When it comes to careers in engineering, Danielle Urbain has never let a little thing like gender hold her back.
“That was never an issue for me,” she said. “I was always gifted at math and science, and I really enjoy solving problems, especially problems that are solved over the course of a longer period of time and that look at how we can use technology to eliminate waste and build efficiency. It’s like solving a big puzzle. The data developed are the pieces, and you have to figure out different ways you can put those pieces together.”
For the past decade, the 41-year-old has put those skills to good use, playing a pivotal role at John Deere’s Dubuque and Davenport (Iowa) Works locations. For the past two years, she has served as the supervisor of material flow engineering.
In layman’s terms, that means Urbain and her team are tasked with designing and improving the processes of moving goods, parts and services within a value chain, manufacturing region or factory.
“Basically, it’s the movement of factory parts to the point of use,” Urbain explained. “There is a lot of troubleshooting involved. We’re constantly looking at ways we can enhance the system and make how we do what we do better and more efficient.”
Realizing a talent for tech early on, as well as having an older sister who also pursued a career in engineering mentor her, the Cascade, Iowa, native graduated from the University of Iowa in 2002, earning a degree in engineering.
Upon joining John Deere, Urbain fulfilled several roles, including in manufacturing, design and other work that found her acting as a liaison between designers and builders on the shop floor.
In her current role, Urbain has helped John Deere execute several technology advancements that have proven to be not only time savers but also money savers and product enhancers.
Among them is a system known as ProGlove, with SAP to Go. It implements smart connected scanning to improve operator ergonomics, thereby enhancing business performance and reducing the costs from scanning tools previously used.
Urbain and her team also have implemented shop floor directional displays, communication tools used on the production floor that help prioritize what material operators need to move next in order to support production. They not only work to improve communication on the factory floor but also the efficiency of the operators’ ability to move the right part at the right time to support production lines.
Another component Urbain has been helped spearhead is the Material Availability at Point of Use metrics dashboard, allowing workers to track line disruption caused by material availability, identify the cause and develop corrective action strategies, helping productivity and limits cost associated with operational disruption.
Among the other high-tech projects Urbain has helped troubleshoot is the robotic process automation for John Deere’s ZCS02 and ZLTRUCK SAP transactions, driving consistency for system inputs and limiting system noise, improving business performance.
Urbain also has been tasked with John Deere’s tote replenishment strategy project, developing and implementing toted material delivery strategies that influence how the company delivers toted material at its Dubuque location to reduce labor cost, improve performance and lower disruption to product lines.
Manager and leader Adam Kolman credited Urbain as a key leader in each of these areas.
“Dani is a key leader in changing how employees at John Deere view and feel about technology,” he said. “Her ability to understand foundational material flow processes and utilize innovation to change and enhance those fundamental business processes that add value and improve business performance is exceptional.”
Each have been unique challenges that Urbain has embraced. However, she is quick to point out that none of this work could have happened without the help of her team of five engineers — three in Dubuque and two in Davenport.
“I can’t take all the credit,” she said. “Technology touches everything we do, and it wouldn’t have happened without the others — our engineers and the others partnering with that group.”
In addition to her work with John Deere, Urbain is an avid mountain biker, photographer and is active as a Dubuque Senior High School women’s cross country team parent, organizing team dinners and team-building events.
Urbain and her husband have two daughters — one is a senior at Dubuque Senior and the other is an eighth-grader at Bryant Elementary School.
She also has used her role at John Deere to mentor employees in development and analytics tools and to help promote engineering and operations to high school females.
Urbain has served on the Women in Operations steering committee, for which she volunteered as part of its Girls Experience Industry Day. Additionally, she has volunteered with the Society of Women Engineers, which hosted a similar event in Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day.
Urbain also led a book club discussion session for the title, “How Women Rise,” working closely with a group to help break down gender barriers and move forward in their careers.
“Early on, you didn’t encounter many women in this profession, but I think that’s changing,” she said. “John Deere has been really great about providing opportunities for women to develop in their careers.”
On being recognized as a Woman of Innovation, Urbain said she is humbled.
“I like being able to think outside the box and take down barriers, trying out new ideas and seeing how one leads to another and can improve,” she said. “I don’t do any of it for the recognition, but it’s always nice to know when people have taken notice of what you’re doing.”
That philosophy falls in line with her advice to women rising in the ranks.
“Don’t hold yourself back,” Urbain said. “Don’t ever say you can’t. Look for training opportunities that will open your eyes, stretch you and help you grow and strengthen in your career.”
Megan Gloss is the features editor of the Telegraph Herald.