The Cross Between Manufacturing and Business

The Cross Between Manufacturing and Business

Ziyan Xu sought business acumen to compliment the manufacturing engineering experience. Through the Multidisciplinary Design Program project, Xu spent time learning business at the Ross School of Business while completing an ISD Master of Engineering in Manufacturing degree.

What drew you to this area of study?

While pursuing my bachelor’s degree, I was working as a Manufacturing Engineering Co-Op. My three-term Co-Op experience built my interest in becoming an Advanced Manufacturing Engineer, and I really enjoyed working on the manufacturing floor with lots of hands-on opportunities and a multifunctional team environment.

Why was ISD’s program the best option for you to earn your master’s degree?

While I was working as a Manufacturing Co-Op, my major focuses were the continuous improvement and Lean projects for our manufacturing processes. With more projects I did, I started to realize that pure engineering thinking is not enough to bring higher cost savings to the company. A good manufacturing engineer should be thinking divergently with basic knowledge in business so that he or she could make the right decisions for project implementations.

The ISD Master of Engineering in Manufacturing degree is the best option for me to receive higher education in both engineering and business fields. As a multifunctional program, I can study with people from different background and geographic regions. In addition, this degree program provided me with the opportunity to join the Tauber Institute for Global Operations, which offered me the additional education in operations, and an impressive summer internship in a global leading company. It built up my leadership skills, which could promote me into a leadership role in any manufacturing company.

What was the most challenging part of earning your graduate degree?

During my first academic year at the University of Michigan, I was participating in the Tauber Institute for Global Operations, working on my Multidisciplinary Design Program (MDP) project as the Mechanical Sub-Team Leader, and having several core graduate classes simultaneously.

My workload was extremely heavy. I was taking engineering classes at North Campus in the morning, working on business/operations projects, and attending networking sessions at the Ross School of Business in the afternoon — all while working on my MDP project at the testbed in the evening. The biggest challenges I had were time management, switching my mind between engineering and business thinking, and working/communicating with people from different backgrounds.

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of earning your graduate degree?

Most of the engineering students are typically thinking about two different career paths – either working on research towards a Ph.D. degree or pursuing a career in the industry. However, my graduate program offers me the opportunity to work on both fields. I not only gained research/programming skills through my MDP project but also worked on an internship, which brought me a full-time return offer. With earning my graduate degree, my career path will be unlimited, and I will be able to make any choice I want.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

When I was pursuing my bachelor’s degree, like most engineering students, I was a bit introverted and always worked/studied by myself, unless I was told to work in a team. At U-M, becoming a sub-team leader of my MDP project and spending time at the Ross School of Business studying with business students had a great influence on my personality. I am more willing to communicate, listen, and learn from others. I can speak out my opinions regarding the projects and teamwork, and never hesitate to collaborate with people from different fields. These skills have helped me to become a better engineer with business thinking and leadership potential.

What advice do you have for someone looking to enter your degree?

First, U-M offers both the Master of Engineering in Manufacturing and Master of Science in IOE [Industrial Operations Engineering]. It is very important to understand the differences between these two programs before making the final decision, based on the career path you want to choose in the future. The Master of Engineering in Manufacturing degree offered by ISD consists of both engineering and business curriculum, with 60% of engineering classes primarily in IOE and 40% classes in business. Compared to the M.S. in IOE program, the Manufacturing program is focusing on turning students into industrial leaders. If a student is more interested in research and wants to pursue a Ph.D. degree in the future, then M.S. in IOE will be the right choice.

Second, students who choose the ISD Manufacturing program should consider participating in the Tauber Institute for Global Operations, especially those who want to pursue their career as a leader in manufacturing, operations, and consulting. By participating in Tauber, students will also be enrolled in the Ross School of Business system, which could double your career resources. The summer internship included in the Tauber curriculum is another key driver for students’ career development. In my case, I was recruited by the company I worked for during the past summer, and will be joining their leadership development program after graduation. Last but not least, the technical skills I gained from my MDP project is a bonus for me to get this offer. 

What is your MDP and what is it about?

Secure Cloud Manufacturing is my project.

The long-term goal of this research project is to develop methods and techniques to make large-scale manufacturing systems safer, more secure, and more productive, enabling them to produce high-quality products for consumers at a modest cost.

This project utilizes a small manufacturing system that consists of three industrial robots, four machine tools, and two conveyors, with an integrated industrial control system (from Rockwell Automation) connected by Ethernet/IP. The testbed is instrumented with presence sensors, inspection cameras, an interactive HMI display, and a computer for synchronization of real-time and historical data to a cloud platform. The research goals around the testbed include: control development and validation, learning control, agent-based control, optimizing scheduling, reconfigurable control, cloud-based manufacturing, security of cyber-physical systems, etc. One key enabler for the research program is having simulation models of the different system components that can be validated off-line or in a hardware-in-the-loop framework. Another key enabler is the hosting of testbed-generated data in a deployed cloud environment to enable real-time cloud analytics, predictive maintenance, and remote system monitoring. 

What impacts did your project have?

The manufacturing industry is under its transformation from third revolution (Lean Manufacturing) to fourth revolution — Industry 4.0. Automation and digital impact are the key factors of Industry 4.0. For example, big data are collected from automated equipment for production optimization. One of the key enablers for my MDP project is the hosting of testbed-generated data in a deployed cloud environment to enable real-time cloud analytics, predictive maintenance, and remote system monitoring. It represents exactly the thinking of Industry 4.0 and will be able to accelerate the manufacturing industry transformation.

Do you have any extracurricular activities that you are involved in?

I am a member of the rock-climbing gym called Planet Rock.

How do you balance schoolwork and your outside commitments?

I have found it best to prioritize my workload into three steps:

Step 1: Creating your own work schedule on the first day of the semester and following it.

Step 2: Creating an electronic sticky note on your desktop to keep tracking of deadlines; categorizing the tasks by classes and ordering them based on a timeline.

Step 3: Working hard during the first academic year, getting an internship for summer, receiving a return offer, and enjoying the last semester with rock climbing!

-Ziyan Xu, Graduating December 2018