BOZEMAN – Each year, groups of seniors from Montana State University’s College of Engineering work to design, analyze, fabricate and finally display their capstone projects during the college’s annual Engineering Design Fair.
The Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering are currently looking for companies, private citizens and MSU faculty interested in sponsoring these projects, which represent a culmination of the knowledge the up-and-coming engineers have learned in their chosen field.
“Sponsors have an opportunity to address their engineering design challenges while helping to train the next generation of engineers,” said Robb Larson, associate professor of mechanical and industrial engineering.
Sponsors pay for all parts and supplies used in the project and are involved in all important project decisions, including budgets, Larson said.
Past projects have included a variety of robotic vehicles and research devices, implements to aid in ranching, mechanisms to help those with physical disabilities, custom laboratory equipment for undergraduate labs and sustainable energy devices.
“Projects can involve a range of topics including mechanisms, thermal systems, fluids, structures, building systems, instrumentation and control, engineering trade studies and advanced modeling, or combinations of several issues,” Larson said.
Because the college’s enrollment has grown, Larson said, there is more opportunity for sponsored projects than in the past.
Larson, who teaches the two-semester capstone sequence with David Miller, associate professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, said MSU’s engineering capstone teams have won national student design competitions in a variety of areas, and generated innovative ideas and solutions for sponsors in many disciplines.
“An engineering design project requires students to use the skills they've developed to accurately predict design outcomes using advanced mathematical techniques and computer-based modeling, prior to developing and testing prototypes,” Larson said.
This process, he said, is representative of the approach used to create all types of advanced products in high-tech industry.
“For some projects our mechanical engineering and mechanical engineering technology students are joined in an interdisciplinary team with students from electrical and computer engineering, physics, architecture, various biological sciences and other disciplines,” Larson said. “That kind of interdisciplinary approach helps to broadly address project specifics and offers a learning environment that mirrors real-world work.”
Under the guidance of a faculty adviser, student project teams work with the sponsor to flesh out project details and specifications. They perform research, consider alternatives, perform a thorough engineering analysis, create accurate computer models, produce detailed engineering drawings of the preferred design and collect results in a formal design report covering all project elements. Finally, the students create and test a functional prototype. They then deliver it to the sponsor.
Rob Maher, professor and head of MSU's Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, said while students are eager to tackle real-world problems, it is important to remember that they are only able to spend the equivalent of about one day per week on their senior design projects because they are also taking a full slate of their required engineering classes at the same time.
“We will work with sponsors to scope the project appropriately,” Maher said. “And while all sponsored projects end up being a great learning experience for the students, there aren’t any guarantees that the final result will achieve each and every one of the original goals set by the sponsor. It’s all part of the senior design project experience.”
Companies, MSU faculty members or individuals interested in more information about sponsoring a mechanical engineering project should contact Larson at (406) 994-6420 or firstname.lastname@example.org; or David Miller, (406) 994-6285, email@example.com. For those interested in more information about sponsoring projects with students in computer and electrical engineering, contact Maher, (406) 994-2505 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact: Robb Larson, (406) 994-6420, email@example.com; David Miller, (406) 994-6285, firstname.lastname@example.org; or Rob Maher, (406) 994-2505, email@example.com.