Penn State University Engineering Capstone Showcase, Spring 2019.

Thursday, two days before finals was the PSU Engineering Capstone showcase. Even though I have been a lecturer there for the last seven years I didn’t realize it is by far the largest Capstone showcase of this type in the world, and it is growing year by year. This year there were 126 Senior Design course teams from the traditional engineering disciplines, but also the Nuclear, Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering teams participated, as well as the freshmen Engineering Design class, nearly 200 entries, in all around 1000 participants.


The set-up began at 10:30 a. m. in the Bryce Jordan main Arena, with 126 senior Capstone projects displaying their results. The other projects were displayed in the Southern Annex training area.

The success of the showcase is in part because of a large number of corporate sponsors, some who sponsor multiple projects. Some of these projects are at the very cutting edge of  science and provide a real challenge for the students.

My role as an instructor is quite simple: To convert the engineering students from students to world class engineers in 16 short weeks. The engineering students are organized in teams of 4 or 5 persons. All of my teams this year consisted of engineers from at least 2 engineering majors, so the teams must get to know each other, work together as a functioning team, do the research, build a series of prototypes or a final product as a team, with deadlines to meet. This is quite different from cramming for an exam.

The projects are quite different: This spring I had the opportunity to coach 5 teams:

The first team tried to make sensor enabled athletic shoes, they took a shoe, put in a sensor that measured g-forces and temperature, added a transmitter to send the results to a computer for analysis. They also learned to 3D print a new sole for the shoe with the proper cavities for the sensors and battery. The challenge is to choose the best material for sole design. This project had three biomedical engineers and two computer engineers.






The next team made a contraption for taking muscle measurement during exercise. When exercise starts , blood flow increases and the muscles expand. As they dehydrate they slowly contracts again.  The team made a band to fit around the thigh muscle of the one exercising with two time-of-flight sensors to measure the expansion and contraction of the muscle, sending the results to a computer for data collection, analysis and evaluation.






This was so successful that they won third prize for best project!


They also won fist prize for best 3 min video of their project!

The third team, investigating wearable exercises in Industry 4.0. Industry 4.0 is a nickname for the fourth industrial revolution where robots take over and the people are taking on a more supervisory role overseeing robots and not doing the work themselves. There are few safety regulations developed to deal with this new complexity. One of the concerns is the stress it induces on the operators. A little stress is good, too much can be catastrophic. This became my emotional favorite, since at the same time my heart decided to be more and more blocked, ending up getting a stent put in the so-called widow-maker heart artery and I found myself hooked up with a portable BioPac for one day much like their research version. In addition, during the showcase one student passed out from stress and excitement! Anyhow, here is the team:

The fourth team was charged with making a Wireless Valve Position Indicator for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC). They were highly successful in their assigned task and functioned well as a team together. Here they are, all smiles, with their sponsor:


They won first prize for best poster!

Things do not always turn out as planned, and so was the case with team five.

They were charged with making an expensive piece of machinery, controlled by a Programmable Logic Controller work better. The PLC was from early 2000, Japanese proprietary, and the third-party vendor that had done the original coding was nowhere to be found anymore. The source code was finally delivered, but it took all the 16 weeks to secure a software license. The only contribution possible was making a better way of guiding sheet metal through the machine. However, they did what they could with the hand that was dealt them, and they learned a lot about how to deal with third-party vendors whose priority is to get another contract and not be helpful.

In all, a very successful Senior Design Showcase! As always, we are looking for more corporate sponsors to present challenges for the graduating class of future world-class engineers. This spring there were 88 sponsors, some with multiple projects.

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Retired engineer, graduated from Chalmers Technical University a long time ago with a degree in Technical Physics. Career in Aerospace, Analytical Chemistry, computer chip manufacturing and finally adjunct faculty at Pennsylvania State University, taught just one course in Computer Engineering, the Capstone Course.

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