Can this team of ISE seniors improve the world’s leading manufacturer of synthetic cork’s production systems before the semester ends?


ISE498 – Senior Design Project – is one of the last challenges that all ISE seniors must face before they can graduate. This course is an opportunity for students to partner with local industrial, service and governmental organizations to solve a real-world problem that the business currently faces. This gives the students the experience of defining and analyzing a problem and then synthesizing and presenting a designed solution.

This spring the ISE Department had the pleasure to work with nine local companies on senior design projects. One of those projects was Nomacorc, the world’s leader in synthetic wine closures. It was Nomacorc’s second time working with a team from the ISE Department on a senior design project.

Currently, Nomacorc has no means to model or analyze their extrusion machine area. They needed a simulation model of the area so they could test different equipment and personnel scenarios to determine the optimal production layout. That’s the challenge for the team of ISE seniors: Francesca Pilarinos, a member of the Alpha Omega Epsilon Women in Engineering Sorority and a Career Development Center Ambassador; Will Laundon, a Ben Franklin Scholar and double major in Industrial and Systems Engineering and Economics; John Mauney, a Hugh M. Duncan Scholar and member of ISE’s Alpha Pi Mu honor society; and Carter Keough, an undergraduate research assistant in ISE’s Center for Additive Manufacturing and Logistics.

After defining the scope of the semester-long project with their professor, Dr. Anita Vila-Parrish, and Nomacorc, the team met with Rob Schabinger (BSIE, 2004), an industrial engineer at the Nomacorc plant in Zebulon, NC. Rob was the company’s point of contact for the ISE team and was responsible for communicating with the students as well as answering questions and providing information, direction and feedback on project tasks and outputs.

While at the plant, Schabinger and the team gathered the production data that would be needed by the team to create a model that would simulate Nomacorc’s production systems. The team also took a tour of the extrusion area and monitored the operations of the workers as they performed their daily tasks.

Armed with an abundance of raw data, the team returned to campus to begin construction of their simulation model. The team quickly realized that the volume of data for simulating thousands of orders using numerous production lines was simply too great for the software and the computers in the senior design lab to process. They knew they would have to go back to the beginning and logically consolidate and condense their model. To accomplish this task, the team enlisted the talents of one of the world’s foremost experts in simulation modeling, ISE professor James Wilson.

Under Wilson’s tutelage, the team was able to recreate their model, successfully analyze the results, and determine the optimal solution for redesign of Nomacorc’s production system.

Now that data had been analyzed and a solution was discovered, the team headed into the final phase of the project, the presentations. The team was required to present their findings to their classmates and professors, judges at the Senior Design Day event and finally, the engineers and management of Nomacorc.

First up, their ISE 498 classmates and faculty. For this presentation, the team knew they needed to focus their presentation on the process they used to complete their project. After answering questions from professors and industry partners, the team received valuable feedback about their presentation and interpersonal skills.

The team used this information to refine their presentation approach before the Senior Design Day event held at Talley Student Union on NC State’s main campus (See Senior Design Day 2014, page 28). Senior Design Day allowed ISE students to join students from Electrical and Computer Engineering, Textile Engineering, and the Engineering Entrepreneurs Program to present their senior design projects to a panel of judges. In this format, the team had to develop and deliver a two minute or less “elevator speech” to each of the judges, including the Dean of the College of Engineering, as they circulated throughout the ballroom. The team built on the success of their classroom presentation to perform strongly and leave their mark in the minds of the judges. However, they couldn’t relax yet because they knew their biggest presentation was still ahead.

The team presented their findings to a room full of Nomacorc engineers and corporate management.

Before they knew it the big day had arrived. The team traveled back to the Nomacorc plant to present their findings to a room full of engineers and corporate management that included the company’s President and CEO, Lars von Kantzow. The team was undeterred. With PowerPoint slides whirling, each member of the team concisely delivered their report like a seasoned veteran. They concluded their presentation with a confirmation of one of Nomacorc’s initial ideas to shut down a production line and a solution for drastically reducing changeover times thus maximizing the use of the company’s existing work force.

But now came the real test; the question and answer session. The engineers challenged them with thoughtful questions that the team answered with a confidence that only a mastery of the knowledge could afford. When the session was over, the team closed the meeting to a round of applause and personal congratulations and well wishes from the entire group.

The team left the plant knowing that all of their hard work would be put to good use by Nomacorc’s engineers to reshape the future of synthetic cork production.

If you or your company is interested in sponsoring a senior design project, please contact Dr. Anita Vila-Parrish at arvila@ncsu.edu or 919.515.0605.