Eric Pillon, Jake Blythe, and Zachary AzarUWindsor engineering students Eric Pillon, Jake Blythe, and Zachary Azar helped the Hiram Walker distillery customize software to monitor its production lines.

Student project applies automotive solution to distillery production

Hiram Walker & Sons faced a challenge on its production line, and a team of UWindsor engineering students helped develop a solution.

The problem was that the distillery’s managers and operators were unable to properly monitor production. If the line stopped at any particular point, adjacent operators did not know why, because they were unable to see over walls or through machines.

The company’s production manager had seen software used in other industries to address these challenges and wondered whether it could apply in his plant.

Enter electrical and computer engineering students Jake Blythe, Zachary Azar, and Eric Pillon. Blythe had worked a co-op placement at Hiram Walker and suggested this venture to his classmates as their fourth-year capstone project.

Under the direction of professor Rashid Rashidzadeh, the team licensed software typically used in the automotive sector and refashioned it to meet the needs of distillery production.

The new application enables managers, supervisors, and line operators to see different functions along the line. Managers might see up-to-date and historical data from their offices without having to go out to the line to see what the problem is. Line operators now can determine issues in real time.

The software has the capacity to save the company upwards of $1 million on just one line — and can be applied to all its lines.

While the team developed the software, only a small group of people at the plant knew what was going on, says Blythe.

“Every time they updated or added a new feature to the software, it motivated them to create more features,” he says. “Once the project was complete, they revealed it to a larger group, and everyone was so excited to see it in action, to see the capabilities it has and to know it is going to save them time and money in the future.”

Azar notes that the project provided insight into the working world.

“This is not an opportunity electrical engineering students typically have, working so closely with an industry partner,” he says. “This gives us industry experience and helped provide us with real-world applications for our work even before our graduations.”

Blythe is extending that experience, having won a job with the company when he has completed his studies, where he will continue to work on this project. He plans to spend the first year testing the software to determine whether it would benefit from new features it is licensed commercially.