Continuous Improvement Co-op at Silfex

I was the Continuous Improvement Co-op at Silfex located in Eaton, Ohio. I used the simulation software Arena to accurately model a bottleneck in the plant and develop solutions to increase production. To work for Silfex I had to live in Oxford, OH and that was what I used the STEP grant for.

One of the major things that I learned about myself was my resilience to be able to continue working past massive setbacks. When I started working on this model in the early fall, I felt like it should be not too difficult to complete once I had learned the software. I was picking up where a previous intern had left off on this specific model. Looking at it, I thought that it shouldn’t be too hard to finish since about 2/3 of it was done. It wasn’t until I had built the model completely that I realized that there were a ton of mistakes that couldn’t have been found until it was actually completed. It then took me a whole month to debug the model and get it to accurately model the actual process.

During this month, I spent many hours just watching the simulation run, trying to visually find the error. That was the only way to debug the errors I was finding, and it was torture. I would often come home from a day of work frustrated with the lack of progress that was happening. One day in particular, I stayed late and worked a 10 hour day where I only focused on my model and did nothing else. At the end of the day I had found one tiny fix to a small problem. I was fed up and almost defeated but the sun still rose the next day and I still went back into work and made some amazing progress. I was able to find my major mistakes and get on the track towards true success. It felt amazing that I was able to achieve such success after such a demoralizing day. It showed me the power that I have if I continue on and keep working hard.

The first person who lead to this recognition of ability and transformation was my boss, Jeff Kovacs. We had a weekly meeting set up where we would go over what I have done, what I’m stuck on, and expectations on where I should go next with the model. These sessions were very helpful with keeping me on track and setting me up well to complete the project to the best of my abilities. He also didn’t mind answering my questions or walking through difficulties with me even when we didn’t have a meeting set. This availability really allowed for me to do well but it also made me become more selective in my questions because, although he was usually willing to answer even my most simple questions, I realized it wasn’t fair for me to waste his time asking 5 questions a day. I had to gather up the questions that I thought of and either save them for the meeting or during a free time of his. This is a skill that is important because in a real job I probably won’t have a boss as generous with his time or as close in proximity to me so I will have to ask necessary questions when the time arrives.

Another relationship that helped me with my co-op was with two of my fellow co-ops. Anson and John were Chemical Engineering co-ops working on complex coding tasks for most of the semester so they also spent a lot of time at their desks too. When one of us would get stuck, we’d ask one another to come by and look at what is going on. Usually this process was just the helper listening while the person who was stuck would just explain what is going on. Usually the person who was stuck would then realize their mistake and then work through the problem. This system helped me work out many minor blocks and lead to many major breakthroughs. I now believe that this sort of collaboration can be very helpful in many aspects of work and life. Just saying something out loud to someone makes you explain it in a logical way that I think leads to breakthroughs.

The last thing that lead to my new-found resilience was my meetings that I had with my boss’s boss and the plant manager. I had 2 meetings with these people to explain the findings of my model and give recommendations on improvements. For my first meeting, I prepared a PowerPoint with a lot of in-depth data to show them that I knew what I was talking about. About midway through the meeting, I realized that I had way too much information in my presentation. This was more misleading than it was helpful. The presentation still went fine but it didn’t go as well as it could have. For my second presentation, I realized that a shorter presentation with more backup knowledge in my head would be more effective. This next presentation was much shorter and much clearer and gave time for questions and great conversation to happen. Being able to adapt my presentation style to my audience after my first attempt wasn’t a complete success is another example of the resilience and flexibility that I learned.

The first thing that this resilience does is confirm that my skills translate to work life, not only school. There have been times where I was resilient in school and was able to come out on top but I didn’t know if work would be different. School is a lot of memorizing and if you just study the 80 terms you need to memorize for a test enough you will eventually learn them. My project at Silfex was the opposite. There were millions, maybe even billions, of possible variable combinations that could have led to the correct solution, so I had to logically work my way there. It was a chance for me to see that I had the ability to adapt to a work situation and succeed. It gives me a lot of confidence going forward that I can deal with what is thrown at me.