Engineering graduate student investigates smart maintenance in service sector

Kendra Paro
April 04, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — During his three years at Penn State, graduate student Kai-Wen Tien has accomplished many impressive research pursuits and is pushing the limits on what industrial engineering (IE) students can uncover, particularly in the service sector.

Originally from Taiwan, Tien studied IE at the National Tsing-Huang University in Hsinchu City, China, and went on to receive his master’s in IE at North Carolina State University. After being offered the College of Engineering Graduate Excellence Fellowship, which was one of the most selective fellowships an incoming doctorate student could receive at the time, he made the decision to come to Happy Valley to purse his doctoral degree. 

“I came to Penn State because it is a highly ranked research university and there are a lot of opportunities,” said Tien. “But the people and the community here are really what make this place special.”

Previously only working with mathematical models, the IE doctoral program at Penn State drew Tien in because of the respected faculty working in the department and their industrial collaborations. Now he is able to work on more practical things, he said, which is important to gain valuable experience. 

Tien said he enjoys his peers and the overall atmosphere around the Harold and Inge Marcus Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering. 

“I really like the people I work with every day and the people in my department. The staff are very professional, and as graduate students we get to work on topics that are interesting to us,” he said. 

Tien chose Professor Vittal Prabhu as his adviser because Prabhu has many years of real world experience. That factor was integral for Tien, who was looking to learn theories but wanted to see how they correlate to real industry problems. 

Currently, Tien’s research focuses on how to achieve smart manufacturing through smart maintenance. He is trying to investigate how different maintenance policies effects system performance. By bringing the Internet of Things into factories in order to automate processes it will then help to identify when a machine on the manufacturing floor needs assistance. The information can be used to prevent downtime and improve production uptime. This tool will then help managers to select appropriate policies and identify problem areas.

Tien is comparing the smart maintenance approach to traditional maintenance to see which makes most economic sense in production systems. The first stage of his work included working on preliminary data analysis, and now he is in the data collection phase of the project.

He is applying the research in the service industry by working with small manufacturing companies in Pennsylvania, as well as large transportation companies in the region. The application of research to the community is an integral part of the Service Enterprise Engineering’s (SEE) 360 mission.

Tien is a member of a research project supported by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is an agency that is part of the United States Department of Commerce. Its mission is to promote innovation and industrial competitiveness.

Last fall, Tien worked closely with other IE graduate students to collaborate with Walmart and to determine how the company can improve processes at the Military Appreciation Tailgate

As of now, Tien hopes to graduate in May and stay at Penn State post-graduation. He plans on gaining work experience in search for a full-time opportunity that is research-oriented.

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Last Updated April 04, 2018