Packaging Engineering Students Bring Home the Win at PACK Expo

For the second year in a row, a team of four packaging engineering students -- Miles Borgeson, Ann Cierpial, Melissa Lekulitch, and William Kim -- placed first in the annual PACK Expo Solutions Challenge, held this year on November 6th in Chicago, Illinois. Hosted by the trade association Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute (PMMI), the competition provided students with the opportunity to put their engineering skills to the test as well as network with over 650 packaging companies from the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

The 2014 challenge asked students to design a packaging line for all-beef jerky treats for a fictional company called Ray’s Premium Food Company. The eight competing programs -- Cal Poly, Clemson University, Purdue University-Calumet, Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Florida, University of Wisconsin-Stout, Virginia Tech, and Rutgers -- had two months to prepare their lines and presentations.

The case study provided students with a detailed description of the company facility and a list of needed equipment. The packaging lines the students created needed to address these issues in at least five steps, starting with transferring the jerky from the production line to the packaging line. The students had to design machinery that would then pouch, wrap, and prepare the final packaged product for shipping. 

“Based on the case study that PMMI provided us, our team had to research the requested machinery and contact suppliers to inquire about their specific machines,” Cierpial, a School of Engineering junior, explained.

“Overall, it was about being able to take a requested end result and find the best way to achieve it,” she said.

The team found that their coursework helped prepare them for the competition. Often, professors would teach topics they would find in their research, providing additional insight into the project, Cierpial said.

“Things our professor brought up in class would spark a new idea for a different way of accomplishing something on the line or an addition to make our line more feasible and stand out from the competition,” she said.

According to Kim, the packaging program’s coursework was so informative because the professors have strong industrial backgrounds. Many of the program’s instructors have worked in manufacturing before taking teaching positions at Rutgers.

The team also had an assigned mentor, an engineer from packaging equipment company ADCO Manufacturing, to guide them throughout the semester, Kim said. Their mentor’s guidance was key in perfecting their line.

“This competition is extremely challenging and time consuming,” Borgeson, team leader, said. “That being said, it gives students a chance to experience real life issues when trying to construct a packaging line.”

Borgeson, a School of Engineering senior, competed in the competition last year with three other packaging engineering students. During both years, Rutgers Packaging was the only program that provided competing students with an engineering background.

“Our students do well because they are trained as engineers, paying close attention to detail, mechanics, and research,” said Professor Hae Chang Gea, professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Rutgers and director of the Packaging Engineering program.

As winners, the four students on the team will receive a shared $4,000 scholarship presented by the PMMI Training and Education Foundation and B&R Industrial Automation. Rutgers School of Engineering will also receive a $2,500 donation from the PMMI Foundation for its participation in the competition.