Technology students operate simulated businesses

By: Austin Arceo, ISU Communications and Marketing Staff
June 25, 2012

As Curtiss Davis contemplated what to create for a class project, it didn't take long for his brain to start storming spiritedly. He devised a metallic floor lamp complete with a variety of customizations to make it stand out even more.

It was perfect for the Indiana State University senior and sheet metal journeyman. Yet while he envisioned his project, his professor balked: What if something would happen? Who'd be liable?

The professor doubled as an investor ... concerned about funding such an endeavor.

"It was going along pretty nicely," said Davis, a technology education major from Cloverdale. "It had some nice customizations on it and it was going to be really nice, but in the long run we had to see the potential for insurance problems and if someone were to be electrocuted."

The project deliberations were one of several such initiatives in the spring semester of the simulated manufacturing company (SIMCO) course. Alister McLeod, program coordinator and assistant professor of advanced manufacturing management in the College of Technology, first taught the course last fall and assigned students to approach projects as if they had to pitch their ideas to an investor: students conceived of an idea, designed the plans and calculated the budget before making the pitch and (potentially) getting the green light.

"As the title of the course suggests, students are in this course to learn more about how a manufacturing company organizes itself in such a manner that it can do what it needs to be successful," McLeod said. "What students get from this class is not the theoretical aspects of an organization's makeup. They actually get the hands-on experience of organizing themselves into a company and creating a product."

Students in the class made several different projects. One group created Indiana State diploma frames, which has been a staple of the course after groups created them in years past. Another group in the spring course created small LED signs, while Davis's group ultimately created award plaques for an organization that contacted the professor to see if they could be made.

Members of each group divided up roles for their projects. Davis developed product prototypes, while other students were responsible for such elements as marketing and product safety. After McLeod had turned down the metal floor lamp proposal, the group pitched the idea of fraternity and sorority mementos before an honors society contacted McLeod with the plaque request.

"I don't know if it was in the curriculum, but I definitely think that there were valuable lessons in it," Davis said. "I know that the other teams didn't have the same type of an experience that we did."

The students were responsible for selling the items that they made. The group making the diploma frames customized some of them to reflect the buyer's college, while several different kinds of Indiana State LED signs were available. The signs, which featured white ISU insignias illuminated by blue LEDs on plexiglass, quickly sold.

Yet the signs project was not without difficulty. The students had trouble finding power adapters for the signs. They even contemplated switching to a battery power source before finally locating a supplier with the appropriate electrical adapters.

"It's working on the same idea, same principles that this class was started on, we are actually using today in this class," McLeod said. "It gives the students a lot of hands-on experience that they can go into the workforce and use."

Indiana State graduates also notice the benefits they have received from the course. Eric McGowan, who graduated from ISU in December 2011, took the course. He remembers how the department set a budget for the students, who then decided on the project and were responsible for everything, from creating and maintaining the quality of the product to marketing.

"SIMCO was probably one of the most applicable classes to prepare you for a career," said McGowan, who now works for Caterpillar. ""It's structured like a business, and it's good to see who's responsible for the different aspects of the job."

Despite the challenges that his group faced, Davis and his classmates were able to create about a half-dozen award plaques that the organization desired. They were all sold and ultimately satisfied their client.

"There is not a lot of lecture time, but I think the life experiences you get from it are very worth it," Davis said of the course. "It'll take you beyond just the scholastic side of learning about manufacturing and industry to more experiential aspects of it."

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Other/Media-Services/SIMCO-Lab/i-dz4b3Kt/0/L/041712SIMCO-0724-L.jpg (ISU/Tony Campbell)Indiana State University students in the simulated manufacturing company (SIMCO) class in the College of Technology create degree frames as part of a project. In the course, students conceive, create and market a product of their creation. One long-standing project from the course was college degree frames.

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Other/Media-Services/SIMCO-Lab/i-7RBqPkh/0/L/041712SIMCO-0719-L.jpg (ISU/Tony Campbell)An Indiana State University student works on a project in the simulated manufacturing company (SIMCO) class. One of the projects featured several LED signs of ISU images illuminated in blue.

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Other/Media-Services/SIMCO-Lab/i-2pq8kk8/0/L/041712SIMCO-0756-L.jpg (ISU/Tony Campbell)An Indiana State University student works on a project in the simulated manufacturing company (SIMCO) class in the College of Technology. One group of students in the course created award plaques for a student organization. Class participants conceive, create and market a product as they would if they worked in a company.

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Other/Media-Services/SIMCO-Lab/i-6JjX74S/0/L/041712SIMCO-0889revised-L.jpg (ISU/Tony Campbell)Indiana State University professor Alister McLeod poses with some of the students in his spring simulated manufacturing company (SIMCO) class. In the course, students create and market a product as they would if they worked for a company. One group created and marketed about a half-dozen university degree frames.

Contact: Alister McLeod, program coordinator and assistant professor, College of Technology, Indiana State University, 812-237-3455 or alister.mcleod@indstate.edu

Writer: Austin Arceo, assistant director of media relations, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or austin.arceo-negrich@indstate.edu