Western Michigan University Integrates Varatech Software

June 14, 2002
| By Katy Rent |
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KALAMAZOO — Real world experience ranks right up there with a college education when sampling the job market.

And now, young engineers trained at Western Michigan University (WMU) will head into the work force ready to use the latest generation of sophisticated manufacturing software that translates precise computer-aided design (CAD) into the real-world requirements of production — thanks to a new $2.1 million software award from Varatech.

Continuing its partnership with WMU, Varatech, a Holland-based technical engineering consulting firm, has awarded 100 seats of the company’s integrated Sigmund 3D for Pro/Engineer software and 100 seats of its new Sigmund Pro Tolerance software for use in WMU’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. This gives the university the license to operate 100 systems at the same time, allowing students to use the software in a class or in a lab, and faculty can use it, too — all at the same time.

A similar award last year of an earlier version made WMU the only university in the nation with the ability to train future engineers to use the software, which provides a bridge between the virtual realm of CAD and the real world of manufacturing.

“We’re developing a long-term partnership with Western Michigan University,” said Robert Gardner, president of Varatech. “WMU graduates who have experience using Sigmund are attractive to many industry leaders who use Sigmund on a daily basis, and WMU graduates are being recruited based on their knowledge of the software. We’re also exploring advanced research options in a variety of areas. We’re basically developing a symbiotic relationship.”

Sigmund software is designed to help companies increase product quality, reduce production costs and get their products to market sooner. It factors into CAD product designs a sense of some of the dimensional variations that are the inevitable result of the manufacturing process. The software helps engineers identify and correct for the most significant sources of those variations, before the variations result in production problems.

“This is a unique product and there is not a lot of competition out there, but we are working with a significant package and one that is used widely in the world of engineering,” said Michael Atkins, chair of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering Department at WMU.

Since WMU engineers began using Sigmund a year ago, the software has been completely integrated into two engineering courses, and curriculum development work is under way to integrate the technology into two additional engineering courses. Atkins added that the software is mostly used in 300-level classes, or junior level, because of the previous knowledge, received in earlier classes, which is required before using the software. University officials also are investigating application of the software to a number of ongoing automotive research projects, graduate level classes and 400-level classes.

“Varatech’s commitment to us is having a major impact on our students,” said Daniel Litynski, dean of WMU’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “We’re using the software in the classroom, and many of our graduate students have recognized the value of gaining experience in using the products. Many are even working on their own to become more familiar with its applications.

“Variation analysis is not something taught at most universities, and our students were quick to realize the value of being fluent in the use of a product like this that is already in extensive use in industry.”

The software is available in the Computer-Aided Engineering Center in WMU’s Kohrman Hall, and is used for such undergraduate courses as Advanced Quality Management. The new award is for Sigmund software that can be used on the school’s Pro/Engineer CAD system. And currently the software is only available on WMU’s main campus in Kalamazoo; however, Akins said the university hopes to bring it to the Muskegon campus in the near future. It may even be available at the Grand Rapids campus for an Advanced Quality Management class, he said.

Varatech’s Gardner said research initiatives aimed at using Sigmund software for a wide variety of business functions and even for research on the molecular level could set the future direction of the WMU/Varatech partnership. Gardner currently is a member of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences’ Board if Visitors, a group of industry representatives who advise the college on such issues as curriculum development and ensure programs are relevant to industry needs.

And industry needs are just what the new software prepares the engineering students for. “It takes a lot of experience to fluently design a product and this software will bridge the gap to excel the learning curve and make students job-ready,” Atkins said.

“This partnership is symbolic of what is happening with WMU and its industrial partners. It increases sales for the company and the students get great experience; it is a win-win situation.”

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