Thursday, two days before finals was the PSU Engineering Capstone showcase. Even though I have been a lecturer there for over seven years I didn’t realize it is the largest Capstone showcase of this type in the world.
The set-up began at 10:30 a. m. in the Bryce Jordan main Arena, with 84 senior Capstone projects displaying their results and 21 teams from the Cornerstone projects.
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.
Some of the projects are international in character. This poses special challenges, for example: Singapore time is exactly 12 hours apart from EST. This is also giving the students a taste of what multinational cooperation entails.
My role as an instructor is quite simple: To convert the engineering students from students to world class engineers in 16 short weeks. One does what one can. 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 fall I had the opportunity to coach 5 teams:
The first team was tasked to make a knee brace for people recovering from knee replacement surgery. The object was to measure progress in the recovery of the patient in a consistent measurable way. To do this the team affixed four sensors, one for temperature, one sensing pulse, and two gyroscopes, sensing angles and motions. They are connected to a small Arduino Nano computer, collecting all data and storing it on a small SD card.
The next team was tasked to make an autonomous, industrial size vacuum cleaner to suck up lime dust in a lime packing facility. It was supposed to have an 8 hour continuous operating time on batteries, and after an 8 hour shift empty itself and go into recharging mode. By the way, lime dust is nasty. This turned to be over ambitious to accomplish on a 1000 dollar budget, which is the limit for the students, so they were left to make a model that did not accomplish anywhere near what the original specification had defined. These are nevertheless great learning experiences for the teams, how to scope projects right, so they are possible to accomplish the deliverables on time and under budget.
The third team got quite an ambitious task to fulfill.
The object was to automate a lime reactivity test procedure. They were given the exact specifications how it was to be done, fill a thermos with so much temperature controlled water, add a specified amount of lime, measure the temperature rise, document the results, empty the bucket, rinse and repeat. The team fulfilled all the requirements on time and only exceeded the allowable budget by less than 100 dollars, so there was no money left to transport the device to the showcase. Anyhow, this is how it looks:
This would have been a candidate for best project, but I could only nominate two, so I nominated the fourth and the fifth team instead.
The fourth team was charged with automate a leaf cutting procedure. There is a great need to discover diseases in orange groves as early as possible. The apparatus to do the forensic analysis of the leaf had already been developed and used successfully. Via a robotic arm they developed a claw to grab a leaf, cut it from the tree without damaging it and affix it onto the analysis window.
They won third prize for best project!
Saving the best for last. Penn State University is a world leader in 3D printing research and development, and the University of Texas Arlington is hosting the fourth annual 3D printed aircraft competition to leverage the design freedoms of 3D printing technologies to improve performance. The team was tasked by Penn State CIMP-3D to design an aircraft to compete in this competition. The aircraft will utilize a fixed wing to stay airborne as long as possible. The nature of 3D printing allowed the team to rapidly prototype and quickly iterate many different designs. This will result in some less conventional designs that push the limitations of aircraft design and 3D printing.
The team addressed the challenges with gusto, they bought two 3-D printers to facilitate doing as much printing as possible. During the showcase they printed a part of a wing. The printing speed, since the material printed should be as thin as possible, was so slow that the wing part gained only on inch an hour. The team had been printing around the clock for the last few weeks to test a large range of feed stocks suitable for printing model aircraft parts. In the spring another team will continue the project and participate in the competition. May the best design win!
It gained quite a lot of interest, and the team had to do one presentation after another, explaining the intricate 3D modeling and how to design lightweight, yet structurally sound devices. A couple of high school teams were in awe, and no wonder, so were the judges, the team won first prize for best project of the showcase!