Students bring new ideas to popular household appliances

Team of students work on cooling device for coffee maker
The Spectrum appliance cooling team assemble final prototypes of their life cycle testing coffee pot cooling solution. Pictured left to right are Daniel Redington, Michael Zelinsky and Curtis Marschall.
Team of students works on cooling device

University of Wisconsin-Platteville engineering students have had a hand in some of the new or redesigned household appliances recently hitting the market and industry trade shows, thanks to a partnership between Spectrum Brands and the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Science’s Senior Design program. 

The Senior Design program pairs groups of engineering students with industry partners to solve real problems or create new products under the supervision of both the industry partner and a faculty member. Over the past five years, Spectrum Brands has partnered with UW-Platteville on more than 25 projects. Products that students have worked on include a cold brew coffee maker, smart blender, griddle, hair dryer, hair straightener and a pressure cooker, among others.  

A 2019 project that tasked students with finding a solution to eliminate excessive steam on the George Foreman grill resulted in the release of the new George Foreman Smokeless Grill series — which hit the consumer market in 2020. The team of four mechanical engineering students were challenged with reducing the visibility of smoke – as a byproduct of cooking on the George Foreman grill – from a category of 5, which is excessive smoke, to one, which is little-to-no smoke – while adhering to constraints, like maintaining the grill temperature and sticking to a minimal cooking time. The students were able to design a prototype that used an active fan-based solution. After 3D printing the prototype, they tested it against a control and proved they could successfully stay within the project constraints and produce little-to-no smoke. 

“UW-Platteville students utilize a pragmatic approach to problem solving,” said Dave Everett, division vice president at Spectrum Brands. “They have the ability to execute theoretical sciences into practical applications. UW-Platteville Senior Design projects were a key contributor in a variety of our innovative new products.”

“All of our projects from Spectrum Brands have provided interesting real-world challenges for the students. When they are working on products that they know and potentially use every day, it is easy for them to picture walking into a store and seeing their work on the shelf." –Dr. Jessica Fick, assistant dean for special projects

UW-Platteville students played a role in another recent Spectrum Brands product design – the Russell Hobbs Steam Genie 2-in-1 Handheld Steamer, which Everett said has been receiving outstanding trade feedback. In 2019, a team of five mechanical engineering students designed a labyrinth for the steamer that would convert all water to steam without leaking, regardless of orientation.

Students are currently working on two new projects with Spectrum Brands this semester. A group of mechanical engineering students were tasked with reducing the time it takes to complete life cycle testing on the Black+Decker coffee makers. Appliances that involve heating during life cycle testing, such as a coffee maker, take longer to complete testing due to the required cool down period between each test. The students devised a fan and compressed air device that cools the coffee makers down faster, allowing the next brew to start up with less delay. 

“Spectrum Brands has given our team a vast amount of creative control in this process and provided us with the necessary constraints to move on throughout each phase of the design process,” said Michael Zelinsky, one of the senior mechanical engineering students working on the project. “It has been a pleasure working with the engineers at Spectrum Brands to develop the best solution possible, as they were always available to communicate.”

A team of 18 software engineering students is working alongside Spectrum Brands and Google to engineer a cloud-connected smart toaster oven. The proposed end product will be a toaster oven fully controlled by a mobile app and voice controlled by a Google nest or Google Assist app. This is a two-semester project. In the fall semester, students did extensive research, gathered requirements from Spectrum Brands, finished initial design and user interface prototypes and started initial development. The spring semester will focus on the development of the actual prototype.

“All of our projects from Spectrum Brands have provided interesting real-world challenges for the students,” said Dr. Jessica Fick, assistant dean for special projects in the College of EMS. “When they are working on products that they know and potentially use every day, it is easy for them to picture walking into a store and seeing their work on the shelf. It is amazing to see two of those products making that thought a reality.”

Both of these projects, along with more than two dozen others from various engineering disciplines and industry partners, will be on display at the Senior Design Open House on Friday, Dec. 17. Held each semester, the open house is open to the public and gives students the opportunity to showcase their projects and answer questions. For more information, visit