The border city of Nogales, Sonora, just 60 miles south of the University of Arizona campus, is home to more than 110 manufacturing plants, known as maquiladoras, 23 of which belong to publicly traded companies. These plants produce a wide range of products for international markets, including components for the automotive and aerospace industries, household goods, medical devices and electronics.
The UA is building partnerships with the manufacturing community in Nogales through the Office of Academic Outreach in Santa Cruz County, providing opportunities for several University programs to expand into an important international market, while providing University partners access to the UA's research and development capacity.
One of the programs developing partnerships with the maquiladoras is the UA Engineering Senior Capstone Design Program, directed by Ara Arabyan, UA professor of engineering and director of the Engineering Clinic in the College of Engineering.
This year, for the first time, two UA engineering senior design teams are working with two companies with manufacturing facilities in Nogales, Sonora, to design solutions to real-world engineering problems.
Continental Automotive Systems and General Electric have both stepped forward to sponsor senior design teams, following a visit last spring to the companies' plants by professor Larry Head, head of the UA's department of systems and industrial engineering.
At the beginning of the fall 2012 semester, representatives from General Electric and Continental attended the Senior Capstone Design Open House at the Student Union Memorial Center, where they were able to present their design problems to interested engineering seniors.
Once the design teams were selected, the students began working on their projects in collaboration with practicing engineers at the GE and Continental plants in Nogales, Sonora.
With General Electric, the student design team will be developing a noise reduction/cancellation solution for one of the large transformers produced at GE's Nogales plant. The students have been working very closely with Rogelio Martínez, an engineer at GE, in the laboratory at the plant to test ideas and soon will develop a prototype. Christopher Gonzáles, plant manager for GE Nogales, liked the direction of the student design team’s work and agreed to provide the resources for the students to build the prototype.
Beyond this year’s Senior Capstone Design project, GE is hopeful that a group of UA engineering students will be willing to take on GE’s own "Lean Challenge" this summer at the Nogales plant to compete against student groups from other universities to develop lean manufacturing solutions that will go up against lean solutions in other manufacturing plants throughout the GE network.
At Continental Automotive Systems, the UA engineering seniors are developing a solution for a mechanical component traceability project.
While Continental may be better known as a tire manufacturer, half of the German multinational’s business is automotive electronics, which is the product line at the company's Nogales, Sonora, plant.
The students are working closely with Rafael Ibarra and Matt Grilliot at Continental to design a traceability system that will integrate with their production lines and supply chain to precisely track the placement of certain components.
The students say the project has been challenging and the experience working in an international manufacturing environment has been rewarding.
"Designing, modeling and analyzing technological systems for an international corporation such as Continental has been a great experience for my team," said Daniel Valenzuela, a senior majoring in systems and industrial engineering. "It feels great to be part of a project that will be implemented globally in locations where the company is present."
Arabyan visited both plants in December and said he was pleased by the level of support GE and Continental have provided to the students, as well the level of sophistication and complexity the two design problems pose to the student teams.
He said he hopes the UA Engineering Senior Capstone Design Program can attract additional sponsors from the manufacturing sector in Nogales and other regions in Sonora next year.
"This is a completely new and exciting category of sponsors for us. The two sponsors for this year have provided financial and mentoring support that is equivalent or higher than the support our students get from our U.S.-based industry sponsors," Arabyan said. "I really look forward to working with these and other similar sponsors in the future, and I really hope that our students contribute to the future success of these companies."