CAREER: Understanding and Supporting the Acquisition of Manufacturing Automation System Integration Skills

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

The principal goals of this project are to: (1) understand how automated manufacturing system integration expertise develops; (2) develop a web-based system - called the System Integration Problem-Solving Environment (SIPSE) - that can be used both to monitor the development of system integration skills and to teach them; (3) develop a pedagogy for teaching system integration concepts and skills that can be used as a basis for developing curricula and materials for education in system integration and other similar domains; and (4) develop a curriculum for a undergraduate-level course on Automated Manufacturing System Integration. The proposed effort will build upon existing cognitive skills acquisition research in investigating how expert engineers develop automated manufacturing system integration skills and how to help novices develop these skills more efficiently.


The research is being performed in university and industry settings throughout the U.S. and Europe.

Research Design: 

The research design for this project is comparative, and is designed to generate evidence that is descriptive through ethnography and observation. This project collects original data through assessments of learning/achievement tests, observation of web logs, and survey research including paper and pencil self-completion questionnaires, face-to-face structured interviewer-administered questionnaires, and face-to-face semi-structured/informal interviews. Instruments and measures include structured interview questions, surveys, multiple-choice tests of knowledge, keyboard and mouse actions. Interview data were transcribed, coded and analyzed using standard qualitative statistical methods. Survey and knowledge test data were analyzed using tests of means and analysis of variance.


Expert system integrators are similar to experts in other domains in that they 1) notice more things than novices; 2) have a rich store of well-organized domain knowledge; 3) do not necessarily have greater mental ability, cognitive capacity (e.g., memory) or reasoning ability; their skills appear to be context/job dependent; 4) exhibit greater automaticity in problem-solving. These experts appeared to see features or patterns in design problems that helped them to know how to begin solving them. Expert system integrators appear to be different from experts in other domains that have been studied in that 1) they work collaboratively and actively leverage the knowledge of vendors and their co-workers; 2) there is no single correct answer to a design problem. The main criterion for a satisfactory design solution is that both client and the system integrator are satisfied with the proposal. In the process of coming up with a design, the system integrator may persuade the client to accept a different kind of solution; 3) the final product for application engineers—a proposal—is a good-sized product consisting of drawings, and a line-by-line, station-by-station breakdown of equipment and costs. In contrast, the outputs of expert performance in other studies of expertise tend to be relatively narrow in scope—e.g., a medical diagnosis, a chess move, or a solution to a textbook physics problem.

Publications & Presentations: 

Hsieh, S. “Problem-Solving Environment for Line Balancing Automated Manufacturing Systems,” Computer Applications in Engineering Education, 17(1), March 2009, pp. 52-60.

Hsieh, S., “Robotic Workcell Design Toolkit for Automated System Integration Education,” International Journal of Engineering Education, 23(2), March 2007, pp. 394-402.

Hsieh, S. “Understanding Automated System Design Problem-Solving: Current Progress and Implications for Instruction,” under review for 2009 ASEE Annual Conference, June 14-17, 2009, Austin, TX.

Hsieh, S. “Analysis of Verbal Data from Automated System Design Problem-Solving,” 2008 ASEE Annual Conference, June 22-25, 2008, Pittsburgh, PA.

Hsieh, S., “Conceptual Design Environment for Automated Assembly Line – Framework, “2007 ASEE Annual Conference, June 25-28, 2007, Honolulu, HI.

Hsieh, S. and *Kim, H. “Automated Robotic Workcell Design Toolkit – Preliminary Evaluation,” 2006 ASEE Annual Conference, Chicago, IL, June 18-21, 2006.

Hsieh, S. and *Kim, H. "Web-Based Problem-Solving Environment for Line Balancing Automated Manufacturing Systems," Proceedings of 2005 ASEE Annual Conference, June 12-15, 2005, Portland, OR. (Winner of ASEE Annual Conference Best Paper Award, PIC I).

Hsieh, S. "Automated Manufacturing System Integration Education: Current Status and Future Directions," Proceedings of 2005 ASEE Annual Conference, June 12-15, 2005, Portland, OR.

Other Products: 

Some materials already available at