Asee peer logo

Three Thermal Systems Design Build Test Projects

Download Paper |


2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

TIME 3: Thermal Systems

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.1307.1 - 9.1307.11

Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Gregg Dixon

Download Paper |

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

Session 2266

Three Thermal Systems Design-Build-Test Projects

Gregg W. Dixon U.S. Coast Guard Academy

Abstract: In an effort to improve Mechanical Engineering (ME) students’ ability to design and realize thermal systems, three hands-on design projects have been developed for a junior level thermal systems design course. The three projects involve giving small student teams the tasks of: 1. Heating water in a large coffee can using a natural circulation solar collector that the students design and construct. 2. Producing distilled water with a solar distillation device. 3. Heating water in a natural circulation loop using combustion of candle wax.

In all of the projects, the teams are given a limited set of materials and specifications that constrain their design options while giving them plenty of opportunity for creativity. The materials required are inexpensive (insulating foam, plywood, tubes, tape, reflective tape, hoses and hose clamps, etc.). The teams are required to develop conceptual designs and analyze their design in three successive levels of complexity before they are allowed to begin construction. Teams are required to evaluate alternatives and base design decisions on their analyses. The culmination of the projects is a test in which the students’ systems are tested against their predictions and in which they compete to see which team’s design performs the best.

These projects require students to develop their ability to integrate their knowledge of heat transfer, fluid dynamics and thermodynamics to develop models of their systems, which allow them to optimize their designs. Significant student-faculty interaction is generated through this exercise, and course evaluations indicate that students consider this to be a valuable experience, which increases their confidence in their ability to apply basic principles to the design of an actual thermal system.

Background: In the current undergraduate ME program at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, students have more opportunity to design and construct mechanical systems than they do thermal systems. The ABET program criteria for Mechanical Engineering1 require students to demonstrate an ability to design and realize both types of systems. The development of three different projects has allowed annual rotation of project assignments which are designed to achieve common objectives consistent with ABET criteria. The stages of analysis required before students can begin construction involve: • “Back of the envelope” calculation of maximum possible system performance. • Steady-state performance analysis assuming nominal system characteristics.

Dixon, G. (2004, June), Three Thermal Systems Design Build Test Projects Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah.

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2004 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015