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A Systems Engineering Approach to Conceptual Design in a 1st-Year Engineering Program

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2019 FYEE Conference


Penn State University , Pennsylvania

Publication Date

July 28, 2019

Start Date

July 28, 2019

End Date

July 30, 2019

Conference Session

T2A: GIFTS - Session A

Tagged Topic

FYEE Conference - Paper Submission

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Paper Authors


Mike Elmore P.E. Binghamton University

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Mike Elmore is director of and a visiting associate professor in the Engineering Design Division in the Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science at Binghamton University, State University of New York at Binghamton, NY. He holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Vermont in Burlington, VT, a M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Syracuse University in Syracuse, NY, and a Ph.D. degree in Electrical Engineering from Binghamton University. He has worked for Lockheed Martin, IBM, General Electric, BAE Systems, and Celestica Corporation. He has 25 years of experience in these companies designing military and commercial power electronic circuits and as a systems engineer for airborne and land vehicle electrical systems. He is a licensed professional engineer. He also received a B.A in philosophy and a M.Ed. from the University of Vermont. Before becoming an engineer he was a high school mathematics teacher.

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This is a Great Ideas for Teaching, and Talking with, Students (GIFTS) paper. 1st-year engineering students engage in three projects over the course of the fall and spring semesters. In the fall semester students build, test, and present at an exposition an Arduino-based game. While students are provided the design for the game, they are strongly encouraged to make creative modifications. Following this, students complete a reverse engineering activity on a simple household appliance or medical device. The result is a CAD model of the device and a detailed report, typically of about 40 – 50 pages. Students work in teams of four on both projects. In the spring semester work consists of a semester long conceptual design project. Students are given a one or two paragraph description of an item to be designed. The items are either devices to aid an individual with a disability or improvements in home kitchens to reduce the use of energy or its waste. Examples from this semester include: An energy efficient bread toaster; a blood pressure monitor for persons with only one arm; a device to harvest kitchen waste energy; a toaster oven for blind persons; and more. Students work in groups of six on these projects. At the beginning students must bring more clarity to the one or two paragraph description. They must better understand what they are being asked to design. They do this by writing requirements, a necessary step in any design process. A Program Manager (PM) is assigned to each project. This is either a graduate teaching assistant or one of the courses instructors. The PM gives the students four or five higher level requirements. The students must write the remaining requirements that follow from these higher level requirements. To do this they must research the subject area, submit their requirements to the PM, and get them approved. This process takes several weeks. The engineering school librarian provides instructions on doing a literature search. The students write a research paper on what they have found. There is a laboratory exercise and several lectures in which the students learn how to write requirements with the correct structure and intent. Once all the requirements are approved, students start the next phase of the design process by brainstorming possible designs that meet the requirements. They are given instruction in the Pahl and Beitz method to choose the design from their alternatives that best meets the requirements. Finally, they must verify through mathematical analysis, simulation, or logical argument that their design meets each requirement. The result is an 80 – 100 page report that fully captures all their work, their alternative designs, their selection process, and verification.

Elmore, M. (2019, July), A Systems Engineering Approach to Conceptual Design in a 1st-Year Engineering Program Paper presented at 2019 FYEE Conference , Penn State University , Pennsylvania.

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