Richard Earl DeVor, a thought leader, pillar of the manufacturing research community, inspirational teacher, dynamic mentor, and Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Manufacturing in the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering (MechSE) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) passed away on Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at his home in Lake Mills, Wisconsin. He was born on April 18, 1944 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Robert and Betty (née Hale) DeVor. Richard married the former Jearnice Luedtke on April 5, 1968 in Madison, Wisconsin. Jearnice preceded Richard in death on May 18, 2011. Richard’s father passed away in 1971; he is survived by his mother and stepfather, Betty and Gerald Roth, and his brother, Robert Jr.
Richard E. DeVor
April 18, 1944–July 26, 2011
Richard (often called Rich or Bucky by friends and family) and the rest of the DeVor family moved from the Milwaukee area to Lake Mills in the mid-50 s when Richard’s father started the DeVor Tool and Die company. Richard attended Lake Mills High School and was an outstanding student and multisport athlete; he graduated in 1962. He went on to receive his B.S. (1967), M.S. (1968), and Ph.D. (1971) degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. When he was a graduate student at Madison, Richard focused on the application of statistics to manufacturing challenges; his graduate advisor was S.-M. (Shien-Ming or “Sam”) Wu. As the story goes, it was Sam Wu who first started calling Richard by the name so many of his friends and colleagues knew him by—“Dick.” Dick always spoke with great affection and respect for Sam Wu, and I have no doubt that Sam’s mentoring led Dick to pursue a faculty career.
In 1971, Dick accepted a faculty position in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) at UIUC. He rose through the faculty ranks and became a professor in 1984; he held the Grayce Wicall Gauthier Professorship from 1995 to 2000 and in 2000 was named the College of Engineering Distinguished Professor of Manufacturing. At UIUC, he served as Associate Department Head (1987–1991), Executive Director of the Institute for Competitive Manufacturing (1989–1996, 1999–2000), Director of the NSF/DARPA MT-AMRI: Machine Tool Agile Manufacturing Research Institute (1994–2000), and provided leadership on a variety of issues at the Department, College, and University levels. Upon his “retirement” in 2001 (although “retired” is not the right word to describe someone who worked in excess of 70 hours a week), he was named the College of Engineering Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Manufacturing.
As a young faculty member in the 1970s, Dick’s research interests were focused on the application of statistical methods to manufacturing, including the use of time series modeling and experimental design methods. In the late 1970s, he began the research for which he is perhaps most noted within the manufacturing research community: mechanistic modeling of machining processes. Almost exactly coincident with the initiation of this new research direction was the arrival at UIUC of Dick’s colleague and collaborator, Shiv Kapoor. For more than 30 years, Dick and Shiv worked together on process modeling and more recently, micromanufacturing. The incredible productivity of the duo of Dick and Shiv is without peer in the manufacturing research community. Together, the two friends advised more than 150 M.S., Ph.D., and postdoctoral students, authored hundreds of papers, and performed numerous research projects sponsored by industry and government agencies.
In the realm of student mentoring, Dick set high standards and expected people to meet them. For those of us who were his graduate and postdoc students, Professor DeVor never failed to set new challenges for us, inspire us to aim higher, and share his keen insights. We also knew that failure to measure up would result in a figurative kick in the pants, or the suggestion that you were a “lover, not a worker.” His pursuit of high quality was unwavering; it was not unusual for the preparation of a paper to take 20+ iterations. It is amazing how he was able to effectively pass on his personal drive for excellence to his students. However, his drive for never-ending improvement was complemented with an uncommon concern for others; he placed the well-being of his students above all else—for example, he helped to find them jobs and continued to push them to excel after they left UIUC. This mentoring was not limited to students; through large collaborative efforts such as MT-AMRI, Professor DeVor was also able to provide his guidance and transfer his drive to other faculty and industrial practitioners; he was not shy at providing often difficult-to-hear comments to colleagues who benefited from his feedback in the long term.
In addition to being a great professional and personal mentor, Professor DeVor was an incredibly gifted and award winning teacher. For years, he taught courses on industrial quality control and statistical design of experiments, as well as other manufacturing-related offerings. Students loved his dynamic lectures and engaging classroom activities, and never wanted to miss class. In the 1980s, he began conducting a series of workshops for industry on Statistical Methods for Quality and Productivity Improvement. With colleagues such as Tsong-how Chang and Don Ermer, and the support of a number of graduate students, over a hundred courses on SPC and DOE were delivered that benefitted thousands of industrial practitioners. The noted quality pioneer, W. Edwards Deming, was extremely complimentary of how actively engaged the students were in Dick’s courses. The development of materials for these industry short courses ultimately led to the creation of the widely utilized textbook: Statistical Quality Design and Control: Contemporary Concepts and Methods.
Of course, in addition to all of his other activities, Dick was an active provider of service to his university, the profession, and to other organizations. For the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), he served on the Scientific Committee of the North American Manufacturing Research Institution (NAMRI) of SME from 1982 to 1998, and was NAMRI/SME President in 1992. Shiv and he co-organized the North American Manufacturing Research Conference in 1988. For ASME, he served as the Chair of the Merchant Medal Award Committee from 1993 to 1999. Dick provided his considerable drive and leadership to whatever pursuit he applied himself, including the society activities referenced above as well as MT-AMRI, I2M2 (the International Institution for MicroManufacturing), and ICOMM (the International Conference on MicroManufacturing). Those of us that interacted with Dick on these efforts were always amazed by how he could motivate others and personally get things done. What is even more remarkable is how he was also able to make meaningful contributions in his personal life. Following the death of his father in 1971, he served as President of DeVor Tool and Die. He grew that enterprise, vital to the health of the town in which he grew up, into a thriving entity that employed 20 people. And, his passion for his home town had not waned; at the time of his passing he was serving as the President of the Lake Mills Area Community Foundation. No matter what the activity, Dick brought his passion and considerable organizational skills to all endeavors.
Dick was highly honored for his teaching and research. His departmental teaching awards included recognition more than ten times by the Daily Illini for his teaching excellence, the Two-Year Effective Teacher Award (four times), and the Five-Year Effective Teacher Award (three times) by the MIE Alumni Association. He received the College of Engineering Everitt Award for Teaching Excellence in 1985, the Campus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 1987, and the College of Engineering Halliburton Engineering Education Leadership Award in 1989. He received the SME Education Award in 1993. In terms of research, Dick was the recipient of the ASME Blackall Machine Tool and Gage Award in 1983, 1997, and 2008. He was honored with the ASME William T. Ennor Manufacturing Technology Award in 2003 and the NAMRI/SME S. M. Wu Research Implementation Award in 2010. He was selected as a Fellow of SME in 1993, as a Fellow of ASME in 1996, and was named an honorary member of ASME in 2007. In 2000, Dr. Richard DeVor was elected to the National Academy of Engineering, the highest honor that can be accorded an engineer in the United States.
How does one begin to characterize the total impact of an individual such as Richard DeVor? Through his research activities with Professor Kapoor our state of manufacturing knowledge has been significantly advanced, the quality and/or productivity of dozens of industrial partners has been improved, and over 150 graduate and postdoc students have been trained and had their lives dramatically enriched. Through his service activities, he has set an excellent example to the rest of us for how to give back to the profession, help others, and comport oneself. His strong mentorship has considerably benefitted his graduate and postdoc students and colleagues and driven us to achievements far beyond what we thought was achievable. His teaching and scholarship on quality engineering contributed to the quality revolution in the United States in the 1980s. Thousands of industrial practitioners and students in the classroom have been the fortunate beneficiaries of Professor DeVor’s gift for teaching. His colleagues gained from his vision, strategic thinking, and a work ethic that never stopped—even in retirement. We have lost a prominent leader in manufacturing research who leaves an unparalleled legacy. As a friend, colleague, or advisor you might have known him as Dick, Rich, Richard, Bucky, or Professor DeVor—regardless of how you knew him, his passing leaves a giant hole in all of our lives. Our only consolation is that he will continue to serve as a source of inspiration for all of us.