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Free and Final Friday

Our last official day with the program was our free day. With so many things to do there were several groups running about the city. Some visited Versailles, others got up early for the catacombs, others found tickets to the French Open, while still more wandered Sacre Coeur’s neighborhood. We had such a blast that we went well into the night to see some things twice, as they’re lit up spectacularly at night. The Eiffel Tower will “glitter” for a few minutes every hour on the hour and is definitely worth a stop if anyone is in town. Bring some snacks and make a picnic of it if the weather is fair! The late night was worth it and left us plenty tired to sleep on flights home Saturday.

Roger That, Big Chief

Kim saved our best business visit for last with the Thales University. The morning was spent with a retired French Air Force pilot, Philip (aka Big Chief), who led us through a helicopter simulation rescue mission. We were split into two teams, each team with two birds, and each bird hosting a captain, a pilot, and two navigators. Initially we played on the same map, but with independent missions. For our second mission however he changed the setting and let us play against each other in a strategic rescue mission. One team managed to score the second highest score Philip has ever seen. I think all would agree that this was our favorite business visit of the trip. During our debriefing we analyzed how we communicated, compared it to the other bird and the other team, discussed how we dealt with sudden changes in the environment, and how each of these points would relate to our soon to being careers.

After lunch on site we met another member from the university who shared with us the purpose of the site, and of his the Design Center especially. Thales University isn’t a traditional school, rather it is a learning center of a large company, the Thales Group. Here departments can train together to develop new skills, or in the case of the Design Center, request additional resources and insights on product development. The Design Center is focusing its research and development on “Design Thinking” which works backwards from the traditional product development cycle. They instead focus on the users first in order to develop concepts that fit their needs, then use that to develop the technology and business to fit it. This is an especially important lesson for engineers to keep in mind as often times we find it hard to connect with and explain new products’ value to new users, even though we fully believe in the product and its use.

Our long day ended with a short rest before meeting for our farewell dinner at a restaurant nearby our hotel. It was quite an impressive spread, and was the perfect closing for the program as we started to say our goodbyes. We had our free day the following day, but groups were splitting to do different activities and were leaving at different times throughout the weekend. Everyone had an absolute blast with the trip, but I think many are worn out and ready to be back home for a bit before starting careers.

Quintessential Paris

After our brief introduction to the city and French culture, we were ready to head back to the airport. This time it was as a business group rather than a customer. Our first business visit in Paris was with the Aeroports de Paris group, specifically the Charles de Galle airport location. Here we learned the operational aspects of the group from the ideological progression of airports’ purposes to their future goals as a company. The Aeroports de Paris group is unique in that they control most aspects of the airport apart from the flights themselves. They own the land, invest in the property, maintain it, and even run it. Many other airports will build the facilities then leave it to airlines to run and maintain the facilities. They must also balance the differing ideologies of a hub and spoke versus a point to point setup, both of which are present at this location and require differing strategies and objectives.

One recently goal that was met included instigating a security system to that travelers going to countries in the Schengen Area (similar to the EU) only have to go through securities and customs once so long as they don’t leave the airport. Previously the process was repeated in every country. We also toured their new terminal that focuses on the comfort of customers by providing gaming systems and play areas for entertainment in addition to luxury shopping and a small rotating museum gallery. After touring this area we were off to see legendary galleries at the Louvre.

The Louvre houses over 11 miles of galleries so our tour guide arranged for us to have a private tour and narration of the biggest highlights of the museum while she stood as guard from the pickpockets. We didn’t run into any trouble, but they are a serious concern in the city. During our blitz of a tour we saw the Nike Victory statue, the Mona Lisa, statues by Michelangelo, remains of the original fortress on the site, the Venus of Milo, and The Coronation of Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David. This tour was packed and speedy, setting the pace for our visit to the Eiffel Tower.

Generally it takes hours of waiting in long lines to reach the top of the Eiffel tower, but our awesome guide managed to pull some strings and sweet talk an employee into letting us take our own elevator quicker since we had such a large group and only a set amount of time before the bus would leave us stranded for the evening. Despite the seemingly quick pace we all had plenty of time to take in the site, and had the option to remain here for the rest of the evening to explore the area and have dinner. A few took up this option, but many went back for a rest and went out another night to see the lights of Paris.


Although still early, our next flight to Paris was not quite so bad as the last, until we sat in our seats, rather we tried to sit. They were some of the tightest seats any of us had ever seen. Thankfully this was the short of the two flights, and the tour bus more than made up for it. We’ve been in a few size variations, but Paris had the biggest yet. They felt like mansions on wheels as we drove through the city for a half day tour.

This tour we had a mix of rides and stops, the first stop being Notre Dame in the center of the city. The current cathedral was built from 1163 through 1345 and was one of the first buildings to use the concept of flying buttresses to give the church a visual lightness completely apart from other buildings of its time. It also houses one of the largest rose windows displaying scenes of the New Testament. Images and icons were especially popular in this tie period because most people could not read. Images and patters were also painted extensively on the interior of the cathedral, although very little of this remains today.

We continued our walk to the neighboring island in the Seine river, called Ile Saint-Louis where we were told of the islands fortified history throughout the development of Paris, its current prestige for well to do families, and the island’s specialty treat. There is a type of ice cream called Bethillon made only on this island. After extensive sampling it was agreed that it deserved its legendary status.

We continued our drive through the city noting the waves of reconstruction initiated by different rules and the lasting impact of the 1889 World’s Fair hosted here. A visit to the Eiffel tower is slated for tomorrow, but for now we are eagerly anticipating a good night’s rest after yet another long day.

To the Beach!

For our last day in Barcelona we were set lose. With the weather as lovely as it was, the vast majority headed down to the beach for some R&R. Others wandered the city for art and markets, but I believe everyone made it to the beach at some point that day and used the remaining time to catch up on errands or naps.

Camp Nau and the Gothic District

We continued our tourist industry themed business visits by touring Camp Nou, the largest soccer stadium in Europe and home to the Futbol Club de Barcelona. The stadium was packed with avid fans because the night before the club had won the championship of their league as well as said goodbye to Xavi, who had been with the team for 17 years. We got to see quite a bit of the complex including the seats, press box, visitors’ locker rooms, chapel, players’ seats, and got to stand next to the pitch (field as we call it). Many of us weren’t the avid fans that comprised the majority of the visitors, but it was very impressive to see how a facility can handle such large crowds. The stadium currently holds just under 100,000 people. It originally was designed to hold 150,000 but was finished with a capacity of 93,000. Several renovations expanded the capacity, including digging the pitch 3 feet down. Despite these improvements there are still plans to construct a new and even larger stadium on the complex.

After touring the soccer world, we rejoined for a tour of the old world of Barcelona. Merina was unfortunately sick, but Carmen was ready to fill her place. She took us down la Rambla, a street running from one of the largest plaza’s nearly to the sea with lots of shops and restaurants along it. From there we also saw remnants of the Roman influence in the layout of the town, and the remaining walls and reconstructed aqueduct. We also saw the two most influential churches of the city’s history; el Catedral de Barcelona and la Santa Maria del Mar. We didn’t have a chance to go in, but the exteriors were impressive. The varied types of architecture and the relatively few remaining historical sites indicate the tumultuous history the region has had. They have gone through occupations by the Romans, the Visigoth, the Arabians, the French, and debatable the Spanish. The state very much considers itself a different, albeit related, culture that comes from the Spanish throne in Madrid.

The tour was extensive and left us simultaneously starved, tired, and excited to explore a little deeper on our day off the following day. She suggested we start our free time that night by seeing the “magic fountain” water, light, and music show. About half of her took up her suggestion and were immensely impressed. Some had seen similar things in Las Vegas, but this blew them out of the water (pun intended).

Architecture Walking Tour and Freixenet

For our first full day in Barcelona we very much embraced their lifestyle and started a little later. From the hotel we started our city tour from the bus and walked some distance on the beach passed the Olympic Village, then hopped back on the bus to walk down Gracias Avenue. This street was where the particularly wealthy built their homes, and lived in the first two floors in order to be seen by anyone passing through. Gaudí designed a remodel of a home here, now referred to as Casa Batlló. Another building of his we saw is referred to as “Pedrera” meaning “quarry stone” because of its appearance. I consider it a pretty apt description. Personally I thought his stuff was a little too far out there to be as obsessed over him as the city seems to be, but then we stopped by la Sagrada Familia.

La Sagrada Familia is now classified as a basilica because it was conscecreated in 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI. Previous to then it was a worship space, built as a cathedral, and designed by Gaudí. It is funded purely by donations and a portion of entrance fees, and as a consequence has been under construction for some 130 years. It is still unfinished, but the architects believe it will be finished by 2026. Unfortunately Gaudí never lived to see the end of construction, but work continues with as much of his influence as possible. The drawn plans were destroyed in a fire during the civil war, but Gaudí preferred to first make models and then transcribe them to paper. After some painstaking work, models were begun to be pieced together again in the 1950’s. Work continues today with architecture by Gaudí rendered from the models, but the decoration is often given to other artists who use his style and influence. Regardless of how, who, or when the work was done we were all in awe. We remained in the area for lunch then drove a short way out of town for our next business visit, Freixenet.

Many of us took a quick nap and felt much restored by the time we arrived at the winery, the scenery and weather also had much to do with it. Freixenet is a winery specializing in cava, what we know as champagne. It must be called cava because champagne only comes from a specific area in France. Other bubbly wines must be called by a different name. The introduction video was beautiful and elegant and emphasized. Interestingly they have stayed dedicated to producing cava, but have expanded their operations and sales geographically to become the number one sparkling wine in the world. They also focus on the quality of vines they cultivate and the dedication to sustainability. They recognize that their livelihood is so dependent on the land that they must be good stewards of it to ensure its continued productivity. All of this was demonstrated excellently with a tour of the facilities and of course a tasting. The vast majority of us walked away with a souvenir or two. Tomorrow holds another business visit related to the tourist industry and Spanish culture and another walking tour of a different part of the city.

We Have to Be Ready When?!

We paid for the pleasure of sunshine with a little sacrifice of sleep. We were assembled and ready to go at 6:55 am for our flight to Barcelona. Everyone made it through the process without a problem, a minor feat with a party of 17. In Barcelona we met up with our new guide Merina who gave us a brief description of the city on our way to our business visit. Barcelona is located in Catalonia between the Mediterranean Sea and the Collserola mountains. With an urban population of 1.6 million, it’s the second largest city in Spain and the largest on the Mediterranean Sea. They are very proud of their Catalonian heritage and are quick to point out all the famous architecture of the city, especially that of Gaudi.

Our first business visit in Spain was to Grifols, a company who processes plasma to extract specific proteins, as well as design and manufacture related machinery and diagnostics. Their business plan is very different from our last visit with Hetras in that they are focused on a very specific skillset they possess and pride themselves in being able to provide the correct results, a high amount of automation, and low cost, all of which are critical aspects for their customers. We also learned about the matrix structure they use to optimize the best from both their cross functional technical teams and their product offerings. This was not the first organizational structure they implemented, but it has proved effective despite sometimes finding difficulties in reporting to two supervisors. They try to overcome this by providing employees with the right input at the right time from both managers.

On our factory tour the warehouses demonstrated that this particular industry can find it very hard to implement lean principles. On one hand their manufacturing efficiency has greatly benefited from these concepts, but on the other the nature of the pharmaceutical and related industries make it very hard to keep a low inventory. Our tour was running late so we didn’t get to see too much of the factory in action, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.

iwb & Dachau

We were up bright and early for our third and final business visit in Munich. This time we were treated to visit iwb, a research lab in the technical school, Tum, of Munich. It’s plain how much they respect and support their engineers in Germany based on this campus alone. At UK we felt privileged to have our own little courtyard and complex of buildings. Here, Tum is so large that they’ve relocated the campus with its 36,000 students to the outside of the city.

We were without a doubt amazed at the brilliance of the students as well as the impressive labs. Our guide was a doctoral student involved in lean management, and specifically the management aspect side. Rather than focusing on how to better use and further Lean Six Sigma tools, his area is concerned on the most effective time to use the tools. After learning how to execute the tools in our certificate program, hearing some theories about implementation were enlightening. I think our favorite part was the lab tour where we got to see some of their tools and theories at work.

They showed us project including building better user friendly networks of factory equipment. When new equipment is installed it often takes several days and a professional coder to bring the machine up and running. This new idea is to reduce that time to a few hours using principles similar to what computers use to install new printers and devices quickly and easily. Next we were shown some samples of how they’ve used lasers to increase cut quality for carbon fiber, and how to better mesh it with steel. On our way to the next station was a chunk of concrete riddles with holes proudly displaying the power of the laser. On our way back to the meeting room we also saw “learning factories” where student and professionals alike come in to experience lean principles to demonstrate their effectiveness. We did something similar with our certification process, but this was a lot more intense.

Our last stop of the day was somber compared to playing with robots and lasers. We made our way north to Dachau to tour the first concentration camp opened by the Nazis. Dachau was the first of roughly 2,000 camps that were in operation by the end of their regime. Opened only two months after Hitler was named Chancellor, the 20 acre site was initially an SS training ground and prison camp tasked with the function of rehabilitating any opposers of the regime in order that they understand the benefits of the regime and may be safely allowed back into society. The work camp gates read “Work will set your free,” but this was not the case for some 41,500 registered deaths. All told over 206,000 people passed through the gates before it was liberated. After the war the grounds were used to house some of the thousands of displaced Germans because so much of the housing had been destroyed by bombings. After this point in time it was opened as the memorial seen today.

Tomorrow we fly to Barcelona! We cannot wait to finally see some sunshine and warmth again.

Soggy Salzburg

On our first free day the group decided to take the train to Salzburg, Austria. The train workers’ union strike put a small hitch in the plans, but we all arrived without a problem. We had a slight hope that a 2 hour drive would get us out of the rain, but no such luck. It has been raining for 2 days straight with temperatures barely hitting 50ºF. We were prepared for around 60ºF daily lows and many of us are thinking of doing some shopping for an extra sweater or two.

Despite the drizzly weather masking some of the views, Salzburg was beautiful. Our first stop was the Restaurant Zipfer Bierhause. Nick has been raving about the wiener schnitzel dish and since it is originally from Austria most of us felt this was the perfect time to try it. It’s essentially a thinly sliced piece of pork breaded, fried, smeared with a cranberry jelly, and drizzled with lemon juice. On all accounts it lived up to the hype.

Following lunch we split into two groups. One visited the Hohensalzburg Castle, one of the largest medieval castles in Europe. The ride up was a funicular railway, possible the oldest railway still operated in the world, on an incline steeper than 45º. Along a brief audio tour we learned the history of the castle and took in some amazing views at the very tallest tower at the peak of the city. The rain and fog blocked much of the mountains, but we got there early enough in the day to still be able to see the city.

After seeing the castle we set off to find two more landmarks famous to the city, the house of Mozart, and the fountain from the sound of music. We found the house but none were big enough fans to cough up the entrance fees. Stopping by for a picture was enough. The next picture location was a little harder to find, turns out we had passed it earlier in the day and had no idea. The fountain was set back in a walled courtyard with very trim English garden. Following this we had just enough time to stop for a coffee to warm up before dashing to make the train back to Munich. Once back we decided for one more meal at the Haufbrauhaus for dinner before crawling into bed for a Game of Thrones viewing party.