From queue to cone: Students tackle issues that lead to Creamery's long lines

Kendra Paro and Pamela Krewson Wertz
May 03, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Industrial engineering (IE) students are taking the service enterprise engineering (SEE) skills they have learned in the classroom one step further by attempting to improve one of the most beloved places on the University Park campus, Penn State’s Berkey Creamery. 

Inspired by the SEE 360 initiative, Professor Vittal Prabhu challenged a team of two undergraduates and one graduate student to utilize engineering techniques they’ve learned in their coursework to investigate improvements to service operations at the Creamery.

Cate Bahner, Alfred Galeno and Chintan Patil have been working alongside managers at the Creamery to collect data based on arrival times of customers, day of the week, other events going on at the University Park Campus, cone/cup versus to-go orders, milkshake versus cone/cup orders, etc. They have visited the Creamery five times to observe the system and attempt to find the underlying factors that cause long wait times for customers.  

“Our project is working to analyze the current system the Creamery uses and the different issues that cause long queues during daily Creamery operations, as well as during busier times such as during home football game weekends or Arts Fest,” said Bahner, a graduating senior.

The Creamery has been a staple in the Penn State community for 150 years. The operation ships its ice cream to over 48 states and can sell upwards of 3,000 cones and bowls of the frosty treat on any given day. As many students and visitors of the iconic campus staple know, the line that forms during a home football weekend, graduation, sports camp, alumni event or just a warm day can stretch all the way down the block, with people waiting an hour of more for their beloved ice cream.

The goal of the project is for the IE students to look for inefficiencies throughout the ordering and serving process that can then be addressed to improve operations. This project, and the purpose behind the SEE 360 initiative, is to make students aware of the many opportunities within the service sector, thanks largely to the high percentage of U.S. jobs that are based in the service industry.

“Historically much of our [U.S.] economy was agricultural and after the industrial revolution, we become a manufacturing economy,” explained Prabhu. “Today 80 percent of the U.S. employees work in enterprises that provide services, such as retail, health care, banks, hospitality, travel and entertainment. The products here are intangible services rather than material goods. Designing and controlling the systems that provide such services can be called service enterprise engineering.”

Having students work with the staff at the Creamery on this project is allowing them to apply concepts learned in the classroom to a real issue, and specifically an issue that affects them and their peers on campus. 

“There are some big challenges during the day for managers to control all the customers coming in and out in such a small confined space,” said Jim Brown, assistant manager at the Creamery. “If we can improve customer service, we can get more people through the line and we can even make them be happier when they do have to wait in line. Improving customer service will overall improve how people think of the Creamery.”

Brown believes this project is an amazing opportunity to use students’ knowledge and expertise to benefit an integral part of the University Park campus. 

“[The Creamery] has become a destination for all visitors to Penn State; it resonates with a lot of people,” said Galeno, a graduating senior. “When you think of Penn State, you think of the Lion Shrine, Beaver Stadium and the Creamery.”

Some of the strategies the students used to try to improve line operations were time studies. 

“We would go to the Creamery and record how long it took for customers to place their order, pay for it and receive their order,” said Bahner. “From there we relied heavily on simulation modeling, where we input all the real-world data and get an accurate simulation for what happens in the system."

The students modeled simulations through an application called Simio. After collecting data, they would model various different simulations (with different workers and different queue times).

During the current phase of the project, everything is theoretical. The students cannot make suggestions to the Creamery until they collect more data and find a correct model.

“This project with the Creamery is just one piece of the puzzle,” said Patil, an IE graduate student. “Our goal within SEE 360 is to develop a tool that can be scaled to a variety of service industries in order to improve customer experience.”

The room for growth within the SEE 360 initiative is exponential as more students are being exposed to the issues relating to the service sector. 

Though Galeno and Bahner are graduating on Friday, they believe they have laid a strong foundation with this project so future students can pick up where they left off. This project has the potential to make a long-lasting impact on the Creamery and they said they are both excited to see where the project may go after they have graduated from Penn State. 

  • ​The team of industrial engineers who worked on the project

    The team of industrial engineers who worked on the project (L-R): Alfred Galeno, Professor Vittal Prabu, Cate Bahner and Chintan Patil.

    IMAGE: Pamela Krewson Wertz

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Last Updated September 04, 2020