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Shifting Gears in ME350

Students in the ME350 design class used to spend a good portion of their time learning failure theories and design components such as gears, bearings, screws etc. For their class project, which constitutes 40 percent of their grade, instructors would provide a list of standard components and all student teams worked on the same project (say design of an efficient elevator).

Under the leadership of Professor Sridhar Kota, the course has shifted gears. Today, students still learn how to select standard components, but also learn how to design non-standard components/sub-systems, and they are given the freedom to choose what kinds of projects they would like to work on.

"Starting from scratch, I teach them how to design a system for any mechanized motion," he explained. "And I let them have fun doing it."

Winter 2003 is only the second semester Kota has taken this approach with his students, and he feels it's been very successful. Students learn a little about the entire design process, which prepares them for more advanced design projects down the road. Students in the Fall 2003 class designed everything from an inchworm toy to a mechanized weight-lifting spotter, to an improved soccer ball kicker. Kota enthusiastically acknowledges his able teaching assistant, Charles Kim for his contributions beyond the call of duty and his passion for engineering education.

After Kota provides examples of possible projects, students working in teams think of ideas for their own designs. They perform a patent search to ascertain that their idea has not already been implemented, and write a project proposal. Kota and Kim read the proposals and ensure that the scope and complexity are appropriate for the course.

Kota asks, "Is it possible to frame this as a practical problem in terms of theory I teach?" He stresses that all projects must deal with real constraints. If a team wants to design say a tail-gate mechanism for a truck, team members must be able to describe on which truck or trucks their device will work so as to meet real packaging constraints.

Once their proposals are accepted, teams create their unique system design using synthesis methods they learn in class (rather than tinkering by trial and error), model it in ADAMS (3D dynamic modeling software), and build a prototype in the student design lab. Students must also size each of the standard components such as gears, bearings, springs and motors based on the force analysis (using ADAMS). This adds realism to their component selection rather than dry end-of-the-chapter problems. Projects are displayed during the ME Design Expo held each semester, along with projects from ME250 and ME450 design classes. This semester's Expo is set for 1:00-5:00 p.m. Thursday, April 10, in the Media Union.

The underlying theory, Kota said, is to "capture the fundamentals needed to synthesize and analyze mechanized motions, be it a prosthetic knee mechanism or a manufacturing automation mechanism, and thereby offering the openness to create something unique that interests students."

Choose one of the sample projects listed below to view a description and QuickTime movie. This is only a brief representation of the many interesting projects students undertook during fall term.

Armrest Server

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An Inchworm Mechanism

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Improved Under-Vehicle Spare Tire Carrier

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Improved Soccer Ball Kicker

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Convertible Jeep Mechanism

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Super Shelf

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Biz - E - Boy: The Armchair Table

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Pro Spotter 900

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