UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Justin Rist and Robert Newton, Penn State doctoral students in industrial engineering, won first place in the May 2021 Student Simulation Competition, hosted by Simio, a software company that develops tools for simulation, production planning and scheduling innovations.
Twice a year, Simio hosts an international simulation contest challenging students to develop a simulation solution for a specific case study. Advised by Eunhye Song, Harold and Inge Marcus Early Career Assistant Professor of Industrial Engineering at Penn State, Rist and Newton competed against 338 other teams from 44 schools across 16 countries.
“Simio is a simulation software company based out of Pittsburgh and founded by Penn State graduates,” Rist said. “The software is used across many industries to model real-world systems and gain insights into how these systems can be improved. For example, a fast-food drive-thru could be replicated in the software, and tweaks to the operation of the system could be tested to see how changes to the system would affect customers served per hour, customer satisfaction, operating cost, etc.”
The competing teams have 10 weeks to solve the prompted problem using Simio’s software tools. The spring 2021 case study focused on an inventory management issue in a shelving shop. Rist and Newton were tasked with simulating the current processes of the shelving shop, finding the weaknesses and the factors causing the problem and recommending changes to make the system more efficient.
“Simio specifically wanted us to use Demand Driven Materials Requirement Planning, an adaptive inventory management system, as part of our solution,” Newton said. “Making this recommendation, however, also required us to develop the parameters to make the new management system effective. All of this was part of our team’s solution.”
With the guidance of Song, Rist and Newton accurately fit their model to match the shop’s given data, ran the simulation and optimized the shop’s processes using tools within Simio’s software. Rist used his code writing skills to ensure the simulation ran smoothly and effectively.
“Dr. Song’s mentoring and familiarity with the software led us down the path of using the OptQuest Add-On, which was a much more graceful approach to optimizing the shop than the brute force techniques we may have otherwise found ourselves using,” Newton said.
The team created a 10-minute video explaining and demonstrating the solution. A panel of commercial and academic judges reviewed and scored the solution based on a list of criteria supplied by Simio. The team also created an introduction video with a more creative tone.
“My favorite part of this competition had to be filming the intro video,” Rist said. “I have to say that my engineering skills are better than my acting skills, but between Rob’s creativity and my wife’s video-editing skills, they made me look like I knew what I was doing. This is just one example of the great team dynamic between Rob and me. We took the competition very seriously, but still had fun along the way.”
For their first place finish, Rist and Newton received a $2,500 cash prize. Their winning video will also be featured on Simio’s website for potential exposure to employers and industry leaders.
“There is something empowering about taking what you learn in class, even if when class involves practical components beyond the academic theory and putting it to use to solve a problem. It’s another opportunity to learn by doing,” Newton said. “If you happen to win something, that validation from an outside organization that your work was good is pretty great.”