach to a company-specific issue. For the eighth year, Western New York companies have access to a pool of potential employees by serving as hosts for the 2012-13 program.
Regardless of whether there is intent to hire upon program completion, hosts reap the benefits of a dedicated resource whose sole concentration might be on a backburner issue at the company or even a prominent problem needing a more immediate solution. The overall goal is to eliminate process variation, ultimately leading to improved quality and cost savings.
"A lot of times, the focus is put on what's broken," said Sonya Pegler, manufacturing engineer at Saint-Gobain who served as internal support for Wilson's project, helping him to navigate company nuances. "It's on fighting fires, so to say, and not really focused on improvement. But there's a lot of benefit in focusing on operating better."
A UB Master Black Belt mentor with industry experience provides support and helps the company identify a project with defined outcomes and achievable results. Student participation is limited to UB senior and graduate engineering students. They work 12 to 16 hours each week onsite, over two semesters. By program's end, they are able to lead continuous improvement projects.
Another UB student, Priyanka Kaushal, assisted the Greenwood Group, a consumer packaged-goods business development organization, specializing in marketing, sales, logistics and consulting, over the summer and fall of 2011. She helped the company reduce time spent on two specific reports: By eliminating activities that had no value and creating a central hub through Microsoft Share Point, administrative time decreased by 95 percent. Reports that once took three to four hours per month now are down to no more than 10 minutes.
Kaushal has no doubt that her participation in the UB program was a main factor in the two job offers she received before she graduated from UB in December with a master's degree in industrial engineering.
"I really learned a lot," said Kaushal, who still calls upon the experience in performing her new role as a business performance consultant in Peoria, Ill. She praised the professionalism of the program and specifically her UB mentor: "He had a significant amount of knowledge and experience. I not only learned from him about Six Sigma, but about project management, too."
Wilson also credits his UB mentor for having an impact on his success, for providing the necessary link between classroom instruction and real business issues.
The Western New York facility where Wilson works is one of 265 North American plants under Paris-based Saint-Gobain, the world's largest building materials company with operations in 64 countries. Saint-Gobain Ceramic Materials manufactures abrasive grains used in sandpaper and grinding wheels.
Company officials were aware that its crushing department -- which crushes varying products into a number of grit sizes -- was not operating ideally. Wilson was tasked with increasing the yield of a product's in-demand grain sizes to meet sales needs while decreasing waste. Machine setting changes were made, which resulted in an increase in equipment capacity of more than 35 percent, as well as a 13 percent decrease in the amount of waste.
"We make many different products in the plant," Saint-Gobain's Pegler said. "The potential going forward is big. We can transfer this to other product lines."
The cost for serving as a host for the 2012-13 UB Six Sigma Black Belt Student Certification Program is $4,900 per student. Interested companies should contact director of business development Gary Simon at 716-645-8837 or firstname.lastname@example.org by April 2 to secure one or more students for either a summer or fall start.