For five years, Eaton Corporation had a manufacturing problem with their biggest electric breaker box, costing the company $350,000 every year. No one at Eaton could find a cost-effective solution.
This past summer, Lindsey Herrera, a Ball State senior in the Dual-Degree Engineering program, went to Eaton for an internship.
She solved the problem in two months, with no increase in cost to Eaton.
When Lindsey arrived at the Eaton Corporation site in Lincoln, Illinois. The team had determined that a component put in the household breaker boxes failed roughly 20 percent of the time it was installed. Each time this failed, a worker would have to individually rework the entire case, resulting in scrap that cost the company tens of thousands of dollars per year.
Attempting to fix this persistent issue was Lindsey’s top priority at Eaton. She started by opening a dialogue with the design, manufacturing, and quality teams to clarify the issue, determine what solutions had been previously proposed, and gain input on solution ideas.
As a result of this research, Herrera noticed that there were communication barriers between the separate design and manufacturing teams, so she made a concentrated effort to bridge that divide. She spoke with team members individually to receive their input, working with employees from all job types at Eaton.
“Just talking to the members on the floor and saying ‘Hey, what do you think we should do to fix it?’” Herrera said. “Because they know so much more about the product than I was ever going to know.”
Herrera said that one of the most important things she learned from the internship is the critical role of communication in effective teamwork.
“I remember when I was telling the team about [my solution] because I wanted to keep them updated, I wanted them to know… that we were actively trying. When I would update them, I had one of the team members one time ask me if she could hug me because she was so excited. Just to see the joy on their faces when I let them know that we actually did care about what they were doing and we were investing in them. That’s what matters. I think a lot of time engineers in a manufacturing setting like that can be seen with a negative connotation because a lot of the time engineers are super intelligent, but they don’t know how to communicate that with the team, or they don’t know how to communicate their ideas well or lead the team very well. I think the best way to lead them was to serve them and to show them that we’re actually trying to help them.”
Herrera’s research and communication strategies worked, as she eventually came up with a highly effective solution.
“Between talking to design, talking to team members on the floor, and working with my manufacturing team, I was able to propose a solution. We ordered the new part with the new design solution that I had proposed…and we had run them down [the line] and none of them failed.”
Herrera impressed Eaton so much that they offered her a job at the end of the summer before she even began her senior year. They were eager to get her on board, as the savings from her solution were enough to pay a year’s worth of salary for several engineers.
“Before I left, they asked me to calculate how much time and money was being saved from labor costs associated with that issue. When those cases failed, they had to rework them all, and so it was an ergonomic thing. Ergonomics are the stresses that a continuous motion puts on your body, and so if they’re constantly pulling cases off, it’s a safety hazard for them as well. Not only did it reduce that, but when I calculated the labor costs, they were somewhere around 280,000 dollars a year. Combined it was around 350,00 dollars that they were going to save per year just by fixing this component in this box.”
Though she appreciated her time at Eaton, Herrera reached out to other companies to see if other options suited her better. She wanted a job that with a rotational program, which would put her in different roles so she could find a position that suited her talents and interests best.
Caterpillar Inc. expressed interest and contacted her to set up an interview. They offered her a position in product development, based out of Decatur, Illinois. Her job will give her three to four rotational positions to show her different parts of Catepillar’s engineering and business processes and give her plenty of experience to set her up for a promising career.
She accepted their offer and will begin working in the summer of 2024 after she walks across the stage as the first graduate of Ball State’s Dual-Degree Engineering program.
Ball State University’s Dual-Degree Engineering program is a partnership with Anderson University. The partnership was initiated by Ball State Physics Department Chair Dr. John Millis, who previously worked at Anderson University, which is accredited in mechanical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, and computer engineering. Students graduating from this dual-degree program receive a degree in physics from Ball State and an engineering degree of their choosing from Anderson University, with no additional cost in tuition.