While many college students spend their Spring Break soaking up sun, a group from Purdue University is travelling to Germany to learn about manufacturing.

I have never been a proponent of Spring Break, the annual college party ritual that usually takes place in a warm location. When I was in school, I had opportunities to spend time on a sunny beach in March, but instead, I chose to return home to Chicago and catch up on some good meals. My idea of “chasing tail” was playing Frisbee with my dog, Monty.

Needless to say, I was happy to see that a group of students from Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN) will be spending their Spring Break next week in Germany, learning about that country’s legendary manufacturing processes. The group of Boilermakers will spend most of their time touring local manufacturing plants.

This unique alternative to the traditional Spring Break is the brainchild of Henry Kraebber, a professor of mechanical engineering technology at Purdue who teaches a course called “Manufacturing in Germany.” The class gives students an opportunity to learn about German manufacturing and culture.

The Purdue group will visit the KUKA Robotics plant in Augsburg and tour a BMW car plant in Regensburg, an historical city located about an hour north of Munich. Of course, the students will also visit a Bavarian brewery, to learn about state-of-the-art control technology and packaging systems.

In addition, the group will meet with students and faculty from the University of Applied Science in Munich to discuss collaboration opportunities. They will also visit some local World War II landmarks. I highly recommend that they spend some time at Munich's fabulous Deutsches Museum, as well (it's one of the best technical museums that I've visited).

Although the trip will focus on manufacturing, Kraebber says the learning opportunity has attracted students from a wide variety of majors, such as mechanical engineering, organizational leadership and supervision, management, and industrial engineering. Kraebber has focused on Germany because “the country offers a good mix of innovative practices, rich history and a taste of a different culture. This is a great learning experience for students to see cutting-edge ideas and technology put into action.”

After the students return home, they’ll discuss what they learned abroad. They will also write a report on their experiences, and prepare presentations for administrators and other students.

I applaud professor Kraebber for this noble effort. I also challenge other top-notch engineering schools, such as Caltech, Carnegie Mellon, Georgia Tech, Lehigh, Michigan, MIT and Rensselaer Polytechnic, to set up similar programs and real-world learning experiences for tomorrow’s manufacturing engineers.