students face the final challenge: multidisciplinary design projects
More than 2 million
Americans take medication for chronic illnesses. All too often,
the drugs are taken incorrectly, leading to complications including
of the Automated Home Medication Dispenser developed by RIT
To address that problem,
eight RIT engineering students spent winter and spring quarters
developing the Automated Home Medication Dispenser. Their prototype
device dispenses the correct amount of up to a dozen different
pills, while an Internet interface allows the patients physician
to monitor and modify the dosage.
A product based on
their work may someday be on the market. Even if that never happens,
the students succeeded. They gained experience of incalculable
They arent alone:
Some 120 electrical, industrial and mechanical engineering seniors
tackled 21 projects in the Kate Gleason College of Engineerings
inaugural multidisciplinary engineering design program.
Group projects have
been required for seniors in all of the colleges departments
for some years, but forging teams from students in several disciplines
is new. We decided to take it to a new level, explains
Dean Harvey Palmer, to make it more like the industry experience.
This represents a major advance in engineering education.
Among the projects
• Work cell redesign
for Sentry Group of Rochester.
• Device to separate marshmallow bits from cereal for testing
of Lucky Charms cereal, developed for General Mills.
• Robotic drummer, sponsored by RITs electrical engineering
• Portable blade-vibration monitor for Impact Technologies.
• Non-lead airgun ammunition for Crosman Airguns.
• Micro-inertial measurement system for Veridian Inc.
|Senior engineering students
who developed a device to test Lucky Charms cereal are, from left, Roy Mitchell,
Greg Dickman, Karen Palumbi, Scott Walker, Andy Wang and George Simonds.
The new program launched with a course
in project management offered in fall quarter. Students from that course became
team leaders who, in the first week of winter quarter, presented their projects
to prospective team members.
Five days into
the quarter, the teams have to be up and running, says
Edward Hensel, professor and mechanical engineering department
head. By the end of winter quarter, the team goes before a committee
made up of faculty and industry representatives for a very
demanding, intense one-hour design presentation. During
spring quarter, they build a prototype. Its up to the team
to develop concepts, divide up the workload, arrange meetings
with sponsors, purchase supplies – whatever is necessary
to get the job done on time and within the $1,500 budget. Each
team created a Web site, a project poster, and gave formal presentations
at a final conference. Many published technical papers.
is utilized for the whole three quarters, says Hensel,
the man Palmer calls principal architect of the
program. In 30 weeks, 21 products were developed. A lot
of companies would give their left arms for that kind of productivity.
Karen Palumbo 03
(industrial and systems engineering), manager of the Lucky Charms
team, faced a straight-forward task: invent a device for quickly
separating the marshmallow bits from the cereal without damaging
the product. For quality control purposes, General Mills tests
a box of cereal twice per shift, and the Buffalo plant runs three
shifts per day, seven days a week. In the past, workers have picked
out the marshmallows by hand.
We came up with
50 ideas, Palumbo says. Ultimately, they decided on a device
made up of a hot plate, a press and a metal tray. The operator
pours the sample on the tray, places the tray on the hot plate
and briefly applies the press. The marshmallows stick to the heated
tray and the cereal can be removed for further testing.
The experience was
an eye-opener, says Palumbo. This was so
different from other classes. Youre on your own, you get
a chance to be creative and try your own ideas.
Robert Kremens, a staff
scientist at RITs Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging
Science, proposed a buoy that could drift in a body of water and
periodically transmit water temperatures. The student team that
took on his project added a feature: They developed a system using
compressed air and plumbing that allows the buoy to submerge periodically.
The submersible autonomous data collection and transmission
system, a.k.a. SADCATS, successfully completed its maiden
voyage in the RIT pool.
These kids are
great, says Kremens. Theyre maniacs. They
really stepped up to the plate and used their professional skills.
Team members took obvious
pride in their accomplishment. I heard ‘automation
and I had to be part of it, says Saheer Patel 01
(industrial and systems engineering). It was the coolest
|Working on the
controls for the Automated Home Medication Dispenser are team
members Matt Cyterski, back, Matt Heinsler, center, and Ethan
|From left are
Eric Olson, Tom Hannigan Ethan Jennerich, Saheer Patel, Melanie
Lowe and Greg Schallert, creators of the “submersible
autonomous data collection and transmission system, “
But the workload was
daunting. Team member Eric Olson 03 (mechanical engineering)
figures he logged 50 hours a week toward the end of spring quarter.
Thats not atypical; Hensel estimates that over the course
of the project, each student puts in an average of 10 hours per
a minimum of 24,000 man hours, or 12 man years, for the students
work, says Hensel.
The value to sponsoring
organizations varies, Hensel acknowledges. The value is
directly proportional to what they put in. Projects that
prove most successful for the students and the sponsors tend to
share certain characteristics: They are well defined, technically
challenging, multidisciplinary, and important to the sponsor but
not urgent. Sponsors are expected to pay the costs and provide
regular contact with the team.
More projects are needed;
in the coming school year the program will expand to as many as
50 teams with up to 200 engineering students. Ultimately, Dean
Palmer would like to include students from other colleges. (Representatives
of companies interested in learning more about project sponsorship
should contact Moises Sudit, director of business development
and multidisciplinary programs for the college, at 585-475-2001,
or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
The team projects are
hugely valuable, says Robert O. Frasca 88
(mechanical engineering), a former Navy jet pilot, entrepreneur
and Internet pioneer and now CEO and President of Affinnova Inc.,
a Cambridge, Mass., consulting company focused on product development
issues. We didnt have this when I was at RIT, but
my MBA program had a team component. Anything that pulls all of
the skills youve just learned and puts them to use is key.
Entreprenuership is exactly like that, says Frasca, who
was keynote speaker at the Kate Gleason College of Engineering
commencement in May.
the multidisciplinary approach is really important, says
Terry Clapham 71 (electrical engineering), co-founder of
VISX, the worlds largest manufacturer of laser-based vision
correction systems. You have to think outside the box,
learn organizational skills, and figure out how to motivate people
to do what is needed for your project – those are important
lessons. There are a lot of engineers out there, but few with
good project skills. This type of program puts the RIT engineering
students one step ahead.
Seniors may not fully
realize the value of the project experience until sometime later.
Theyre busy fulfilling their graduation requirements and
preparing to launch a career. Out in the workplace, thats
when the lessons will kick in, Hensel believes.
begins the transition from student to professional engineer.