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ECU expert studies NASA program

(Mar. 15, 1994)   —   An East Carolina University business professor wants to put more efficiency in the nation’s space shuttle program by “reinventing” some of the ways the program conducts business.
The more accepted term is “re-engineering,” said Dr. Uma Gupta, an industrial engineer and a professor of decision sciences in the ECU School of Business.
“Re-engineering means that we don’t simply want to change what is, but we want to create what isn’t,” said Dr. Gupta.
In simple terms, it means “don’t keep fixing and patching things up. Instead, go back to the basics and ask why is it being done this way and is there a better way to do it,” she said.
Gupta and another researcher are conducting a re-engineering research project at Rockwell’s Space Systems Division in Florida. The company performs manufacturing and repairs for NASA’s space shuttle program.
The ECU professor is co-directing the project with Dr. Mansooreh Mollaghasemi of the University of Central Florida. For their study, they will examine the whole organization and develop computer models that perform different functions. Finally, they will suggest changes to help the space shuttle depot accomplish more and spend less.
“Particularly for Rockwell, the challenges are even bigger because a large part of their budget comes from NASA and as we know, NASA is undergoing some serious changes,” said Gupta.
These changes include cuts in the nation’s space program spending. Last month, President Clinton’s budget proposed heavy cuts in NASA’s space shuttle budget. Space agency officials, estimating the cuts at around the 30 percent mark, described them as “severe.”
“When you are in such a dynamic business environment, you have to be very careful to maximize efficiency,” Gupta said.
In her part of the study, Gupta will gather information from Rockwell logistics managers on what they hope to accomplish through their current manufacturing and repair procedures. Her counterpart in Florida will develop an animated computer model that simulates the operations at the plant.
“Our focus will be on the problems, not the symptoms,” she said. “We will be looking at a very detailed analysis of where the inefficiencies are.”
She said the computer simulation and the other information gathered from interviews will ultimately insure that every step in the production process adds value to the process. Of particular concern, are the procedures that have become part of the production process but have no reasons for being there except that the organization has always done it this way.
In some cases, she said organizations have had to start over and redesign the way they do business.
“It is a tough thing to do because it causes many changes in the company,” said Gupta. “But the world has also changed. It is more dynamic. There are so many competitive forces that companies have no other choice but to change too,” she said.
A grant from Rockwell is supporting ECU’s part of the research.
Gupta joined the ECU School of Business last fall to teach courses on management information systems in the Department of Decision Sciences. Before joining ECU, she was a professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Systems at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.