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Design Of A Thermal Systems Course

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Innovations in Mechanical Engineering Education Poster Session

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.456.1 - 12.456.9



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Paper Authors


Jesse Maddren California Polytechnic State University

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Jesse Maddren is Associate Professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, CA.

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

Design of a Thermal Systems Course


Many mechanical engineering programs offer thermal systems design as either a required or elective class, typically during the senior year. The course integrates the subjects of thermodynamics, fluid mechanics and heat transfer in the design of a system. There are a few different thermal systems design textbooks available. The topics that are most commonly included are: the design process, numerical modeling and simulation, economics, optimization, in addition to topics such as piping system design, heat exchangers, etc.

The paper describes the changes made in a senior level thermal systems design course over a period of approximately seven years. The course is taught in the lecture/laboratory mode and the principal changes were made in the laboratory. In the past, the lab component was a computational lab that solved individual weekly problems using Engineering Equation Solver (EES). EES is a commonly used software application for solving thermal systems problems, such as system simulation problems with several unknowns and optimization problems with one or more independent design variables. Over the years, the laboratory has been used to test other types of projects including longer term projects that are more applied, such as the design of a solar domestic hot water system for a dormitory and the design and construction of small thermal systems, such as a soft drink cooler.

This paper presents a survey of how thermal systems design is taught in mechanical engineering programs. The paper also outlines the author's personal experiences with teaching thermal systems design, what has worked and what has not worked.


A brief investigation into different mechanical engineering programs across the United States shows that many programs offer a thermal systems design course. For some programs, thermal systems design is a required course, and for others it is required for a particular concentration or offered as a technical elective. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) stipulates that a mechanical engineering program must "demonstrate that graduates have the ability to work professionally in both thermal and mechanical systems areas including the design and realization of such systems." While a thermal systems design course should satisfy this requirement concerning thermal systems, surely other classes could incorporate a component of thermal systems design and therefore satisfy the criteria. Therefore, a program would not be required to have a thermal systems design course required for all students.

Thermal systems design has been described as a "hodgepodge" by other instructors1 who teach it and I don't know if I would disagree. Machine design seems to follow a logical progression from statics, to dynamics and strength of materials, to machine components and finally to mechanical design. Thermal systems design takes the subjects of thermodynamics, heat transfer and fluid mechanics, most of which are taught in multiple courses and are taught concurrently and tries to integrate them together in a culminating experience. Additional subjects such as economics and

Maddren, J. (2007, June), Design Of A Thermal Systems Course Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2669

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