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Project-based Smart Systems Module for Early-stage Mechanical Engineering Students

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Mechanical Engineering Technical Session: Team/Project-based Pedagogy and Approaches

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Mechanical Engineering

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Jennifer Lynne Tennison Saint Louis University


Jenna L. Gorlewicz Saint Louis University

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Jenna L. Gorlewicz received her B.S. in mechanical engineering from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in 2008, before pursuing her PhD in mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University, where she worked in the Medical and Electromechanical Design (MED) Laboratory. At Vanderbilt, she was a National Science Foundation Fellow and a Vanderbilt Educational Research fellow. As an Assistant Professor in Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering at Saint Louis Unviersity, Dr. Gorlewicz is currently the director of the Collaborative Haptics, Robotics, and Mechatronics (CHROME) Lab. Her research interests are in medical robotics, haptic devices, human-machine interaction, and in creating and evaluating novel learning technologies.

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Sridhar S. Condoor Saint Louis University

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Dr. Sridhar Condoor is a professor, KEEN fellow, a Coleman Fellow, and the editor of the Journal of Engineering Entrepreneurship.
He teaches sustainability, product design, and entrepreneurship. His research interests are in the areas of design theory and methodology, technology entrepreneurship, and sustainability. He is spearheading technology-entrepreneurship education at SLU via the Innovation to Product (I2P), iChallenge, entrepreneurship competitions, and funded research. He is the principal investigator for the KEEN Entrepreneurship Program development grants to foster the spirit of innovation in all engineering students.
Condoor has authored several books. Titles include Innovative Conceptual Design, Engineering Statics, and Modeling with ProEngineer. He has published several technical papers on topics focused on conceptual design, design principles, cognitive science as applied to design, and design education. VayuWind, a hubless wind turbine for urban environments, is one of his inventions. VayuWind deploys airfoils parallel to the rotational axis in such a way that, unlike other windmills, it rotates around a ring frame, leaving the central portion open for other uses. This enables VayuWind to extract wind power using existing structures such as commercial buildings and skywalks with minimal noise pollution.

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Extant literature supports that both engineering faculty and students desire hands-on, system-level projects early on in an engineering curriculum. Additional literature supports that training engineers in design-based thinking skills is useful in building and motivating core technical skills. Resource and time restrictions, coupled with often needing extensive training through pre-requisite courses, often limit early exposure to mechatronics-style design projects, delaying them late in the engineering curriculum. In this work, we present a five-week project-based, smart systems module designed specifically for entry level (freshman or sophomore) mechanical engineering students with little or no exposure to mechatronics concepts. The experiential module is focused on building system level-design thinking skills with four supporting themes: system architecture, hardware architecture, software architecture, and integration and validation. Readily available hardware and software are used to support the module. Key innovations of the module include: 1. Organization of the course where each module’s focus is on one outcome and the outcomes in turn lead to the execution of the project. 2. Design spaces which provide an area for students to identify needs and develop system requirements 3. Logical thinking skill development through the requirement of creating flowcharts and system architecture rather than just tinkering with the code or hardware. 4. Simulation using TinkerCAD to avoid the discovery of problems during building and testing 5. System prototype to enhance testing and validation skills to create robust systems 6. Systems thinking approach to design projects from early engineering career The module was incorporated into an existing sophomore-level Mechanical Engineering course focused on design principles. There were approximately 25 mechanical engineering students in the course who were concurrently taking an introduction to electrical engineering course and have completed an introduction to computer programming course. Short lessons were delivered to students over the course of five weeks on topics including Algorithms, Basic Circuits, Arduino Basics, Communication, Digital Logic, Functions and Interrupts, Systems Design, Sensors, Servos, DC Motors, and Advanced Topics. Each lesson had a tangible outcome and a team-based activity associated with it. The outcomes and activities will be shared in detail in the manuscript. Lesson outcomes support the execution of a team-based project. Self-selected teams of three students were each given an Arduino Kit and access to TinkerCAD from which all activities and projects were based. Several student projects created using the approach are illustrated to demonstrate the level of proficiency gained by the sophomore students in five weeks. In short, the paper serves as a valuable resource for faculty wishing to implement mechatronics-based modules early in the engineering experience, sharing our curriculum, activities, hardware specifications, design spaces and teaching pedagogy for successful adoption at other institutions.

Tennison, J. L., & Gorlewicz, J. L., & Condoor, S. S. (2020, June), Project-based Smart Systems Module for Early-stage Mechanical Engineering Students Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35099

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