Nathan Harris: Smart manufacturing keeps jobs onshore

Nathan Harris
: Glocester, R.I.
Age: 22
Major: Mechanical Engineering

To keep manufacturing alive and well in Rhode Island, plant managers need people like Nathan Harris. As an intern at Modine Manufacturing Co., the University of Rhode Island engineering student designed methods to boost efficiency and keep the company competitive in the global marketplace.

“We’re really trying to push small, incremental improvements to stay competitive,” plant manager Dan Kimber says. “Nathan helped us do that.”

The plant in West Kingston, R.I., manufactures commercial heating and ventilation systems and employs about 100 people. Before assembly, the metal components must be coated with paint to protect them from rust and provide a finished look. Before Harris arrived in 2011, changing the paint color took three workers 45 minutes to an hour – a process they repeated up to three times daily.

Left to right: Dana Hill, Nathan Harris and plant manager Dan Kimber at Modine.

Kimber wanted a better way. He paired Harris with staff engineer and URI alumnus Dana Hill (‘05) and charged them with reducing the changeover time. During the course of a year, the duo spent hours observing workers and probing them about minute details.

Hill, also once an intern, and Harris eventually implemented almost 100 changes. Some of their ideas were straightforward, such as providing workers stools with wheels so they no longer crawled under machines. Others were more complicated like implementing a new system of lining up components waiting for painting. In all cases, the changes saved precious minutes.

Kimber estimates the two engineers brought the changeover time to 25 minutes, a time reduction of more than 40 percent. Over time, those minutes add up and translate to reduced costs for Modine.

For Harris, the experience led to a job offer from Modine six months before he expects to graduate with a mechanical engineering degree in May 2013. He also clinched a job offer from Sensata Technologies in Massachusetts after the company quizzed him about his Modine internship. The Glocester, R.I. resident accepted the offer from Sensata, drawn by the same passions that led him to Modine.

“I like being given a challenge and figuring out how to meet it and do it time and cost effectively,” Harris says.

Pictured above: Nathan Harris (’13), left, and Dana Hill (’05).