Adaptability is perhaps one of the most important skills an engineer must have, and engineering students in the Senior Design Program at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville this spring have had a chance to put this skill to the test.
The Senior Design Program pairs student groups with an industry partner to solve real problems or create new products. A defining experience for seniors in the engineering programs at UW-Platteville, this capstone project lasts an entire semester and culminates in an open house where students present the results. When the COVID-19 pandemic required students to transition to remote learning, students and their industry partners had to make some quick adjustments. On Wednesday, May 20, students will virtually present their final projects to the public during the Senior Design Open House.
“When the university decided to go to alternative delivery, senior design had to figure out how to complete industry and community projects without being able to meet and prototype together,” said Dr. Jessica Fick, associate professor of mechanical engineering and EMS senior design coordinator.
Students learned they would be moving to alternative delivery just as they were preparing to do their interim design presentations. With the change, these presentations moved to a combination of recorded presentations and Zoom meetings with sponsors to discuss how the scope of the project might need to change.
“I was impressed with how relatively easily we were able to adapt each project to find a way to keep everyone safe and distanced,” said Fick. “All of our sponsors and partners have been very supportive.”
While some students were initially nervous about how the change may affect their project, with the support and collaboration of their industry partner they found new ways to adapt.
“When we moved to alternative delivery, I immediately thought, ‘that’s not good,’” said Ryan Bildeaux, a senior mechanical engineering major from Forest Lake, Minnesota, whose group is working on designing a sand handling system for Olson Aluminum Castings. “I wondered how we would be able to build our conveyor or show our prototype system working. I also wondered if we would be able to deliver a complete project, satisfy our sponsor and what we would stay busy with, without being able to physically build our proof of concept system.”
The solution was to make some changes to the planned deliverables of the project.
“Our project has moved away from proving a concept through prototyping a small-scale system towards designing parts and mechanisms that can be built and directly installed in the plant,” said Bildeaux. “It’s cool to know that our ideas and designs could be implemented in industry for full-time use. It’s also a little nerve-racking since the concept hasn’t been prototyped and proven, so there’s a chance it may not work as intended.”
Senior mechanical engineering major Johanna Meister, from Darlington, Wisconsin, and her team are partnering with BCI Burke, a commercial playground design and manufacturing company located in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, to design a playground telescope.
“My first thought when UW-Platteville went to alternative delivery with respect to my project was if my team would still be able to validate our design and complete our prototype,” said Meister. “With our system relying heavily on the physical testing, because there is not any optic system testing software available, I was concerned that we would not be able to test our field of view and magnification of our telescope.”
Fortunately, Meister’s team did not have to modify any deliverables, as they found a way to partner with those working in the College of EMS shops for prototyping.
“Our team is moving forward in creating our prototype so that we can test and validate our design,” said Meister. “Also we decided to add a deliverable of creating an assembly guide for BCI Burke to ensure that they will be able to build the prototype when we send them the disassembled prototype at the conclusion of the semester. I believe that our project will turn out as we intended it to. Our team would have liked to build the prototype ourselves and have more time to validate and revise the design, but considering the scenario, we are excited to have a working prototype for BCI Burke. I have enjoyed my senior design and the team that I have gotten to work with, even though we are online now, we still work well as a team and have fun working on the playground telescope.”
Michael Nelson, a senior mechanical engineering student from Blue Mounds, Wisconsin, and his team are working on a cookie lab delivery system – a STEM outreach demonstrator aimed at sparking kids’ interest in math and science by automating the process of making cookies.
Thanks to one of his classmate’s personal shop, his team was still able to deliver a prototype for the project.
“I am pretty confident we can complete our project as it was originally promised at the beginning of the semester,” said Nelson. “I have a fantastic team and the professors and faculty have been very helpful during the entire semester.”
The open house on May 20 will be hosted through Zoom from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and showcase 48 project teams from mechanical engineering, industrial engineering, software engineering, engineering physics and sustainability and renewable energy systems.
“The Open House is a showcase of the work that our students have done and will continue to do after graduation,” said Fick. “While we can’t meet face to face, I am happy that we will still be able to connect as we celebrate everyone’s hard work.”
For more information about attending the Open House, including a schedule of presentations and a virtual display of students’ posters, visit www.uwplatt.edu/senior-design.