The University Record, January 15, 2001

Engineering’s innovative global product development course taught simultaneously on three continents

By Patricia Majher, College of Engineering,
and Nancy L. Kuharevicz

Offered for the first time during the fall 2000 term, the ‘Global Product Realization’ course drew a variety of graduate students from disciplines inside and outside of engineering. Participants were divided into eight global product teams, each composed of students from the U-M, Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands and Seoul National University in South Korea. The class met Tuesdays and Thursdays and was broadcast simultaneously on campus and in the Netherlands and South Korea. Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services
Motivated by industry’s need for engineers who can think globally—even if they have to work locally—to develop products for a world market, a U-M faculty member has created a course that teaches such skills simultaneously to students in North America, Europe and Asia.

Debasish Dutta, professor of mechanical engineering and director, Interdisciplinary Professional Programs, who conceived the idea for “Global Product Realization (GPR),” enlisted the cooperation of academic colleagues at the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands and Seoul National University in South Korea to develop and present the course content.

“I conceived this course three years ago,” Dutta explains. “I spent a good chunk of time talking to people in industry about developing the course. Everyone I spoke to was very supportive and told me about the importance of such a product development course, given the fact that most major corporations have global operations, supplier base and markets.”

The course, offered for the first time during the fall 2000 term, drew a variety of graduate students from disciplines inside and outside of engineering. The plan was to have 16 students from each campus. In Michigan, one student dropped the class, so there were 15. There were eight global product teams, each composed of U-M, Dutch and Korean students.

The course’s focus on teams “reinforces the message about working effectively with others in remote locations,” Dutta says. “We expected the teams to use all the communications media at their disposal to get their work done, including videoconferencing, e-mail, phones, faxes and Web tools like E-Viz and Placeware.”

Team ‘Aroma’ members from Seoul National University explain features of their coffee maker to attendees of the Dec. 8 GPR Exhibit and Education Forum. Photo by Bill Wood, U-M Photo Services
The class met Tuesdays and Thursdays, but meeting time was variable. “It depends on where you take it,” Dutta explains. “In Ann Arbor, our students gathered at 8 a.m. In Delft, which is six hours different, the students filed in for a 2 p.m. course. In Seoul, which is 14 hours later than Michigan’s Eastern Standard Time, a very dedicated group of students showed up on campus at 10 p.m. to take in what we have to teach.”

Videoconferencing technology makes “simulcasting” of the course content possible. All three schools are using the same equipment. The U-M students meet in the Media Union, where the University’s most advanced teaching and learning technologies are housed.

Despite the complex technology involved, Dutta says there were only two minor glitches during the class, both involving ISDN lines failing.

The three instructors—Dutta, Prof. Imre Horvath in Delft and Prof. Jongwon Kim in Seoul—took turns presenting the material and arranged for experts to speak about the law, business, environment and other related subjects. Because the course is so new, there is no textbook. Instead, each instructor developed case studies from local industry that are used as teaching aids. For instance, Dutta prepared one case study detailing Steelcase Corp.’s development of a chair for the global marketplace and another focusing on Ford Motor Co.’s platform architecture for the Jaguar S-Type (manufactured in the United Kingdom) and Lincoln LH Series (manufactured in the United States).

Roberta Morris, adjunct professor of law, lectures on patent law Nov. 9 in the ‘Global Product Realization’ course. Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services
The Delft and Seoul instructors presented studies based on design challenges at such companies as Philips Electronics and Samsung.

During the last full week of class in early December, the Delft and Seoul students traveled to Michigan to meet with their North American counterparts, completed their projects and presented them in a public exhibition in the Media Union Gallery.

The Dec. 8 event, dubbed the GPR Exhibit and Education Fourm, was attended by a Korean trade official and attache from the Royal Netherlands Embassy.

Dutta said he has received several positive comments from students who took the course during the fall term, and he plans to offer it every fall. He is reviewing his notes and student feedback to see how it can be improved for 2001.

“Logistics is a major issue, and I think we can finesse it next fall,” Dutta says. “I am also developing new industrial case studies.”

For more information about the GPR course, its faculty or its students, contact Dutta at (734) 936-3567 or