For dozens of Purdue University Calumet students, getting out of the classroom this week meant getting up close and personal with the world of manufacturing, right from the plant floor where products are made.
On Monday and Tuesday, students enrolled in PUC's Management 101 class toured Tri-State Industries in Hammond to see "lean manufacturing" at work, said their instructor, Sashi C. Sekhar, of the university's school of management.
"I'd say 98 percent of them have never seen inside a factory before," she said of the young men and women taking the tour. "This gives them experience in the real world. Tri-State is a wonderful example of tip-top manufacturing, lean manufacturing which is the latest principle in management."
Tri-State manufactures only three fabricated steel products -- pipe supports, railroad car parts and utility trailers.
"Lean manufacturing is designed to take out all the �fat' or no-value-added parts of the manufacturing process," TSI President Phillip Swearingen told the students.
The process seeks a high level of production with a minimum of inventory.
"Inventory sucks up cash," he said.
The manufacturing process is set up so that certain machines run together. The plant's operations are ergonomically engineered to prevent employees from suffering repetitive motion injuries, and the machinery reduces the handling time and allows a continuous flow of product through the plant.
"Key processes tell us which machine shouldn't stop during production," Swearingen said.
The integrated operation style of in-line manufacturing allows shop workers greater autonomy and greater responsibility for what they produce, he said. Families of parts are grouped together, and shop employees work in self-managed teams called "cells" to produce the parts needed for customers.
David Somodi, of Schererville, a freshman management major, said he was impressed that lean manufacturing "eliminates processes that overlap but still maintains a process that fulfills the needs of the customer yet is environmentally-friendly."