Engineering students evaluate Johnson Matthey production for course project

MALVERN, Pa. — Five graduate engineering management students recently explored how to increase production at Johnson Matthey’s facility in Devon.

As part of the master of engineering management capstone course, students team up with area companies to solve real-world projects. A new initiative, these student-business partnerships began last year under the direction of Ashkan Negahban, a new faculty member teaching the course.

“My goal is to increase collaboration with our world-class corporate neighbors,” said Negahban. “These projects allow me to do this while providing hands-on experience for our students.”

This is Johnson Matthey’s second year of participating, and this time, students were asked to think creatively as they sought new opportunities and improvements for the production line. Relying on their mathematical, statistical and problem-solving skills, they drew on coursework to develop simulation models that analyzed various enhancement alternatives.

On the final night of class, the students assigned to Johnson Matthey presented their findings to Kevin Lyden, a process engineer at the company and their contact for the project.

It was a rewarding experience — for both the students and Johnson Matthey employees. For students, it presented a unique opportunity to apply what they have learned in an actual business environment.

“I was admittedly apprehensive going into the capstone course, fully expecting a traditional academic project with little practical application,” said Levi Keene, a student who worked on the assignment. “Yet as it turns out, a bunch of working professionals tackling an interesting real-world problem is a powerful mix. We set some ambitious goals and worked like dogs to meet them. Each person brought a unique and valuable set of perspectives and experiences to the team, the end result being a neat set of solutions that the company was thrilled with and we felt was worth our time to produce.”

Johnson Matthey was more than pleased: the Great Valley students brought a different and new perspective as they evaluated the facility.

“These students really helped to provide the fresh set of eyes that we were looking for,” said Lyden. “We wanted to participate in this program so we could hear what others thought of our process and what things might be overlooked. The team fully delivered on our expectations.”

Kevin Lyden providing feedback to team

Kevin Lyden, a process engineer at Johnson Matthey, attended the capstone presentations and provided feedback on the students' analysis of the company's production facility in Devon.

Credit: Elizabeth Palmer

The group provided Lyden with a report that summarized their suggestions, and even looked into the cost behind implementation.

“Not only did the students think outside the box, but they also brought their ideas assessing the feasibility — and in some cases even collecting initial quotes for what it would take to deploy their ideas,” Lyden added. “In the business world of today, justifying a capital expenditure is a big challenge. Their explanation made it easier for me to take this information back to the senior managers at Johnson Matthey to discuss a path forward.”

Negahban, the instructor, was equally impressed with the team’s work. He looks forward to expanding corporate collaboration through future capstone courses.

“These were not easy problems, and I think the students did an excellent job,” he said. “The stakeholders seemed to really like the recommendations and the decision-making tools the students developed. The next course offering will be in fall 2018, and I am looking forward to working with more companies in southeastern Pennsylvania next year.”