Another project, sponsored by Omron Automotive Electronics, focused on improvements to the company’s manufacturing processes. Students worked with assembly line personnel to troubleshoot the process of gluing the cover on a fuel pump relay. They also re-designed a mixed-model assembly cell for greater efficiency.
These might seem like more-or-less standard industrial engineering projects, but IIT doesn't offer undergraduate degrees in industrial engineering. Instead, the project challenged students majoring in electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, computer science, and math to come up with solutions. Omron engineers were pleased with the students’ work, and the company will be sponsoring another project next semester.
Some projects are based on ideas developed by students themselves. One group of students focused on improving the IIT campus’ visibility in navigation apps such as Google Maps. They came up with the idea of rooftop advertising that will be visible in satellite images. The students designed a roof covering for the school’s gymnasium imprinted with the school logo. They also came up with a proposal for a “green roof” for another campus building, which will display the school’s logo by means of live plants. They even built prototype green tiles to determine how the roof would drain. The school's administration was impressed and is planning to move forward with the idea.
My personal favorite? A group of students bought a refrigerator and divided it into 21 individual locked compartments. Commuter students will be able to rent space in the refrigerator for $20 a semester. Compared to buying food on campus, that's a bargain. The individual compartments ensure that students won't have to worry about anyone stealing their sandwiches. Odor-absorbing particles built into the walls (along with regular cleaning, included in the price) ensure that one student's forgotten lunch won't ruin the experience for everyone else. It may not be cutting-edge engineering, but it's a great idea that meets a real-world need.
Dave, I have a son at IIT. When we were looking at schools we visited many. Marquette has a similar program, as do many others with strong engineering programs. As you point out, this is not something that has been going on for a very long time, though. There is also a project at IIT that is installed as a type of outdoor art on the campus. It consists of a number of ways of connecting steel beams. Some of these are pattented and are now standard practice in the industry.
Internships are also a good way to give students experience. I have a nephew who did one for a large auto parts manufacturer. He did well at it and is likely to be able to work for that company. My understanding is that about 40% of students do internships. It should be 100% in engineering.
As for the lack of qualified graduates, I think the companies are being a little short sighted. In the past, companies brought in newly graduated engineers and put them through a two year program with six month rotations in four areas of the business. Now they expect them to come in and start deisgning final product immediately. I don't think the schools have changed so much as the companies.
I was talking to another older engineer the other day about how modern grads are afraid to learn how to use a lathe or mill, breadboard a circuit, or just build something from scratch all by themselves. I hope this Chicago program inspires a new generation of fearless engineers ready to learn and experience before we lose that wonderful edge this country has enjoyed for generations...
@warren: I didn't have room to mention this in the article, but a recent addition to the IPRO program is a space called the Idea Shop that includes several CNC milling machines, 3D printers, vacuum forming equipment, and a laser cutter, among other cool stuff. So students have ample opportunity to get hands-on experience making things. This is an important part of the program, and like you say, an important part of becoming an engineer.
Today demands that every engineer be a "jack of all trades."
I can't even remember a job where I only performed one function. Every job had me designing circuits, placing components, machining parts, mechanical design, and in one case sawing wood by hand. (They needed rigging parts.)
It will behoove any graduating engineer to diversify.
Dave, that sounds like a great idea: providing real-world hands-on experience. I'm a little surprised to learn that so many young engineers don't have some already. The Silicon Valley model (where I grew up) was taking apart stuff in the garage, often, but not always, with a dad who was an engineer. The one thing that occurs to me is whether today's electronic systems have become less easy to take apart because so much has become inaccessible now in software and/or inside the chip's guts--I know this is true for automotive systems.
I agree it's a great program, naperlou. Sounds like they've taken a page from IIT's famed design school and gone one better by actually building prototypes that work. It also goes a step farther than the traditional senior design project. After suffering through the heavy helping of theory that engineering students always get, this is an important trip toward reality.
@Ann: I think it's safe to say that a lot of engineering students have some degree of practical experience before starting college. My lab partner in circuits class, who was from Uganda, had built an ultralight airplane using an old motorcycle engine and some aluminum tubes before coming to the U.S. I think he's working for Boeing now. But this kind of project is important in order to get experience working as part of a multidisciplinary team. Besides developing hands-on skills, students need to learn "people skills." In spite of the stereotype of the solitary engineer laboring away at a desk or in a lab, real engineers work in teams, and not just with other engineers.
Thanks for the feedback, Dave, that makes a lot of sense (and is reassuring). And Cabe's comment about engineers needing to be a jack of all trades was borne out by DN's materials buyers survey, where we saw how many engineers are working in multiple disciplines: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=252670
Warren--back in the "dark ages" when I was going through the university, we were required to take one semester of "machine shop". I know those days are long gone but that experience became extremely valuable for the very first job I had and most others following that initial experience. We also had included with our engineering schedule three semesters of mechanical drafting. Most of our professors were academics with considerable manufacturing experience and this fact generally provided classroom exercises targeted towards solving design problems relating to manufactured products. This became valuable as we graduated and found ourselves in "real-world" situations. My co-op experience provide additional "value-added" and introduced me to "the slings and arrows" most working engineers experience on a daily basis. You can't beat hands-on.
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