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"Doing Engineering in the School of Letters & Science: Adding a Manufacturing Line Design Project to a Writing Program Class for Engineers"

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Rethinking Engineering Writing

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.15.1 - 23.15.34



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Paper Authors


Brad Jerald Henderson University of California, Davis

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Brad Henderson is a faculty in writing for the University Writing Program (UWP) at University of California, Davis. Henderson holds a B.S. degree in mechanical engineering from Cal Poly State University SLO and a Masters in Professional Writing (MPW) from USC. Currently focusing his career on engineering writing and soft-skill education, he has worked as an engineer and engineering educator for Parker-Hannifin Aerospace and Hewlett-Packard Inkjet. Henderson was featured in the eBook—Engineers Write! Thoughts on Writing from Contemporary Literary Engineers by Tom Moran (IEEE Press 2010)—as one of twelve “literary engineers” writing and publishing creative works in the United States. Henderson’s current project is an engineering writing textbook which pioneers a new, math-based teaching method using algebraic equations and computer algorithms to develop language skills in engineers and other left-brain thinkers.

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Adding a Manufacturing Line Design Project to a Writing Class for EngineersThe new ABET GE standards encourage engineering schools to insert writing practice and skilldevelopment into undergraduate engineering classes. Excellent discipline-specific writinginstruction often occurs in the context of final project reports for capstone senior design classes.While many colleges recognize that adding a writing education element to the capstone classoptimizes the engineering writing experience and improves the quality of the final reports, itremains the norm for most dedicated writing instruction to occur outside of engineering, inRhetoric/Composition and Writing-in-the-Disciplines (WID) programs –where engineeringcontent must be supplied externally, if at all. In winter 2012, a university writing programinstructor—himself a retired mechanical engineer—created a manufacturing line designchallenge for his upper-division WID class that incorporated real-world rigor. Modeled on hisindustrial experience at Hewlett-Packard, the instructor began with a quick-start lecture on high-speed synchronous automated assembly systems for high-volume products made out of small,relatively fragile injection-molded plastic pieces. To integrate discipline-specific writinginstruction, he presented a flowcharted algorithm for structuring an evaluative report using data-driven logic to compare and contrast engineering options, and mapped this structure into thetextual sections of a technical report. The assignment immersed students in a hypotheticalscenario, working for robotics company to prepare a trade show exhibit showcasing the technicaland economic advantages of automated assembly of a small-scale, high volume product. Theline would target a production volume of 1M miniature Lego cars made of 16 pieces per car.Similarities in size and material type to an inkjet pen’s economical but brittle housing leveragedthe instructor’s industrial expertise. To keep design macroscopic, the instructor suppliedstudents with a menu of viable, cost-labeled PLC-equipped conveyors, shuttle pallets, pick-and-place and flip-over stations, vibratory bowl feeders, and machine vision units, and assignedstudents to determine an optimal manufacturing line design to fit onto a 10’x10’ floor space.Each student was to document the project in a report which included a work-flow diagram forautomation; a top-down, to-scale, block-diagram schematic of a recommended conveyor systemand tooling; and a labor, equipment, and overhead analysis of time and cost for manual versusrobotic operators to assemble 1M Lego cars. Although the instructor supplied a complete set ofchoices for configuring assembly conveyors, he withheld certain assumptions and informationnecessary to complete the cost analysis. All 21 students successfully completed the assignmentand complementary report. Their designs were novel and sound, and the reports of uniform highquality. A follow-up evaluation indicated a high degree of student satisfaction. Chief outcomesobserved by the instructor include (1) an engineering-centered writing project in a WID classsignificantly motivates students to strive for a “best effort,” and to view writing as integral totheir engineering toolkits. (2) Using prescriptive pedagogy (often dismissed byRhetoric/Composition faculty) works well to help engineering students complete a discipline-specific writing challenge, and can enable an incremental leap to advanced, systematic problemsolving. (4) Bringing a STEM component into a writing class creates synergy. (5) Although fewwriting instructors have engineering degrees, a similarly turn-key, modular project scenariocould be supplied by Engineering or an industrial partner, provided that the writing instructorwas willing to work outside-the-box along with his or her students.

Henderson, B. J. (2013, June), "Doing Engineering in the School of Letters & Science: Adding a Manufacturing Line Design Project to a Writing Program Class for Engineers" Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19024

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