An Immersive Experience in Industry

By Mary Beth Gallagher. Photo by Madox Summermatter.

Over the summer, four mechanical engineering graduate students had the opportunity to gain hands-on experience working in industry. Through the recently launched Industry Immersion Project Program (I2P), students were paired with a company and tasked with tackling a short-term project. Projects in this inaugural year for the program came from a diverse range of industries, including manufacturing, robotics, and aerospace engineering.

A flagship program of the MechE Alliance, the I2P Program matches students with a company and project that best fits within their own academic experience at MIT. Projects are designed to be short term, lasting three to six months. Building upon programs such as the Master of Engineering in Advanced Manufacturing and Design and Leaders for Global Operations, which foster collaborations between students and the manufacturing industry, the I2P Program offers graduate students real-world experiences across industries.

“For some students, this could be their first experience working in industry before graduating,” says Brian W. Anthony, program faculty director of the I2P Program. “Having that industry experience arms them with knowledge to help make career choices, may inform their further research, and provides skills they will utilize throughout their careers — whether they end up working in academia or industry.”

Throughout the course of the projects, students are supported by both a supervisor at the company they’re working for and an academic supervisor from MIT’s mechanical engineering faculty. They also produce a report of their experience and receive academic credit for their industry projects and are enrolled in the class 2.992 (Professional Industry Immersion Project).

“It’s been great hearing just how rich the experience has been from the students who participated this summer,” adds Theresa Werth, program manager for the MechE Alliance. “Not only have they spent the summer working on a project that’s relevant to their own research or thesis, they have honed some of the softer skills of professional development.”

The four students participating in this year’s I2P Program have shared highlights and takeaways from their experiences:

Sara Nagelberg — 3M

A PhD candidate working with Associate Professor Mathias Kolle in the Bio-Inspired Photonic Engineering research group, Sara Nagelberg studies optical engineering. Through the I2P Program, this summer she worked at 3M on a project that seeks to automate surface finish analysis in manufacturing by understanding visual perception.

While much of manufacturing involves automation, automating quality inspection for the surface finish on appliances or cars offers some technical challenges. The project Nagelberg worked on at 3M hopes to define what makes a surface "good," then develop algorithms so that a computer can determine whether a surface finish is good quality or flawed.

“The long-term goal of the project is to automate surface-quality inspection,” Nagelberg explains. She and her team identified parameters that could be used to judge the visual appearance of surfaces — things like color, glossiness, shape, and texture.

“By working on this project, I learned about a variety of instruments and metrics that can be used to quantify visual surface finish parameters,” she adds.

In addition to gaining experience on an interdisciplinary team at 3M, Nagelberg learned about computer vision, machine learning, and how to relate human perception to measurable parameters.

Katie Hahm — Amazon Robotics

This summer was one of transition for Katie Hahm. Having graduated with her master’s degree in June, Hahm is now a PhD candidate working in the Device Realization Lab with program director Anthony. As a master’s student, Hahm previously worked with Professor Harry Asada on designing robotic limbs to help manufacturing workers maintain positions for extended periods of time.

Through the I2P Program, Hahm worked on a project at Amazon Robotics to improve efficiencies in the robotic process. “Working on this project was a great academic experience,” says Hahm. “I gained insights into the many facets and complexities of robotics.”

Hahm also received a ground truth in what it’s like to work at a company like Amazon. She visited a local fulfillment center to gain a deeper understanding of their operations and visited Seattle to attend a company conference. At the conference, she and her fellow interns met with company leadership and teams from other Amazon sectors.

One of the biggest takeaways from her experience at Amazon, according to Hahm, was how to approach research projects moving forward. “I learned not only valuable information from working with other professionals, but also the skills and approaches to asking more effective questions for research-oriented work,” she adds.

Sai Nithin Reddy Kantareddy — Amazon Robotics

A junior PhD candidate, much of Sai Nithin Reddy Kantareddy’s work involves using radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to sense activity and gather data about the surrounding environment. These RFID tags can then be used to connect objects to the internet of things.

“Going into this summer, I knew I wanted to work on something related to sensors because of my research interest in environmental sensing,” explains Kantareddy. Through the I2P Program, Kantareddy was assigned to a project about material identification and sensing in robotics at Amazon Robotics.

“Material identification for robotic applications really aligns with my own research interests,” he adds. While at Amazon Robotics, he gained hands-on experience working with sensors, cameras, and robots. He also built machine learning models on experimental data.

While his background isn’t in robotics research, Kantareddy quickly learned about how robots are designed and what some of the challenges are in field implementation and warehouse automation. In addition to this in-depth technical knowledge, he also gained firsthand experience working in a team setting.

“I enjoyed being part of a very resourceful and talented R&D team,” he recalls.  “I hope to take back these real-world insights and technical learnings and put them to practice in my PhD work.”

Abhishek Patkar — Systems Technology Inc.

A sophomore master’s student, Abhishek Patkar works in the flight controls group the Active Adaptive Control Laboratory, led by in Senior Research Scientist Anuradha Annaswamy. Working at Systems Technology Inc. (STI) was a natural fit. Much of STI’s work focuses on aerospace engineering.

For his internship, Patkar was matched with Aditya Kotikalpudi, a senior research engineer at STI and the principal investigator for NASA’s project entitled Performance Adaptive Aeroelastic Wing. “I primarily worked on system identification and model parameter update for an aeroelastic vehicle,” says Patkar.

While his internship was based in Los Angeles, California, Patkar had the opportunity to visit the University of Minnesota and witness the actual process of flight testing. He worked with the real data taken from these flight tests. Patkar also used STI software to identify aeroelastic mode shapes and obtain transfer function estimates from control surfaces to measured quantities like center body pitch rate. 

“Through this internship, I was able to learn a lot about aircraft dynamics, aeroelasticity, and the process of performing system identification on an aircraft,” Patkar adds. He expects to use this knowledge back in the flight controls group in the Active Adaptive Control Laboratory.



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