For the third year in a row, a team of Virginia Tech engineering students have won first place in the national Material Handling Student Design Competition for their design of an industrial facility.

Team members from Virginia Tech’s Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE) are rising seniors: Andres Marquez, of San Salvador, El Salvador, and Janet Wolf, of Morristown, Tenn.; master’s student Rohith Kori, of Bangalore, India; and Ph.D. student Will Chen, of Beijing, China. The team’s adviser is Russell Meller, associate professor of ISE in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech and co-director of the Dover Laboratory for Manufacturing Systems Integration.

Sponsored by the College-Industry Council on Material Handling Education and Modern Materials Handling magazine, the competition challenges students to solve a case-study facility design problem in five weeks. Each team submits a facility design report that includes an AutoCAD (computer-aided design) drawing of the new facility, a material handling analysis and other specifications such as a manufacturing equipment list and personnel analysis, Meller said.

Since Meller joined the Virginia Tech faculty in 1999, he has assigned case studies annually to the students in his Facilities Planning and Materials Handling course. The students who complete the best course case studies by mid-semester are given the opportunity to tackle the national competition’s design challenge.

The design problems are drawn from the case files of designers and manufacturers of material handling equipment. This year, competition teams developed designs for "Vital Vitamins," a manufacturer and distributor of over-the-counter vitamin supplements that has outgrown its existing facilities. The students designed the best material handling, storage and product flow for a new facility.

Five judges — three from academia and two from industry — evaluated the design reports based on several criteria, including product flow, equipment and space utilization, operational plan, overall integration, economic justification, writing quality, analysis, and presentation. The sponsors awarded $1,500 to the first place Virginia Tech team and $500 to the ISE department.

"This year’s report was the best entry I’ve seen in the five years that I’ve been advising students in the competition," Meller said. "It also was truly an international effort, involving students from several countries."

Students from North Carolina State University came in second, a team from Rochester Institute of Technology placed third, and teams from California Polytechnic State University and Texas A&M University won honorable mention.

The College of Engineering at Virginia Tech is internationally recognized for its excellence in 14 engineering disciplines and computer science. The college’s 5,600 undergraduates benefit from an innovative curriculum that provides a "hands-on, minds-on" approach to engineering education, complementing classroom instruction with two unique design-and-build facilities and a strong Cooperative Education Program. With more than 50 research centers and numerous laboratories, the college offers its 2,000 graduate students opportunities in advanced fields of study such as biomedical engineering, state-of-the-art microelectronics, and nanotechnology.

Founded in 1872 as a land-grant college, Virginia Tech has grown to become among the largest universities in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Today, Virginia Tech’s eight colleges are dedicated to putting knowledge to work through teaching, research, and outreach activities and to fulfilling its vision to be among the top research universities in the nation. At its 2,600-acre main campus located in Blacksburg and other campus centers in Northern Virginia, Southwest Virginia, Hampton Roads, Richmond, and Roanoke, Virginia Tech enrolls more than 28,000 full- and part-time undergraduate and graduate students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries in 180 academic degree programs.