Industrial Engineer Engineering and Management Solutions at Work

September 2010    |    Volume: 42    |    Number: 9

The member magazine of the Institute of Industrial and Engineers

My Account    |     Create Login

Front Line

News, trends & tactics in the September 2010 issue of Industrial Engineer

Evacuation of 70,000, avatar style

Simulations will help responders deal with emergencies at mass gatherings

By late winter, stadium and emergency personnel will have access to a sports safety and security management system designed to simulate evacuations in the event of a bomb threat, explosion or other disaster.

The program, dubbed SportEvac, was developed through research funded by a Department of Homeland Security grant, said Lou Marciani, director of the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Scientists identified gaps in training for evacuation processes, then teamed with the computing department to see how they could integrate technology with people and processes to develop a decision support system to help local responders train for such emergencies.

Putting on a full evacuation from a stadium is expensive and almost impossible. So the team wanted a cost-effective way to train and engage the multiagency incident command team. The best way was simulation modeling.

Researchers used algorithms and rules of traditional movements of children and adults.

“We have validated based on filming how close avatars move in real time vs. avatar time,” Marciani said. “Is it perfect? Probably not, but is it close [enough] to give the simulated feeling for the team to practice? Absolutely.”

Scenarios include weather events, fire and overturned chemical tankers. Researchers are working on more exotic scenarios, such as improvised explosive devices (IEDs), remote explosives, vehicle-borne explosives and suicide explosives. Stadium managers worry about future IEDs, he said.

Eighty-five percent of the preparedness game revolves around planning where resources are, what you need depending upon the threat and how many police officers, firefighters, HAZMAT officials and other responders you need. What if you need a crane within a half hour because an explosion collapsed the stadium, pinning thousands of fans underneath? How many hospital beds must be available? How will the road network suffer, and how will leaders coordinate responses from the Department of Homeland Security, other federal officials, as well as state and local governments?

Extensive use of simulations will let officials know what resources they need and where to place them for the inevitable emergency.

“I think in terms of learning to fly,” Marciani said. “You know you go into simulation training quite a bit. Well, I don’t know if this is any different than that. The more they can sit down and discuss and look at situations, the better off our country will be. … It’s critical that we try to harden venues with better training than what we’ve done in the past.”

The package could help college or professional stadiums, venues overseas, the Olympics, World Cup, NASCAR, and any kind of festival or concert hall.

“Once everything is all working real pretty and smooth, it certainly can be adapted for any entertainment venue or type of thing where we have large gatherings like that,” said John Verrico of the Department of Homeland Security. Marciani said the project likely won’t end because they’ll be improving it continually.

“We only want to get better as an open design platform so that you can improve, and the more you improve, the better the training gets, and the better the training, the more prepared they are,” he said.

Please apply here

Manufacturing must replace millions of baby boomers

As if the recession didn’t hit U.S. manufacturing hard enough, now employers face huge costs to train new workers as millions of baby boomers retire in the next few years, according to the Sloan Center on Aging at Boston College.

“In many ways, the aging of the work force will be like a tide, drawing the talents of older workers out of the labor force,” said Ithaca College sociologist Stephen Sweet, co-author of the report “Responsive Action Steps for the Manufacturing Sector.”

Compared to other sectors, manufacturing has a disproportionate number of older workers, and only one in three employees is a woman.

Although compensation in the manufacturing industry has stagnated over the past decade, the report suggests that manufacturers must do more than increase pay. Historically, manufacturing has called for rigid work schedules, but key talent in the future, especially females, could be looking for more flexibility to accommodate family responsibilities.

“One strategic means of addressing future talent shortfalls is to identify and introduce flexible work arrangements, such as flexible work schedules, career breaks or job sharing,” Sweet said. “These will enable employers to hold on to the workers they have while attracting the workers they need.

The report also showed that manufacturers aren’t likely to engage in retirement and succession planning. Workers say manufacturers have too few programs for recruitment and employee development.

The median cost for the manufacturing sector to replace a worker is $5,000, compared to $3,000 per employee in other sectors. Manufacturers also must transfer knowledge to the next generation of employees.

Top skills in short supply include management, legal, sales/marketing, operations and technical/computer.

Not so speedy delivery

Urban planning often fails package services

Urban planners and commercial property managers have ignored the importance of express delivery services (EDS) to global supply chains, a new study from Ryerson University reports.

Murtaza Haider, a professor in the Ted Rogers School of Retail Management and director of the university’s Institute of Housing and Mobility, noted that couriers and same-day messengers deliver 2.2 million packages to businesses and households across Canada, employing 50,000 workers and contributing approximately $8 billion to the nation’s economy.

But in downtown Toronto in 2006, the three major express delivery companies, FedEx, UPS and Purolator, received 34,000 parking tickets worth about $1.5 million in fines.

“It’s essentially a hidden tax levied on these companies, and it’s hurting the competitiveness of the courier industry and Canadian businesses,” Haider said.

Couriers and same-day messengers waste countless minutes searching for parking spots and waiting their turn at loading docks, even though they only need a few moments at each stop. Haider likened this to lining up to send an e-mail at the post office.

He said planners map out bus bays, streetcar stops and public transit because businesses can’t thrive without workers, but they don’t lay out space for the couriers who deliver the packages and documents that keep businesses running. Haider’s recommendations call for municipal authorities to improve their understanding of, and planning for, couriers and same-day messenger services. They could provide short-term parking bays, similar to those provided for buses, in the downtown core. Buildings could offer drop-off and loading facilities.

Instead of issuing fines, urban areas could implement user fees for dedicated parking facilities for courier vehicles. Equipping trucks and vans with global positioning systems would reduce the administrative costs of processing the fees.

A new face for surgery

3-D imaging brings aircraft tech to plastic surgery

The same technology that designs high-performance aircraft components could help trauma and cancer victims in the future.

The engineering method, topological optimization, uses a computer to design the smallest structure needed for specific spatial boundaries and mechanical loads. It combines a series of mathematical equations with advanced 3-D imaging to produce a structure that takes into account the space to be filled and space that must remain unoccupied to allow for such features as nasal passages and eyes.

The experimental 3-D structure can withstand chewing, facilitate speaking and swallowing, and replace large parts of the facial skeleton.

The team of Ohio State University researchers and University of Illinois scientists working on this project wants to use tissue engineering techniques to grow bone around the lightweight structures and implant the new bone during future facial reconstruction surgeries. Operating rooms could have fully functional bone replacements based on these structural designs within 10 years.

Currently, plastic surgery uses a patient’s own bones – typically portions of the fibula in the lower leg – to piece together a relatively crude bone replacement.

“The difference between what is done now and our design is that we take into account all of the loads on the structure. And this is not a generic shape. For each person, we could create a patient-specific design,” said Alok Sutradhar, a postdoctoral researcher in plastic surgery at Ohio State and lead author of the paper describing the work.

Sutradhar is trained as an engineer with a specialty in 3-D computational modeling. He has worked with multifunctional, high-performance, lightweight materials used in space shuttle tiles and other aircraft.

The supply chain game

While companies are beginning to rebuild inventory as they emerge, hopefully, from the recession, a supply chain management expert sees evidence that companies are gaming the system by hoarding stock.

Julie Niederhoff, assistant professor of supply chain management in the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University, said the recession walloped suppliers. Those still in business reduced inventory investments to free up capital, so now they don’t have the goods to pass on to their clients.

Hoarding stock exacerbates the problem by creating artificial demand. So suppliers can build capacity to meet that demand or leave some clients out in the cold.

Niederhoff said “savvy suppliers can reduce the impact of this gaming system by keeping production or capacity at or just below what they calculate as the real demand.”

Such suppliers can use their capacity better and best meet their clients’ needs. Building to supply the artificial demand eventually will yield a surplus of goods or unused capacity, slowing the suppliers’ climb out of the recession, Niederhoff said.

UCF gets $2 million

The University of Central Florida’s Institute for Advanced Systems Engineering is getting a $2 million investment from IBM.

The school will receive software, in-kind donations and consulting help to give its students experience using IBM’s systems engineering software.

IIE member Waldemar Karwowski, professor and chair of the university’s Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Systems, said the products have a new level of innovation that needs systems engineering expertise.
“With the help of IBM, we are preparing students in the IASE program to use the latest tools and technologies to turn complex ideas into reality.”

The Orlando, Fla., university has about 6,000 engineering and technology students. The institute brings together faculty, students, industry and government to create engineering curriculum using real-world tools and business scenarios.

Let the nurses work

Study shows interruptions contribute to medication errors

Interrupting nurses can have serious consequences.

According to a report in the Archives of Internal Medicine, laboratory studies have shown that interruptions during a task cause inefficiency and errors, negatively affecting memory by requiring people to switch from one task to another.
Medication errors happen up to once per patient per day in some settings, with about one-third of harmful medication errors occurring during the administration of medicine.

Each interruption increases procedural failures by 12.1 percent and clinical errors by 12.7 percent. When nurses were not interrupted, procedural failure rates were 69.6 percent and clinical error rates were 25.3 percent, compared with procedural failure rates of 84.6 percent and clinical error rates of 38.9 percent if they were interrupted three times.

According to the authors, methods of reducing interruptions could include easy access to whiteboards or other sources of information, along with having nurses wear vests sporting “do not interrupt” messages while conducting medication rounds.

Bulk manufacturing of small things

Graphene can’t make your batteries, but it can make them better

Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have developed a new technique to manufacture large quantities of graphene, a nanomaterial with mechanical and electrical properties that could be an heir to copper and silicon as the fundamental building block of nanoelectronics.

Since graphene’s discovery in 2004, researchers have been searching for an easy method to produce it in bulk quantities.

RPI’s new method works at room temperature, needs little processing and paves the way for cost effective mass production of graphene.

The researchers submerged graphite in a mix of diluted organic acid, alcohol and water, and then exposed the material to ultrasonic sound. The acid works as a “molecular wedge” that separates sheets of graphene from the parent graphite. The process creates large quantities of undamaged, high-quality graphene dispersed in water.

The team then used the graphene to build chemical sensors and ultracapacitors.

The Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Vorbeck Materials Corp. of Jessup, Md., have demonstrated that graphene can improve the power and cycling stability of lithium-ion batteries while maintaining high energy storage capacity.

The research could lead to batteries for vehicles, power tools and cell phones that recharge in minutes, not hours.

For example, a typical cell phone battery takes between two and five hours to recharge fully. Researchers think using new battery materials with graphene could cut that time to less than 10 minutes.

Engineer safety

Students pursuing a master’s of engineering at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Engineering will have the chance to study the best practices to prevent expansive disasters like the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and Upper Big Branch Mine explosion in West Virginia.

UAB will offer a master of engineering degree track in advanced safety engineering and management. It will be offered totally online with a curriculum based in experiential learning and peer-to-peer interaction. Officials say it will help revolutionize safety practices across sectors with a curriculum focused on the No. 1 way to prevent serious workplace injury and disaster: prevention through design.

Book of the Month: Fixing the problem

Removing those ugly anomalies from process-based industries

Using intuition to solve problems in manufacturing and other industries is so un-IE.

More appropriate is using root cause analysis techniques described in Root Cause Analysis in Process-Based Industries by Menachem Horev.

Horev has more than 20 years of experience in the semiconductor industry with positions in process engineering, materials and failure analysis labs and process integration in manufacturing and technology development sites. His book describes how anomalies get introduced into automated processes, along with the methods for sharply defining a problem with a known cause.

The author takes the reader on a step-by-step journey of classifying and sorting problems, cause analysis, characterizing problems, building and validating models and collecting data. The book even includes a list of recommended reading for those who want to broaden their knowledge about root cause analysis and related topics.

Root Cause Analysis in Process-Based Industries is published by Trafford Publishing ($34).

Quote, Unquote

Perfect health care?

“Health care has taken a century to learn how badly we need the best of Frederick Taylor [the father of scientific management]. If we can't standardize appropriate parts of our processes to absolute reliability, we cannot approach perfection.” - Dr. Donald Berwick, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), quoted in The Wall Street Journal, July 15

Prime Number

Still the one. But for how long?

Using inflation-adjusted numbers, researchers at IHS Global Insight peg U.S. manufacturing output at about $1.7 trillion in 2009. China’s output was $1.3 trillion, or about 23 percent lower than the U.S. total. Still, with China increasing manufacturing growth by double digits, IHS expects China to overtake the United States in manufacturing output by 2013 or 2014.

Source: Supply Chain Digest

Site to see: Fulfill your dreams

The world of industrial engineering is full of budding MacGyvers looking to prototype the next Boeing superjet or bring warehouse management to their overfilled garages.

Well, ( points industrial businesses and weekend inventors to whatever they need to transform dreams into reality. Engineers and contractors for local utilities or Fortune 500 companies can link to more than 607,000 suppliers of every conceivable industrial product or service. Web crawlers can find gears, bearings to pumps, valves, thousands of product catalogs, millions of downloadable 2-D and 3-D CAD drawings, a rich reference library of technical white papers and need-to-know guides. And it’s all free.

Downloading the CAD drawings helps engineers avoid the need to re-create, e-mail and fax drawings back and forth, making for a more efficient process and reducing the likelihood of ordering the wrong part.