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Client Based Capstone Design In Mechanical Engineering At The United States Military Academy

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1996 Annual Conference


Washington, District of Columbia

Publication Date

June 23, 1996

Start Date

June 23, 1996

End Date

June 26, 1996



Page Count


Page Numbers

1.101.1 - 1.101.5



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Paper Authors

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Mark F. Costello

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Jerry W. Samples

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3625

Client Based Capstone Design in Mechanical Engineering at the United States Military Academy

Jerry W. Samples, Mark F. Costello United States Military Academy


Over the past year the Mechanical Engineering Program at West Point developed a client based capstone design course. The clients for the capstone projects are Army Research, Development, and Engineering Centers, Army Research Laboratories, or other Department of the Army agencies with a need. Since cadet interest in military related projects is high, and finding is relative] y straight forward to secure, this is a win-win program, This paper describes the USMA Mechanical Engineering client based capstone design program as a model of University/Industry partnership. Example projects are described and related to the engineering needs of the Army. Similar experiences can be developed between universities and industries throughout the nation.


A capstone design experience was a feature of the academic program at West Point many years before ABET accreditation of the Mechanical Engineering Program. In the years before 1984, cadets were required to design and build a device to negotiate a designated obstacle course. The capstone design was loosely translated to mean, get a vehicle that worked and improve on it so that it could win. The competition was excellent because the designs were creative, the participants enthusiastic, and there was always a clear winner. However, the program could not pass the scrutiny of those preparing for the first ABET visit in 1984.

As the Mechanical Engineering program developed to reflect ABET guidance, a capstone design course of considerable analytic dif%culty and breadth was needed. The immediate solution was to use the Army to provide design topics that stimulate the students and had the requisite rigor. A firther decision to design large milita~ systems restricted the output to “paper designs” to be reviewed by Army Program Managers. Systems considered included: tanks, advanced bridge layers, and anti-tank guns, with all specifications provided in great detail. Large groups were necessary to attack such a formidable problem; teams often or more were the norm. From the standpoint of using all the analysis tools taught in the program, these project were enormously successfid. However, from a design engineering standpoint the projects were less than optimal, since student assessment was difficult.

Aside from the obvious difficulties awarding grades to teams as large as ten, there was no real customer when large systems were designed. The requirements documents were very specific, and while there was creativity, much of the vehicle design resembled the current model in the field. The one true variable was the use of tires instead of track. With little creativity and critical thinking involved, the entire design experience was of questionable value, What we had was a rather large, weakly linked analysis exercise that looked like a design. It became apparent that a new design pedagogy needed to replace the old system and that the basis needed to be real clients with real problems.

Capstone Pedagogy:

Before we jumped into the client based market, we needed to filly understand what the capstone course should be and to ascertain what the students thought the course should do for their education. In essence we

{~z~~ 1996 ASEE Annual Conference Proceedings ‘e+,yylc.:

Costello, M. F., & Samples, J. W. (1996, June), Client Based Capstone Design In Mechanical Engineering At The United States Military Academy Paper presented at 1996 Annual Conference, Washington, District of Columbia. 10.18260/1-2--5914

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