DECATUR – Setting mining to music might just be the way to highlight the essential commodities it pulls out of the ground and the jobs that depend on miners doing their thing.

A team of Millikin University master of business administration students have been working on the public image of mining as part of a class project in collaboration with Caterpillar Inc.'s Decatur plant. The factory builds the biggest off-road dump trucks in the world and their main customers are miners, so there is a vested interest in getting people to dig the importance of everything that is made from mined commodities and the wealth creation it supports.

The three-man Millikin MBA team: Maxwell Gonzalez, 22, Thomas Byler, 23, and Michael Guerra, 23, all have music backgrounds and presented their findings Wednesday in a Caterpillar conference room. They looked at ways of showing how just about everything we own and use traces its creation back to a mined commodity, and developed a series of multi-media presentations. Then they wrapped up by playing a recording of a pro-mining jingle they had crafted and set to guitar accompaniment:

“Building blocks of the Earth,

Always wondering what they're worth?

Some things you might find familiar,

We help here at Caterpillar.”

Gonzalez said it's been a learning experience all round. “We've discovered mining is a fascinating subject,” he said. “And we've learned a lot about it.”

The catchy jingle got a round of applause from a critique team that included Caterpillar engineers who don't usually turn to music to solve business-related image issues.

Two other three-person Millikin MBA student teams, all studying in a fast-track program that earns them their degrees in a year, also made presentations as part of their classwork. One group looked at costs involved with building different vehicles on the same Caterpillar assembly lines while another crunched the numbers to improve Caterpillar's handling of raw materials.

All the teams, who did about 18 weeks of classwork and about nine weeks working with Caterpillar senior staff as part of their curriculum, use a process called Six Sigma to guide their studies. This system breaks down and analyzes how things are done and seeks answers to make any process work better for less money.

The Millikin team looking at raw materials handling really hit pay dirt, crafting a way to monitor and track supplies that avoids waste and delays. It's already been put in place in the factory and has the potential to save the company more than $200,000 a year.

Ariana Shelton, 23, worked on the project with fellow students Trevor May, 22, and Kelly Hill, 29, and found it a refreshing change of pace. Shelton, who lives in Oreana, works as a dance instructor in her day job and enjoyed stepping into a new role: “It also puts a lot of weight on you, a lot of pressure, you are using someone else's money, someone else's resources,” she said. “But it put a lot more drive into me because when I'm in the classroom it's like 'Oh yeah, hypothetical situation,' but here I do this and this is real.”

Adam Mize, Caterpillar's quality manager for surface mining and technology, was impressed with the quality of the work. “I am incredibly encouraged,” he said after listening to all the presentations and questioning the presenters. “Our future is bright.”

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Staff Writer

Courts and public safety reporter for the Herald & Review.

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