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By Professor Wally Towner



Brian Wilkinson, a Fall 22 Manufacturing Engineering MS candidate, has completed his capstone project with me. I am fortunate in my role at the WPI Business School to be able to advise degree requirements outside of the B School. In this case, both Brian and I worked through a costly problem at his defense contractor employer.

Brian was tasked with noodling out the mysterious problem of why critical bolts, having been previously calibrated and torqued, were showing less than required torque values just prior to shipping the equipment. This resulted in significant unplanned overtime.

This was a fun one for me. It has all of the elements of MechE, Materials Science, MFG process, QA and Eng Econ. What more could anyone ask for? 

Were the bolts stretching? What about the calibrated torque wrenches? Were they failing or improperly calibrated? Was there compression of the base material? Operator error? A terrific problem to work out. 

Brian used the methods we teach in the B School IE, MFE and MGE. He is a recent ME. He used axiomatic design to really understand the ‘customer needs’ and then break the problem down as far as he could. 

He then synthesized a solution based upon this rigorous application of design thinking and made the financial case for how he intended to fix things going forward. 

This analysis is drawn from courses I have taught along the way, namely the Engineering Economics in WBS and Axiomatic Design courses in MFE. 

Proper acknowledgment goes to Prof. Chris Brown for teaching me this material in 1998 (and Ray Hagglund in 1981).

I always let my students know that just being a good engineer is not enough to achieve your full potential. Engineers often need to act as the translator ideas into a financial story that non-engineers can follow. 

The CFO may or may not have an engineering background. I’ve been to B School, and I can tell you they usually do not. To get your ideas to become reality, it is super helpful that you go this extra step and leave a trail of breadcrumbs as it were, so anyone can follow you, even if they do not have the engineering chops to understand everything you have done.

Walter Towner PhD MBA Associate Teaching Professor WBS