Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I'm studying Manufacturing Engineering at BYU. Contrary to what most people think, there actually are different types of engineering. Most people lump all engineers into a group of people that make airplanes, cars, and space shuttles, and have no social skills.

Those are called mechanical engineers.

That's not me. Manufacturing engineers focus on processes and quality. A mechanical engineer designs the part, and the manufacturing engineer fixes it, designs a process for making it in the most cost-effective way, creates a system for mass producing it if necessary, and makes sure there are no defects. So when your car's transmission stops working at 50,000 miles and you get all upset about it the mechanical engineer will blame the manufacturing engineer for poor quality assurance, and the manufacturing engineer will then blame the mechanical engineer for poor design.

So, of course, the general classes we are required to take are physics, chemistry, calculus, materials, statistics, and other general knowledge classes that so many people take every semester they are refined, taught uniformly, and (generally) effective. Almost like they were designed by a manufacturing engineer.

But then come the Manufacturing department classes. The focus of most Manufacturing department classes is efficiency. There are infinite ways to make a Pepsi can, but only one "most efficient" way. We learn things like value-added processes, the 8 Wastes, and 5S. These are all ways to make an existing process more efficient by organizing workspaces, reordering processes, and removing wastes.

We learn that typically only 5% of any given process is value-added. This means that of everything it takes to make an iPod and get it to a customer (building each part, assembly, transportation, storage of inventory, etc) only 5% is the customer willing to pay for. We learn methods to eliminate the wasted processes and time to make everything more efficient.

With that out of the way, I can explain why this is all so hypocritical.

On a typical school day I have 4 classes from the Manufacturing department, totaling 250 minutes per day spent in class. Of that time, the first 10-15 minutes of every class period is spent on waiting for the professor to show up, waiting for the professor's computer to boot up, passing back homework and tests, and/or announcements. This, of course, happens in every class.

15 x 4 = 60 minutes wasted.

The rest of the class is usually a lecture. The value here gets a little bit tricky as some classes I feel are more valuable than others, and some lectures are more valuable than others. So I've divided the type of lecture we get into 4 types and assigned them points based on their value to me as a student:

1) Engaging, informative lecture with a useful powerpoint as a visual.
(50 min/day x 10 value points = 500 pts)

2) Boring lecture with very little logical flow where you don't know which information is important and which is just a side note. Usually includes an overhead projector for visual aids if there are any.
(100 min/day x 1 value point = 100 pts)

3) Lecture where you find out later everything you just learned is obsolete and no longer used in industry.
(50 min/day x -5 value points = -250 pts)

4) Story time with Grandpa.
(50 min/day x 0 value pts = 0 pts)

Total =  250/2500 pts possible

Now, using the math I learned in a more efficient class, we can calculate what percent of our class time is wasted and what percent is value-added.

  • 250 min total time in class per day
  • 60 min wasted at beginning
    • 250 - 60 = 190 remaining minutes
  • 250 value pts earned
  • 2500 pts possible
    • 250/2500 = .10 = 10% of class time is valuable
      • 190 x .10 = 19 minutes of valuable class time per day.
        • 7.6% of class time is value-added

Value-added, again, means something I am willing to pay for. For a program that teaches efficiency as its bread-and-butter, 7.6% value-added time in class is pretty low.

(You may think I'm exaggerating, but there actually is about one class per semester I rarely show up to because I get dumber for being there (that's why it earns -5 value points). And hearing stories rather than a lecture from some of the older professors actually is a weekly occurrence. Ask anyone in the program.)

I can think of three possible explanations for this inefficiency in the Manufacturing program: 1) It was perfectly efficient in the 80's but has not had the funding to keep up with advances in technology 2) It is all one big object lesson meant to teach the value of efficiency through real-life frustration, 3) It is some sort of large-scale sociological experiment to see if any students will do something about the the inefficiency in the program, reward those students with faculty positions, and refund the rest of us 92.4% of our tuition at graduation.

All in all, I recommend the Manufacturing program to anyone. While everyone else is studying hard for midterms and finals, my final project in one class is making a barbecue out of a metal drum. Study hard, suckers.


  1. your grasp of statistics/trends is uncanny.

    you should look into fantasy sports.

  2. Mind-boggling common sense...
    thedad(the anonymous dad)