Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering
The Power of Interdisciplinary Capstone Design Projects
Prof. Tim Simpson
Penn State University
Monday, June 24, 2013 at 3:00:00 PM
MRDC Building, Room 4211
Dr. Simpson is currently a Professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at Penn State with affiliations in Engineering Design and the College of Information Sciences & Technology. He has been involved with over $65M in funding for his research in product family and product platform design, additive manufacturing, and trade space exploration, and he has published over 250 peer-reviewed papers to date. Founded in 1995, the mission of the Learning Factory at Penn State has been to integrate real-world, hands-on design/build experiences into the engineering classroom through industry-sponsored capstone design projects. While the Learning Factory began like many other capstone design programs by catering primarily to mechanical and industrial engineering, a new college-wide capstone model emerged over the past five years to enable interdisciplinary design teams across multiple departments. First 3, then 4, 5, 8, and now 12 engineering majors regularly participate in what has become the largest industry-supported and college-wide capstone design program in the nation. Now more than 70% of the capstone design teams involve students from two or more disciplines, with some teams consisting of 4-5 different engineering majors. At the same time that we improved our ability to work across disciplinary boundaries, many entrepreneurs and start-up firms became aware of our capstone design program, and we found ourselves working with them on projects involving concept development and prototyping. As a result, the number of capstone design projects sponsored by “real” entrepreneurs and start-ups has increased eight-fold over the past five years: from 5 capstone projects in 2007/08 to over 40 projects in 2011/12. I will discuss the factors that fueled this growth, including industry-friendly intellectual property and non-disclosure agreements, low-cost sponsorship, a multidisciplinary capstone design section that satisfied the ABET requirements among participating departments, and student interest in making a significant and immediate impact on their industry-sponsored project. The risks and challenges of working with entrepreneurs and start-ups will also be discussed, namely, managing sponsor’s expectations, working with non-technical sponsors, clarifying project scope, avoiding project creep, and emphasizing the educational experience over project outcomes. Several examples will be discussed to help illustrate these challenges.
Dr. Simpson is currently a Professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at Penn State with affiliations in Engineering Design and the College of Information Sciences & Technology. He has been involved with over $65M in funding for his research in product family and product platform design, additive manufacturing, and trade space exploration, and he has published over 250 peer-reviewed papers to date. He served as Director of the Learning Factory from 2007-2012 during which time student involvement doubled, industry sponsorship tripled, department engagement quadrupled, and college involvement increased five-fold. He is a Fellow of ASME and an Associate Fellow of AIAA, and he is a recipient of the ASEE Fred Merryfield Design Award, a SAE Ralph R. Teetor Educational Award, and a NSF CAREER Award. He received his Ph.D. and M.S. degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Georgia Tech, and he received his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell University.