APRIL 1998

A newsletter for alumni, students, and friends of the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Capstone Design Class Allows Seniors to Apply Their Knowledge and Skills to a Real-Life Engineering Design Problem

Before receiving their ME degrees, all mechanical engineering students must take a class that brings it all together for them, the Senior "Capstone" Design Class, ME 349.

This three-credit course requires the students to work in teams to design a solution to the kind of real-world problems they might be assigned in their future jobs. And just as it would be on the job, they must match a project's specifications, write reports, sketch a prototype, and address the needs of their clients. Four professors currently teach the five units of this class, Milestone, Fronczak, Elder, and Wright.
"I like to offer ideas for projects for which students probably don't already have preconceived notions of the best solution. I want creativity to be a part of the process."

Professor Milestone

Professor Frank J. Fronczak said that the project that won first place in last year's Engineering EXPO was conceived in his class. It was a hydraulic powered, hand-controlled clutch for a sports car owned by a man who had lost use of his left leg.

Professor Wayne D. Milestone said that the student projects from the class sometimes also become entries in the Schoof's Brainstorm competition, such as the Up-Lift toilet design. Other recent design projects have included a vending machine to dispense newspapers one at a time, an electric scooter, a snow bicycle, and an improved paper shredder.

"I like to offer ideas for projects for which the students probably don't already have pre-conceived notions of the best solution. I want creativity to be a part of the process," Milestone said.

Milestone also places heavy emphasis on the students understanding who their customers are and what they need in a process called quality function deployment. The students interview their potential customers and use what they learn to help make design decisions, bearing in mind not only how a product is to be used but also how it would be manufactured, shipped, packaged, and stored. Interspersed with team working sessions are lectures on subjects such as intellectual property, the importance of good documentation, functional decomposition, concept evaluation techniques, brainstorming, and techniques to generate new ideas.

All the professors have their students do creativity exercises at the beginning of the course, but Professor Frederick T. Elder perhaps emphasizes them the most. He spends more than two weeks using techniques he learned at a seminar he took at Stanford University, "Creativity for Engineering Educators."

"Nobody can really `teach' creativity," Elder said, "but you can set up the environment to foster it." He uses activities that help the students to get to know each other and become comfortable enough with each other to take more risks with their ideas. As they get to know each other, they also become better able to choose teammates for doing their projects.

"I really enjoy this course," Milestone said, "because it's fun to see how many of the students mature in this environment. At the end of the semester, my knowledge of each student's potential and skills is much greater than I get from any other course I teach. I can really observe their thinking processes, attitudes, and communications skills."

Student Jerome Lim said that the most important practical application he's gained from the Capstone class is teamwork. "Being able to work and interact with people is probably the most important thing that I will take from this course.... (in industry) that's how it's done. Management wants a final product at a certain date, and you have to produce it."

ME senior Kevin Wenzel said that the class builds on the three sub disciplines of mechanical engineering: energy, design, and manufacturing. "This course forces us to combine all these objective skills, along with creativity and subjective engineering judgment, to make a new product. As a result, ME 349 is a better simulation of a `real world' job."

ME Newsletter is a periodic publication of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Mechanical Engineering. Correspondence should be sent to the address below.

ME Newsletter
Department of Mechanical Engineering
University of Wisconsin-Madison
1513 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53706-1572

      Editor: Gail Gawenda

Designer: Lynda Litzkow

Last Modified: Wednesday, 20-May-1998 12:00:00 CDT

APRIL 1998 Contents