Manufacturing "Real World" Experience
I had the opportunity to work as a materials intern for a manufacturing facility in northern Wisconsin during the fall 2009 semester. The position was very unique as it involved in all aspects of the plant’s operations. My day-to-day responsibilities included purchasing all raw materials for sidecar and windshield production, and working on a number of continuous improvement projects that required me to communicate with suppliers, manage inventory, handle logistics paperwork, and track returnable packaging. In addition, I was occasionally asked to respond to quality issues, maintain the materials metric package, and adjust inventories in anticipation of facility and supplier shutdowns.
When I compare what I learned in class with what happens in the “real world”, I can only say one thing—it is all easier said than done. There are so many concepts that seem so simple but are much more difficult in practice.
One example of something being simpler in concept but more difficult in execution was our vender managed inventory system, an integrated inventory, purchasing and order fulfillment system that requires close collaboration between the manufacturer and the supplier. In theory, the system for managing this inventory should have worked perfectly; however, we seem to have many issues with the system because there were so many variables in the process. Some examples...our floor workers were supposed to put the empty parts bins on a skid so the distributor could pick it up when he delivered a full parts bin; sometimes our workers didn’t put the bins on the pallet the right away so the distributor had problems with pick-up. Other times the supplier couldn’t keep up with our inventory needs. Still other times there was a breakdown in communication between materials and operations. In each situation I found that good communication was critical for success. The more you talked with everyone about what was going on and explained what the plans were, the fewer problems you seemed to have. And in the rare situations where the problem persisted, good communications seemed to lessen its negative impact on production.
I really enjoyed the people that I worked with and they really made my internship experience outstanding. Everyone in my department was friendly and helpful and there wasn’t a single person I couldn’t get along with. Joe, my boss, had been with the plant for 30 years so there wasn’t any aspect of operations that he didn’t know. He was a great mentor who seemed more like a teacher than a boss. Joe used every situation that I came to him with as an opportunity to teach me something new about my job. It also was cool to meet the other interns. Even though we came from different backgrounds and situations, we shared similar career interests.
In addition to everything I learned about operations management in this experience, I also learned more about myself. One of my biggest weaknesses coming into this job was my lack of time management skills. Coming out of this experience, I believe my time management skills are now one of my greatest strengths.
Through my internship, I have learned that doing well in work and in school requires diligence and dedication. Before my internship, there were times when I would get complacent with school and assumed that I knew things or could get things done quicker. My internship has made me more motivated to do well my final semester in school.
I definitely wasn’t an advocate of having to take speech classes prior to my internship. I had always felt relatively comfortable giving presentations, but when you have to talk in front of your boss, your boss’s boss, and your coworkers’ bosses you tend to become more nervous than you expect. Now I can appreciate the importance of these classes and recommend that students take advantage of every opportunity they have to become more comfortable speaking in front of others.
My internship experience has also helped me focus my career goals. In the past, there were times when I questioned my decision not to go into engineering. It is comforting knowing that I chose the right major at UW-Eau Claire for my career goals. While materials management is important, and I definitely could see myself being successful in that field, I learned that I want a job that deals more directly with the manufacturing side of my major. I would like to begin as a supervisor and work my way up to operations manager, plant manager, or hopefully further. I do know that I am definitely going to do the best job possible with whatever position I end up in. I am excited to get out into the work force and get started.
In conclusion, my internship was a very positive experience and I have learned so much during the past six months. I am thankful for the opportunity I was given, and I think I made the most of it. I know it will pay off in the future.
Adam Van Handel is a senior management-operations/materials management major from Neenah, WI. He will graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in May 2010.