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Engineering students partner with Caterpillar, address productivity, competitiveness issues

November 29, 2010

Students from NIU’s College of Engineering and Engineering Technology presented projects to college faculty and Caterpillar executives at an Oct. 25 event.

The event is part of an ongoing partnership between CEET and Caterpillar, which this past year has employed nearly 40 NIU engineering students at various the manufacturing divisions to help improve the efficiency of their production and manufacturing operations.

“We were delighted with the caliber of students and faculty support. They helped us gain valuable insight on our processes,” said Rick Hill, LWL manufacturing engineering manager at Caterpillar. “These are the building blocks needed to properly balance our lines, budget for manpower, and ensure that we can meet customer demand. The success is a testament to the vision and dedication of the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology staff and individual students at NIU.”

Students involved in the partnership worked side-by-side with manufacturing engineers on the floor of the Caterpillar facility in Aurora, Ill.  After gathering data, speaking with CAT employees and diagnosing several glitches in the production lines, students conducted analysis and made recommendations for improvement. Several of those recommendations were implemented and resulted in significant savings.

Promod Vohra, dean of the college, said that the partnership with CAT not only illustrates the quality of students educated at CEET, but also demonstrates that the State of Illinois is receiving a good return on its investment in NIU.

“The education received by students here at NIU is opening doors and proving to be a real economic development for the state of Illinois in the form of highly skilled workers,” Vohra said. “A majority of NIU’s engineering students are finding their internships leading to job opportunities in Illinois and, as a result, they are choosing to stay in the state as opposed to moving elsewhere.”

Vohra said that he is grateful that Caterpillar continues to place a value on grooming the next generation of engineers, even in difficult economic times.

“While other companies are laying off workers, Caterpillar is partnering with us to hire students because they recognize the value in providing hands-on education for future engineers and they appreciate the high quality of the students that NIU-CEET is producing,” Vohra said.

Caterpillar is not the only corporation benefiting from this type of partnership. The NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology has more than 200 industrial partners throughout the region.

“We are proud that prospective students are taking notice of the major opportunities at NIU, and are happy to report our enrollments have increased 12 percent this year,” said Omar Ghrayeb, associate dean of the college.