AMES, Iowa — Solve a total design problem involving a mechanical system and document every decision leading to the solution. This straightforward challenge entices Iowa State University students in the Mechanical Engineering Capstone Program.
Each semester the Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) matches another group of eager future engineers with sponsoring companies and real-world projects. As a result, students gain experience and companies gain innovative solutions that often lead to enhanced productivity and lower costs.
The industrial design projects that are accepted for the program are typically important to the company but not urgent, said Jim Heise, design projects coordinator at Iowa State. The projects range throughout the field of mechanical engineering and can include research, design, building and testing. Each student team devotes about 400 to 600 work hours to a project over the course of a semester. Two teams are assigned to each project and receive the same parameters; the ensuing competition results in a better end product, Heise said.
CIRAS supports the Mechanical Engineering Capstone projects through working with Iowa manufacturers and capstone coordinators to define potential projects, Heise explained. In addition, for those projects selected with Iowa-based manufacturers, CIRAS is able to provide a grant for 60 percent of the program cost.
Jancy Engineering brought a rough idea for a new design to their ISU student teams, said production manager Ed Briggs. Through the capstone, “we were able to speed up the process of conceptual design,” Briggs said. “We saw a lot of ideas that we might not have come up with.”
The bottom line, Briggs said: saving costs and getting the product to market faster.
“I’d highly recommend [the capstone program], and we look forward to doing more of this in the future,” he added.
“The secret to our success,” Heise noted, “is the constant communication we require student teams to have with their sponsors.”
Teams make onsite visits to understand the project and their sponsoring company. They also participate in weekly video conferences with their sponsoring company and share additional information over a secure website. The projects are reviewed mid-term and at semester’s end. Then the students deliver a final report, all research and any prototypes that were built.
“The ISU engineering students helped bring some fresh ideas to the table, as well as some different perspectives,” said Terry Wurzer, with TFI Lighting. “They also did a lot of very good and invaluable research on the various products that we collectively selected for use in our final product.”
Wurzer added, “Companies that have some product development time flexibility and would like to give students or possible future employees a chance to work on real-world problems would be a great fit for this program.”
Companies that would like to participate in the Mechanical Engineering Capstone Program should contact CIRAS project manager Mike O’Donnell, 515-509-4379 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mike O’Donnell, Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS), 515-509-4379,