My MEM Experience Helped My Team Save Companies Millions of Dollars

Vignesh Ramasamy (MEM '16) talks about his process improvement award at NextEra and why he dedicated it to Northwestern's MEM program.

Vignesh Ramasamy (MEM '16) is a Resource Modeling Analyst for NextEra Energy Resources, where, as he describes on his LinkedIn profile, he is "making Mother Earth" greener with sustainability practices. 

Ramasamy recently received the James L. Broadhead Award from NextEra for his work on improving processes. After receiving the award, he dedicated it to Northwestern's Master of Engineering Management (MEM) program. He recently spoke about that decision and what the award means to him.

First of all, what does the James L. Broadhead Award represent within NextEra? 

It’s a multi-level competition conducted every two years among various business units within NextEra and Florida Power & Lighting Company (FPL). The competition primarily focuses on encouraging business units to pitch their process improvement achievements over the course of multiple years. The award is given in the name of our previous CEO, Mr. James L. Broadhead, whose ultimate objective was to focus on improving quality, lowering costs and continuous process improvements which led FPL to become the first non-Japanese company to win the prestigious Deming Prize for Total Quality Management in 1989.

NextEra is big on process improvement. In fact, all our employees are encouraged to attend free Six Sigma Training and become a master of process improvement by incorporating the concepts in our day-to-day work. 

How do you describe what the new tool you helped develop does to someone with no knowledge of engineering or renewable energy?

It’s a wind farm design optimization tool. When a utility or a project off-taker wants to build a wind farm, there are many parameters that need to be considered, from selecting a high wind resource location to optimally placing the turbines such that project cost is the lowest. You have to take into account constraints like terrain, wake loss, building road routes to access the location of the turbines, and the position of turbines. NextEra Analytics has mastered these concepts and built this optimization engine that goes through more than a million possible combinations before arriving at an optimal solution. 

The new tool will bring an increased internal rate of return (IRR) which will mean millions of dollars of savings for the company. 

What role did you play in the development of the tool?

I helped the WinDOT team with analytical validation of some of the concepts incorporated and also filmed and edited a short movie in order to showcase the product to our employees and stakeholders.

How did your MEM experience and the lessons you learned in the program contribute to your work on this project?

Building techno-economic optimization tools needed someone who is not only mathematically strong but also understands how economics work, in particular how IRR, net present value and discount rates affect any project investment. I believe I perfectly filled that gap that our analytics team had. 

What was it about MEM that first appealed to you?

The option to learn and leverage my technical and management skillset and possibly work on or deliver an idea through NUvention or entrepreneurship-related courses.

How would you describe your overall MEM experience?

My MEM experience is a complete one. I knew what I wanted from the beginning and I planned my coursework and projects in a way that helped fulfill my goals. 

Why did you dedicate your James L. Broadhead Award to the MEM program?

The job at NextEra Energy has given me the perfect opportunity to leverage both my technical and management/financial skills, which I perfected through MEM. 

What advice would you give to a prospective student considering Northwestern's MEM program?

Northwestern's MEM graduate degree can definitely elevate your career by building on your technical background and helping you develop the right mix of analytical, entrepreneurship and management experience.

Why is it important for you to continue interacting with the MEM program?

I always like giving back to the community that I became a part of! I'm always happy to connect with fellow MEMers and answer any questions they may have. I can be reached at vr@u.northwestern.edu.