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IMSE celebrates 50 years

Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering (IMSE) emeriti professors Larry David and Owen Miller talk affably about their days together on the faculty at the University of Missouri in light of the department’s 50th anniversary celebration this fall.

The pair worked alongside each other in the department for 25 years. They share pride in the student successes they have witnessed, ticking off names of young men and women who went on to successful careers after graduation. And they share a sense of satisfaction about work they accomplished together and in their separate careers.

“We taught every class,” says David and both men laugh and begin talking about the many cooperative projects they administered.

Perhaps the biggest impact of any project in IMSE’s history was the establishment of the Regional Medical Programs (RMP) by the Federal Government in 1965. Its intent was “to encourage and assist in the establishment of regional cooperative arrangements among medical schools, research institutions, and hospitals for research and training, including continuing education, and for related demonstration of patient care…” The $4.5 million grant that MU received—the largest of any state—played a starring role in IMSE research and in the careers of its professors.

“Delivering health care to rural communities was a big focus of our work,” said Owen, and went on to describe working with a physician in Salem, Mo. Among other things, the project aided rural doctors by providing the means to send EKGs and x-rays via telephone lines—cutting-edge technology—back to the University Medical Center for diagnostics and critique. Its success was featured on national television.

The retired researchers reminisce about the harrowing flights they made back and forth to Salem on a small plane that might have endangered their own health while they were working to improve health care access for others, and share a laugh.

Additional components of the RMP research included videotaping and critiquing of emergency room situations. “The net result was that a room was redesigned to serve as an intensive care unit,” said Miller.

A major business and industry productivity study Miller worked on took the unusual approach of training management first. “If we came up with ideas at that level, documented them and showed management the benefits, they would be introduced from the top down. That way, they had more of a chance of succeeding. It’s just common sense.”

Looking back, Miller observed that the biggest change in ISME is operations research – quality control, plant layout, and statistics. “Now it’s all done on a computer,” he said.

Industrial Engineering initiated the idea of a senior capstone project, now required in all disciplines. “We wanted students to get major design experience,” said Miller. “We had the big idea to have seniors do a three-hour course. We contacted large companies to partner with us so that our students could have that experience. The students worked in teams so that they could share ideas.”

Miller tells the story of a company in St. Louis that used a lot of aluminum. The company requested a student team to help them improve plant layout so they would have space for a year’s supply. After their assessment and analysis of the situation, the students demonstrated that the company could save money and space by reducing their on-hand supply of aluminum.

“One of my favorite things was watching what students went through as they supervised their capstone projects,” said David. “It changed a lot of them.”

With full and distinguished careers behind them, the long-time professors continue to stay busy. Past and present IMSE students, faculty, and friends can catch up with them and others at the department’s 50th anniversary event to be held October 24 and 25, 2008.