The joint Mechanical Engineering /Mechanical Engineering Technology Capstone Experience provides senior students in the ME & MET disciplines with outstanding undergraduate research and design experiences, representative of the type of work to be encountered during their engineering careers. Capstone students face real-world challenges as they work through the numerous phases of engineering design: Project definition, background investigation, specification development, alternatives generation and evaluation, engineering analysis, computer modeling, prototype fabrication, and performance evaluation & testing. Project management skills and interpersonal communication skills are developed and exercised throughout the duration of each project.  Every ME and MET student gains this experience since “Capstone” is a mandatory course sequence for all ME and MET students at MSU.

Each Semester, a need exists for dozens of new student Capstone projects. Candidate projects can come from companies, individuals, university researchers, and other sources.  The process is initiated prior to each semester, when projects from industry and academia are collected and vetted. ME and MET senior students are presented with the list of approved projects at the beginning of their first Capstone term, and make their requests for assignment to projects that interest them: A sorting process occurs, and students are placed in project teams (usually 2-4 students) which remain intact through the two-semester course sequence.

Depending on the character of the project, it is possible and often desirable to form interdisciplinary teams that include students from Electrical Engineering, Physics, Architecture, Business, etc. Team progress is monitored by a faculty advisor or advisors assigned to mentor each group, and by the course instructor(s) who help to guide groups to a successful design.

Capstone Project Objectives

Objectives for students:
  • a project experience representative of real-world engineering practice
  • the challenge of synthesizing & extending their knowledge & abilities into unfamiliar areas
  •  a chance to apply their engineering coursework in solving real engineering problems
  • an opportunity to develop project management and communication skills
  • experience with and an appreciation for all phases and activities of project work, from conceptual design through planning and scheduling, analysis, modeling, drawing preparation, manufacturing, assembly, testing,
  • thorough documentation of results, creating a lasting record of their work
Objectives for Sponsors:
  • an opportunity to develop concepts for new products or address challenges
  • a chance to investigate and solve problems that might otherwise go unaddressed due to lack of internal resources
  • satisfaction with helping to train tomorrow's engineers for future industrial employment – possibly even with the sponsoring company!
  • enthusiastic and energetic help taking a fresh look at challenges
  • a means to tap into student's growing abilities with modern engineering tools and software
  • an introduction to MSU's technical capabilities via collaboration with student teams and with engineering faculty - most of whom are registered professional engineers with industrial experience and unique skill-sets

Sponsoring a Capstone Project

The ideal Senior Design Project is one that solves a real engineering problem while meeting the expectations of all involved parties. As a Senior Design Project sponsor, you can play a crucial role in the project's success by choosing the appropriate project and assisting in project administration. 
Sponsoring a Senior Design Project at MSU begins with a problem you need solved or a challenge pertinent to your organization. Referring to these guidelines, you will formulate a brief written project description. (Example project descriptions are available upon request.) Projects will be individually reviewed, and modifications may be suggested so that the projects meet course objectives, have appropriate scope, and provide a real - but achievable! - challenge for students.   
Once the basic task and scope is determined, proposed projects are added to a list available to students: Students review the list, self-nominate for inclusion on projects that interest them, and are sorted onto teams by the instructor. Once a student team is assembled for your project you will work closely with the students and their faculty advisor in developing the project administration details and ‘deliverables’ that will lead to a successful outcome.

Capstone Project Timeline

ME and MET Senior students may begin their 2-term capstone sequence either in the Fall term (with completion Spring Semester), or they can begin in Spring term (with completion in the Fall).  Project proposal documents must be received by the capstone course instructor by mid-August prior to a Fall project offering, or by mid-December for a Spring start. Sponsors are expected to be in regular communication with the student group during project execution, and should plan to participate in informal and scheduled, formal reviews of project work.

Specifying a Capstone Project

  • Provide a project that is based on a problem you really want to solve, one that will directly benefit your organization.
  • Provide a project that combines a judicious amount of design, analysis, experimentation, development, and communication.  Other important considerations include economics, safety, and ethics.  A working prototype that can be tested for function is a requirement of the course, so please choose a project in which a prototype can be built and tested in a meaningful way. (Prototypes can be sub-scale versions, or even partial assemblies, if that provides useful information.)
  • Provide a project that produces a tangible result, a result that can be seen, felt, heard, displayed -- a result that "does something."  We do entertain some ‘trade study’ type projects where the only outcome is a report, but be aware that these are generally less popular among students and provide a somewhat different (and sometimes less beneficial) experience for engineering student participants.
  • Provide a project that can be completed during the academic year (< 30 weeks).  A reasonable expectation for time input is around 500 - 1000 person-hours to finish up the project. 
  • Provide a project that offers students an opportunity to work both independently and as part of a team.
  • Provide a project that can stand alone, one that is not tied crucially to any other project or process.

  • Provide a project that minimizes the need to deal with sensitive, proprietary, or confidential information: These types of projects are taken on now and then, but they add complexities that are difficult for students to deal with in a university setting: If these issues must be considered, they should becompletely worked out before the project starts. Please realize that a university environment is probably not the best venue for keeping information confidential! And we presently cannot perform any projects involving national security interests or classified information.

Administering a Capstone Project

  • Empower the design group to explore and investigate multiple, innovative and creative solutions to the problem(s) posed. This is not the time for micro-management: If you already know exactly how you want the problem solved and require nothing but cheap student labor, the Capstone experience is not the proper place to seek support.
  • Provide a project that can be given adequate institutional commitment. Although the project may not be absolutely crucial to your organization, it is important to the student's successful completion of their degree program. If it is apparent that you’re not really interested in results, the students will be unlikely to perform at their maximum capability.
  • Appoint an individual as the student’s point contact, to meet and/or communicate regularly with the design team.  Expect this liaison to spend ~ one hour/week on the project.  Good communication is a key to insuring that there are no surprises, and that everyone's expectations are being met. (Avoid multiple or changing points of contact with the design team; those situations often result in conflicting advice and confusion!)
  • Provide a liaison with the skills and temperament to interact with a student group. Recent graduates seem especially tuned in to the student lifestyle and experience!
  • Provide a liaison with the authority to make immediate decisions if problems arise.
  • It is desirable to provide the project team with a tour of your facilities, allow them to meet key personnel, and feel part of your team.
  • Plan on working together with the student team as they develop a “Deliverables Statement” also known as ‘Level 1 Requirements”:  In this document, everyone (you, the students, and the faculty supervisor) will approve (in writing) the problem statement and the deliverables to be provided by the projects’ end.

General Project Outcomes

  • Expect quality effort and meaningful written and physical results.
  • Expect a fresh approach to solving your problem.
  • Expect a final report containing good discussions of design decisions, alternatives considered, analysis and tests conducted to validate design choices, engineering drawings, manufacturing details, and prototype cost information.
  • Expect occasional delays and setbacks just as you would in any project.
  • Expect a rewarding experience through helping to train tomorrow's engineers

What you should NOT expect from a Capstone Project

  • Do not expect to receive fully automated, perfectly functional production machinery as a result of your sponsorship. Students are not yet equipped to design or fabricate components that provide trouble-free service in a production environment, there are simply too many variables to reach that level of performance. Prototypes – if successful –  may still need optimization and refinement.
  • Do not expect the students to focus strictly on producing “patentable” designs: While some designs might eventually become patentable, that is not the specific intent of the capstone design courses. The instructional component in our capstone courses is focused ondesign, manufacturing, and testing processes, not the technical & legal details of the patent process.
  • Students generally have a full slate of classes (12-18 classroom hours/week is typical) and many students also work 10-30 hours/week. Sponsors should be reasonable and flexible with scheduling: Do not expect students to be at your complete beck and call while working on a project.

Reviews, Results 

  • At the beginning of the term, students work with the sponsor to itemize the basic project needs, known as 'Level 1' requirements. They then research details of the project and come up with configuration alternatives as they search for the best solution. The optimized solution, considering project constraints, will be identified and reviewed to ensure that the proposed solution is appropriate. The general approach will be presented to peers at a Preliminary Design Review and Presentation.

  • Then near the end of the first academic semester, the students prepare material for a “Critical Design Review.” This is a round table discussion including an informal presentation of project details such as predicted performance, design & configuration of detail parts and component assemblies, manufacturing details, and estimated cost. Faculty and sponsors have a chance to weigh in at this point of the process to confirm or re-direct the student team's approach. Sponsors are asked to confirm in writing that they concur with student decisions including  - importantly! - expense-related items. Sponsors should plan to attend this event, or make arrangements for a separate session with students to fulfill these sponsor obligations.

  • Near the end of the second academic term, students will present their prototype or project result at our Engineering Design Fair, a campus-wide event open to the public. This day-long open house includes poster sessions, light refreshments, and an air of excitement and pride. Poster images may be displayed on the course website.

Cost

1. Sponsors pay all direct costs associated with the project. Examples of  direct costs would include all materials, any custom outsourced manufacturing or machining, specialty test equipment, and travel costs to your facility. A rough estimate of costs can be provided at project initiation and become clearer as designs evolve and solidify. Sponsors are strongly encouraged to be aware of and supportive of design details, along with their associated prototyping costs as the project progresses.

 
2. In addition to covering actual expenses, we request that sponsors provide a tax-deductible donation to the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department through the MSU Foundation, Account #91752. Donation amounts vary by sponsor and by project, about $1000 per project is suggested. Donated funds will be used by the department to cover expenses associated with Capstone, including but not limited to purchase of supplies and materials, acquisition of tools and equipment, repair or replacement of supporting equipment, student travel expenses, etc. Project sponsors unable to participate in supporting these needs may still be considered but their projects are generally given a lower priority status.

Follow-on projects, Returning Customers, Spreading the word

Please consider supporting additional projects in the future.  Let your business associates know about the program and the opportunities available to them.  Our goal is to give every Mechanical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering Technology student a meaningful and representative engineering design project experience.

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