Iowa State Capstone Students Find Companies Savings, New Efficiencies

Workers at a Des Moines maker of fuel and lubricant delivery trucks now have more efficient workstations thanks to ongoing ties to students at Iowa State University.

Seneca Tank previously had worked with capstone students from Iowa State’s College of Engineering to find cost savings in the design of a new 45,000-square-foot production facility. S. J. Risewick, director of unit sales and production, said it was an easy decision to work with the students again.

“The college students were much more approachable than a consultant,” Risewick said. “Our employees were much more engaged in educating them on our products and processes.”

Seneca Tank employees previously worked out of a stationary tool box with more than 100 components, most of which were rarely used. During the fall 2015 semester, capstone students and Seneca Tank workers began to collaborate on designs for a mobile cart that instead housed the 20 to 30 most-needed tools. Beta testing on prototypes occurred in spring 2016, and Risewick said the final design has made employees’ workdays much easier. “It’s reduced the walking time tremendously.”

Seniors in all eight academic departments of the College of Engineering are required to complete a “capstone” project before graduation.

“You apply what you’ve learned over the last three years to a real problem, an engineering problem,” said CIRAS project manager Carey Novak, who helps match companies with students. “This isn’t just something made up in a classroom; these are real-world problems.”

Capstone projects provide students with valuable experience while helping Iowa companies create new products or streamline their business models. There were 115 projects completed last year, Novak said. For each of the last three years, companies involved in capstone projects have reported at least $20 million in cost reductions and/or new or retained sales attributable to the projects.

In Humboldt, Liguria Foods is working with capstone students to automate the loading process for some products. Students created two proposals that combined elements of technology, food safety, and ergonomics. The final plan will semi-automate a process that is currently all manual labor.

Although the initiative is still a work in progress, company leaders expect to have it operational sometime in 2017, said Joe Christopherson, vice president of operations. The cost of the project will be recouped through savings and efficiencies within 12 months of its start date, he said.

Students’ visits to the plant to observe the current process and take measurements also gave them a real-world window into Liguria’s work, Christopherson said. “They were able to talk with not only members of management but the employees that were doing the work.”

> For more information about the capstone program, contact Carey Novak at or 515-408-4257.


 A version of this article was published in the Winter 2017 edition of CIRAS News. To read more of that edition or others, please explore elsewhere on our website.