Industrial engineering seniors manufacture, sell bottle openers

Working together, Wyatt VanDePol and Luke Henes plane a piece of plywood so they can use it to manufacture more bottle openers. The seniors in industrial engineering have been working on production since "a week before Thanksgiving," VanDePol said. (Rowan Jones | Collegian Media Group)

Seniors in industrial engineering spent their fall semester designing, manufacturing, financing, marketing and selling bottle openers as part of the capstone course.

The course, which seeks to teach real world manufacturing procedures and business strategy through the development of a comprehensive design process, is called Manufacturing Systems Design and Analysis.

The 17-week capstone course is set up to showcase the students’ skills they have gained and enhanced throughout their college engineering careers and to further prepare them for the workforce upon graduating.

“Alumni and graduating students comment that this course is a powerful experience that prepares them well for their future careers,” said Bradley Kramer, professor and industrial and manufacturing systems engineering department head.

Manhattan Made, LLC is a student-run company made up of industrial engineering seniors that was established in September. Students enrolled in the course for the current fall semester decided to design, manufacture and sell bottle openers as their final product. Past products have included wine racks, coaster sets, clocks, wall and desk organizers, coat racks, frames and chess boards.

“After comprehensive brainstorming sessions, we narrowed down our list of potential products to a bottle opener, shadow box, wooden beer mug and an entryway organizer,” Anna Kleibohmer, fifth-year senior in industrial engineering, said. “We then performed extensive market research and conducted market surveys, which revealed that manufacturing and selling the bottle opener would require a simple yet effective design process, while simultaneously returning the highest revenue.”

While the students had faculty advisors to oversee their progress and assist them throughout the semester, they were entirely responsible for creating a business plan and company structure.

Manhattan Made, LLC has a CEO as well as departments of engineering, operations, marketing and finance. Students were assigned to a specific department in such a way to optimize their contributions based on their own unique academic and work experiences.

“My key role is planning and organizing,” Ramie Taylor, fifth-year senior in industrial engineering and CEO, said. “This position has provided me with the opportunity to lead my class as we finish up our studies at Kansas State. It is a task-oriented leadership role that requires a substantial amount of communication and collaboration with my peers.”

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Designed by Manhattan Made, LLC, the wall-mounted bottle opener is inscribed with a Powercat logo. Each opener is individually made by K-State students. (Rowan Jones | Collegian Media Group)

Throughout the semester, students used a combination of traditional and digital marketing strategies to appeal to customers. They used word of mouth, fliers and TV monitors in the Engineering Complex to promote the bottle openers, as well as various social media platforms and a Wix website.

All members of the class were required to spend time in the lab, helping to manufacture the products. Students used a variety of machines during the production process and were responsible for assembling, staining and packaging each individual bottle opener.

Like any real-world company that designs and manufactures goods, Manhattan Made, LLC ran into several challenges over the course of the semester. The decision to use glass or acrylic for the bottle opener insert was the students’ first issue.

“Acrylic was cheaper and easier to find in any size while glass looked better sandblasted and didn’t get scratched as easily,” Kleibohmer said. “We chose to use glass because of the quality.”

Students also made miscalculations when ordering wood for the bottle openers, which has resulted in unforeseen expenses.

“Unfortunately, no one caught the mistake until recently, and now we have to go over the intended budget for lumber,” Kleibohmer said.

One of the greatest challenges the students faced was with licensing.

“We didn’t account for how long it would take to get approval to use the Powercat,” Taylor said. “This hindered us from producing and selling products sooner.”

Students were also denied approval to use the letters “KSU;” K-State has to gain permission from Kennesaw State University before doing so.

Despite these challenges, the seniors said they have gained valuable experience and knowledge that has furthermore enriched their skills.

“The most rewarding part is creating something from nothing and having the system actually run,” Ryan Loiacono, fifth-year senior in industrial engineering, said. “We sold 101 products in less than 10 days and that was very rewarding as well.”