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Session 11b2

The Capstone Design Experience in Mechanical Engineering at Howard University
Lewis Thigpen and Emmanuel Glakpe
Department of Mechanical Engineering
Howard University
Washington, DC 20059

Abstract - In this paper, the authors describe innovations
that have taken place and continuous quality improvements
that have been achieved in the capstone design stem of the
mechanical engineering curriculum over the last ten years.
Prior to 1989, the two-semester design course was offered
by individual faculty members in a format similar to an
independent study course with minimal quality control.
Through a revision in the curriculum, the new capstone
design course was offered for the first time in fall 1989 with
involvement from a sponsoring industrial affiliate. The
industrial partner proposes a real world project that may
fall into one of three categories: a design project that has
been completed by a team of engineers, or one that is in
progress, or a totally new concept of commercial interest to
the industrial affiliate. In each case students work in
competitive teams to develop design concepts, conduct
research, apply basic mathematics and engineering science
principles to complete the design in order to meet
specifications imposed on the design.
Departmental efforts in providing quality education to
students through an integrated educational experience in
the terminal portion of the engineering curriculum are
described and discussed in the paper. Additionally, the
paper expands on the role of the industrial affiliate, the
state of the art tools that are available to the students, and
most importantly the effect of the new capstone design
course on the marketability of the graduates of the
department.

Introduction
Accreditation guidelines require that some integrated
educational experience in the terminal portion of the
program be dedicated primarily or in its entirety to
engineering design. Documented evidence of the student’s
participation must be provided for evaluation by the visiting
accrediting team. A meaningful major design experience
means that, at some point when the student’s academic
development is nearly complete, there should be a design
experience that both focuses the student’s attention on
professional practice and is drawn from past course work.
Inevitably, this means a course, or a project, or a thesis that
focuses upon design. “Meaningful” implies that the design

experience is significant within the student’s major and that
it draws upon previous course work, but not necessarily
upon every course taken by the student.
The department of Mechanical Engineering at Howard
University has over the years satisfied the major design
requirement with a two-semester capstone design course.
Prior to the 1989-1990 academic year, this requirement was
satisfied with each student pursuing a design project with a
departmental faculty member. The conduct of the project
and the grading of the work were solely the responsibilities
of the student and the chosen faculty member. The twosemester course has since been restructured to involve a
design project proposed by and with continuous
involvement by industry. Thigpen et al [1,2,3] and Thigpen
[4] document the conduct of the course in the early years of
the restructured course in papers. In the first seven years
(1990-1996), Sundstrand Aerospace Corporation in
Rockford, Illinois sponsored the projects. Currently, the
department is affiliated with Boeing Helicopters in
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
In the restructured senior capstone design course,
students work in independent teams (of no more than three
students) under the guidance of the coordinating full time
faculty member and a team of practicing engineers from
industry. The key design engineers are appointed to the
faculty, without compensation, in order to involve them in
all facets of instruction including grade assignments. Prerequisites for enrolling in the capstone design course
include successful completion of courses in graphics, solid
mechanics, fluid mechanics, material science, computer
programming and a course on the design of engineering
systems. Additionally, the students are required to enroll
simultaneously in courses in computer-aided design and the
design of mechanical components.
The overall objectives of the two-semester capstone
design course are to prepare the students for an industrial
work environment, to develop the professional skills of the
students, and to apply fundamental, basic scientific and
engineering principles to a design that satisfies a need. This
paper provides a description of the capstone design course
in mechanical engineering at Howard University, the
methods of instruction and evaluation, innovations that
have been implemented in the conduct of the course, and

0-7803-5643-8/99/$10.00 © 1999 IEEE
November 10 - 13, 1999 San Juan, Puerto Rico
29th ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference
11b2-25

and teamwork. experience. P a r t s L i s t C o m p o n e n t S izin g & A n a ly s is Prelimin a r y W e ig h t E s t i m a t e D y n a m ic A n a ly s is R e p o r t S u b m is s io n Prelimin a r y D e s ig n R e v i e w S pr i n g S e m e s t e r 1 9 9 7 F in a l Co m p o n e n t S izin g & A n a ly s is F in a l Ballo o n L a y o u t & P a r t s L is t F in a l D i m e n s i o n i n g A n a l y s i s F in a l W eig h t C a l c u latio n s F in a l D e s ig n R e p o r t S u b m is s io n Critical Design Review Figure 1 Capstone Design Task Schedule representatives review candidate projects that have been proposed and a selection of a project is made based on the Course Philosophy merits of each project. of students in preparing them to function effectively in an The first class meeting takes place without the industry industrial environment.Session 11b2 the value of the course in preparing students for the industrial work environment. The communication and a high level of technical skills. & S k e t c h e s Trade Study Prelimin a r y L a y o u t . Each potential project is based on actual hardware in use or hardware proposed to be used in The capstone design course focuses on developing the skills industry. & S u b m i t Q u e s t io n s D e s ig n C o n c e p t . The course emphasizes the orients the students to the expectations of the faculty in industrial work environment. Puerto Rico 29th ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference 11b2-26 . emphasized to the students as an important ingredient in summer internships and the senior capstone design succeeding in an industrial environment.13. At this meeting. professional engineering meeting curriculum requirements. that describes the project with objectives and design solutions. a faculty coordinator or 2 9 October 16 23 30 November 6 13 20 27 December 4 11 Fall S e m e s t e r 1 9 9 6 Orientation & Initial Class M eeting In d u s t ry L ia is o n Vis it R e v ie w S p e c . Aug. Our approach is to provide the design project to the students. The two-semester senior design course offered Approximately a week after the initial orientation. A course syllabus is skills. A preliminary task schedule. 1 shows an example of the task schedule for 0-7803-5643-8/99/$10. the in the department provides a credible industrial design industry representative makes a formal presentation of the experience for its students. D iag m s . class professional ethics are also important elements of the attendance policies and key dates for submission of reports course. and design review with the faculty and industry Industry values employees with industrial experience and representatives. the faculty coordinator confines of an academic setting. At this meeting. Fig. communication skills. Our importance of forming teams that will work together is students obtain this experience through co-op programs. effective team leader and to select a name for the team. structure. Initiative and given to the students and provides details on grading. designate a environment that promotes team work. the students are requested a demonstration of qualities that allow one to function in an to form teams of no more than three students. similar to a request for proposal from industry who are actively engaged in the search for (RFP). B a llo o n . 30 September 11 18 25 Working with the industrial sponsor during the summer preceding an academic year. This goal is carried out within the representative(s). 1999 San Juan. The students are furnished opportunity for students to work on a project with engineers with a design manual. an explanation of hardware function and a review of the project tasks.00 © 1999 IEEE November 10 . based on Implementation an effort of approximately 10 to 14 hours per week is also provided.

the technical analyses involved in the design.Session 11b2 the design project for the 1996-1997 academic year. Examples of Design Projects Over the last ten years the department has been fortunate to bring industrial experience into the classroom with the support of two affiliates. Philadelphia. Detailed drawings and description of the test article (prototype design) were to be included in the test plan. Methods of actuation by electromagnetic. research into previous work. That figure was based on the amount of funds available from external sources to support the project. preliminary analysis and layout. trade studies to select the best concept to meet specification requirements. the team orally presents each report to faculty and industry representatives in an atmosphere in which the students are given suggestions on improving their design approach. review written term reports and consult with each team individually. list of parts to be purchased and recommend vendors who could supply the parts requested. Although students have in the past made paper models of their designs. Howard University faculty also present lectures on topics of relevance to professional practice. The design project assignment for the 1996-1997 academic year was the design of a system to deploy and retract the upper and lower surface spoilers near the tip of a helicopter blade. The close proximity of the University to Boeing Helicopters allows industry representatives to lecture on various topics in between visits for design reviews. In a typical year. A brief summary of three of the design projects is provided. mechanical or thermal means were provided as suggestions to the students. Lecture topics have included gear design. each team submits written reports. a design proposal. reliability and safety. each team was allowed no more than one thousand dollars on the test portion of the project. The second semester places emphasis on detailed design. Rockford. and the industrial environment. Illinois. Each proposal was expected to address. five progress reports. This meeting is conducted in an environment in which the industry representative plays the role of a customer in need of a design to meet desired specifications and the teams of students are companies that will submit proposals in response to the RFP. The first report from the students is in the form of a proposal submitted by each team in which the students present conceptual ideas on solving the design problem. Due to limited resources. students learn the iterative design process by constantly modifying their design layout based on trade studies supported by technical analyses. Boeing Helicopters generously provided the funding for the project during the 1998-1999 academic year. design philosophy. a product based on an aspect of the design. hydraulic or pneumatic. each team was required to submit a proposal with a detailed test plan. The student teams make presentations of their proposals to the faculty and the industry representatives in the absence of the other student teams. brainstorming. at the minimum. Puerto Rico 29th ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference 11b2-27 . finalized set of drawings and additionally. the other teams are excluded during each design review to promote competition to motivate serious design effort. Throughout both semesters. Entries into the second semester are omitted in order to encourage the teams to design their own task schedules to meet the imposed deadlines by the faculty coordinator and industry representatives. beginning with the 1998-1999 design project class.13. Additionally. and Boeing Helicopters. The assumptions that would be made during the test and their impact on the design analysis had to be stated and justified. Pennsylvania. The first semester emphasizes conceptual design. ethics. a number of critical issues relevant to the design project. Conduct of the Design Course The first step in the design process is for the students to read and understand the design project and specifications. To receive financial support for the design. The students are encouraged to seek help from other faculty in the department in addition to communicating with the industry representatives by electronic mail. The class meets once per week for three hours. Prior to submitting a proposal. Sundstrand Corporation. The scope of the test plan had to be clearly defined to include the intended accomplishments. The industry representatives visit the class on a regular basis to listen to oral presentations by the teams. The test plan and the budget requested were reviewed by the faculty coordinator and industry representatives. the teams were strongly encouraged to use existing resources in the department in order to reduce the cost of the project. Since all the teams work on the same project. the 1998-1999 year’s class was provided financial resources to build and test some aspects of their design. Table 1 shows titles of design projects that were proposed during each academic by the sponsoring industry. manufacturing methods and testing phases of the design. finalized analysis.00 © 1999 IEEE November 10 . 1999 San Juan. the students discuss their conceptual designs in addition to the schedule for completion of the work. strategies for making technical presentations. students in the class of 1998-1999 were required to build and test a model of their designs. students were urged to discuss their requests with a departmental technician to eliminate any duplication of required parts and efforts. a first semester final report and a cumulative report at the end of the second semester. During the first presentations. As stated earlier. The spoilers are to 0-7803-5643-8/99/$10.

Grading Table 1.13. the landing gear shock absorber performance can be optimized for all landing parameters. grades are submitted at the end of each semester. BVI noise is considered to be a hindrance to community acceptance of heliports. the functional description of the design. student. The grade received by a student is based not only on quality and success of the effort of the team. In the 1997-1998 academic year the student teams designed a landing gear for a tilt rotor aircraft. that individual student may get practical design project and that industry representatives a grade higher or lower than the team grade. the air chamber acts as a spring and the oil chamber performs the function of a damper by metering oil flow from a high pressure volume to a low pressure volume and back again. but also on the contribution of each team member. In operation. member scores each other’s effort on an Individual Effort This grading policy has worked very successfully with very Report Card (IERC) at the submission of each written few complaints from the students. the landing gear shock absorbers are oleopneumatic devices made up of an oil chamber and an air chamber. 1999 San Juan.00 © 1999 IEEE November 10 . Although the capstone design project covers two semesters. which currently number from two to five. Following the final presentations in each semester. Puerto Rico 29th ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference 11b2-28 . If an individual’s effort is substantially higher or The key features of the course are students work on a lower than other teammates. In addition to its use in assigning an individual grade. With a team grade and a measure engineering department at Howard University with active of individual contribution. the IERC allows the faculty coordinator to identify Summary problems with team cooperation and attempt to take corrective measures in counseling sessions before they A two-semester capstone design course in the mechanical become serious problems. The evaluation of the design project is based on the final oral presentation and all written reports with more emphasis placed on the later. the accuracy of the technical analyses performed. Each team the students and reiterated during the first class meeting. the student teams were required to design an active landing gear for an aircraft.Session 11b2 be deployed during powered descent to reduce or eliminate Blade Vortex Interaction (BVI) noise. report. An equitable assignment of grades is the most difficult task for faculty and industry representatives in a team project type course. This system works very effectively but is still a compromise at best for all the given conditions the landing gear has to perform. For the 1998-1999 academic year. the ability of the design to meet the specification requirements. The project reports are evaluated relative to the intrinsic value of the design. If the oil properties and or volume along with the air pressure and volume can be altered through predetermined parameters. A team grade is assigned based on inputs of team performance from the faculty coordinator and recommendations from the industry representatives. and the clarity of the written reports. the industry representatives and the faculty meet in a grading session. Past and Current Design Projects Academic Year 1989-90 1990-91 1991-92 1992-93 Project Title Sponsoring Organization Sundstrand Sundstrand Sundstrand Sundstrand The RAT Deployment Actuator Design of Leading Edge Slat Actuator Design of an Electromechanical Linear Actuator Design of an Auxiliary Power Unit Gearbox for 737 Aircraft 1993-94 Design of F-22 Asymmetry Brake Sundstrand 1994-95 Design of F-22 Power Drive Unit Sundstrand 1995-96 Global Express Wing Tip Brake Sundstrand 1996-97 Design of Localized Flow Spoilers on Rotor Blades Boeing Helicopters 1997-98 A Fuselage Mounted Main Landing Gear Design for a Boeing Helicopters Tilt rotor Aircraft 1998-99 Design of an Active Aircraft Landing Gear for the Boeing Helicopters Chinook CH-47 Tandem Rotor policy is documented in the course syllabus that is given to Team members measure individual effort. a grade is assigned to each participation by an industrial sponsor has been described. The grading 0-7803-5643-8/99/$10. As a passive system.

the students are able to visit the Boeing facilities to obtain a first hand knowledge of a modern industrial complex. The course provides skills in written and oral communication. Puerto Rico 29th ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference 11b2-29 .K. Educating World-Class 0-7803-5643-8/99/$10... Hou. pp. A design laboratory with fully networked computer workstations is available for use by the students in all aspects of the design process.” Innovations in Engineering Design Education. R.. Engineering Foundation Conference Proceedings.. Santa Barbara. v-39-v-40. ASME. 2.Session 11b2 participate in teaching the course throughout the academic year. Thigpen. Engineers. CA. Creativity. Students of the department are better prepared for the industrial work environment when they complete the program and accept their first engineering job offers. Ohio. L.N. L. The design laboratory also serves as a place for team presentations and discussions. Edited by W.13. L. the students are provided limited financial resources to build and test an aspect of the design. Thigpen. 4. Carmi. 1999 San Juan. design engineers and financial resources is highly commended. and Glakpe. pp. Thigpen. In particular.. ASME 1989 Mechanical Engineering Department Heads Conference. References 1. Abstract. J. pp. Fairchild. For the first time in the conduct of the restructured design course. Orlando... “Innovations in the Teaching of Design in Mechanical Engineering at Howard University”. J. 2. the authors wish to thank David Levermore. The continued success of the restructured capstone design course is possible with the level of involvement of industry described in the paper. June 1992. “Introducing Industry Culture in the Engineering Curriculum. Alex Schonfeld. 3. L. Leo Dadone and Forrest Olmstead for their continued interest in the education of students in the department. Proceedings. A number of improvements have been made in the execution of the academic-industry partnership in recent years.. Jason Marshall. pp. January 1989. “A Successful Capstone Design Course Featuring Industry Involvement”. The support of Boeing Helicopters in continuing the initial effort by providing design projects. and Cannon.. March 1993. One suggestion is to introduce the design project to the students in the last semester of the junior year in an existing design course. Aung and S. 287-290. Due to the close proximity of Boeing Helicopters to the University. Engineering Education: Curriculum Innovation and Integration.. Acknowledgements The support of the Sundstrand Corporation in the restructure of the Capstone Design course is appreciated. enhancement of technical skills and the ability to work effectively as a team in completing design tasks to meet design specifications. Toledo. In addition to word processing and presentations software. E. and as a repository for limited design literature. This and other suggestions have been documented and will be evaluated and possibly implemented in a review of an ongoing curriculum restructuring. ASEE Annual Conference Proceedings. Orlando. Thigpen. 1256-1263. Over the years industry representatives have made very useful informal suggestions in improving the quality of the course. the workstations are equipped to access technical programs that include the current versions of ANSYS and AutoCAD from the local network server.00 © 1999 IEEE November 10 .. 315-319. C. FL. “Academic/Industrial Cooperation in the Teaching of Process Design”. Vol. and Nallenweg.. January 1992. FL.