An Engineering Mind and a Business Savvy
by Alissa Mallinson
With technological advances pervading almost every aspect of business, we all know by now how important it is for business people to understand technology. But what about the other way around?
People often overlook that it is just as important for manufacturing engineers to understand the business context of their technological advances, whether they be process-, design-, material-, or operations-based. This is not the case in MechE. Not only does the Department of Mechanical Engineering offer individual hands-on undergraduate courses such as Design and Manufacturing I and II, Product Engineering Processes, Toy Product Design, and Precision Machine Design (with a focus on biomedical devices design), we also offer graduate students the opportunity to focus specifically on professional manufacturing practice with the Master of Engineering in Manufacturing (MEngM).
Ralph E. and Eloise F. Cross Professor of Mechanical Engineering David E. Hardt explains, “To do manufacturing properly requires much more than any one discipline or area of mechanical engineering, and it is not even limited to this one department. So it is really hard to do effectively at an undergraduate level, and in fact we have never had an undergraduate degree in manufacturing at MIT. As a result, most companies hire mechanical engineers and then through on-the-job training teach them to be manufacturing engineers, and that is in essence what we are doing with the MEngM. We are condensing and formalizing that experience.”
The MEngM, which first began in 2001 as a master’s degree in the Singapore-MIT Alliance program, has graduated approximately 400 students since its inception. The 12-month professional degree program is specifically designed to teach a broad systems-based understanding and a level of technical excellence for manufacturing leadership in any industry, as well as business communications, conflict resolution, and project scoping. It emphasizes math- and science-based methods for analysis, design, and operation of manufacturing enterprises while developing an understanding of global manufacturing business strategies. Each student takes eight required classes with a cohort of 12 to 25 fellow students over two semesters.
“With this program, we are attracting a different type of student than is normally attracted to other master’s degree programs in mechanical engineering,” says MEngM Director and Research Scientist Dr. Brian Anthony. “These students love engineering, but they are more interested in product realization than research—understanding how to design a product, manufacture it, and deliver it.”
There are five important pillars of the program’s degree curriculum: 1) manufacturing physics, including processes, machines, assembly, and process control; 2) manufacturing systems, including factory design and control, and supply chain design and control; 3) design and manufacturing, including design for manufacturing and product development process; 4) management and global manufacturing, including management for engineers and global manufacturing. And the fifth and arguably most crucial—and unique—element of the program is the company-based on-site group project. For eight of the 12 months of the program (full time in January, part time in the spring, and full time all summer), groups of three to four students work at a partner company to solve an immediate problem.
“These students are trained engineers that go into these partner companies as outside experts with enthusiastic and fresh perspectives,” says Anthony. “Companies don’t work with us out of the goodness of their hearts; to appropriately educate our students, we require real problems that are going to impact the bottom line, so that the students will be in the critical path of problem evaluation and solution implementation. “This project is the hallmark of the degree,” he continues. “It forms the basis for their thesis but also provides the context to immediately apply classroom learning.”
There are other programs at MIT addressing the intersection of business and engineering, such as the Leaders for Global Operations (LGO) program—a joint program between Sloan School of Management and the School of Engineering. But unlike those programs, which approach the issue from the business side, the basis for the MEngM is engineering, with a focus on manufacturing. “I get really excited about this program because it is so desperately needed in manufacturing,” says Hardt. “It fills a tremendous void for MIT and for industry.”