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AC 2010-136: AN AUTOMATED BOTTLE FILLING AND CAPPING PROJECT

FOR FRESHMAN ENGINEERING STUDENTS

Kala Meah, York College of Pennsylvania


Kala Meah received his B.Sc. from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology in
1998, M.Sc. from South Dakota State University in 2003, and Ph.D. from the University of
Wyoming in 2007, all in Electrical Engineering. Between 1998 and 2000 he worked for several
power industries in Bangladesh. Dr. Meah is an Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer
Engineering, Department of Physical Science at York College of Pennsylvania. His research
interest includes electrical power, HVDC transmission, renewable energy, power engineering
education, and energy conversion.

Timothy Garrison, York College of Pennsylvania


Tim Garrison is the coordinator of the mechanical engineering program at York College. He
received his BS and PhD degrees from Penn State University and his MS degree from Stanford.
He has worked in industry for both AT&T Bell Laboratories and AT&T Federal Systems. He has
taught a broad range of classes across the mechanical engineering curriculum. His research
interests are in the areas of experimental fluid mechanics, thermal sciences and engineering
education.

James Kearns, York College of Pennsylvania


James Kearns received his BSME (SEAS) and BS Economics (Wharton), University of
Pennsylvania; M.Eng., Carnegie-Mellon University; PhD, Georgia Tech. Dr. Kearns was a
Post-Doctoral Fellow with ARL, University of Texas at Austin. Currently, Dr. Kearns is an
Associate Professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering, Department of Physical Science,
at York College of Pennsylvania. His research interests include noise and vibration control,
acoustic diffraction phenomena, outdoor sound Propagation, design of smart quiet structures,
electrical energy, and engineering education.

Gregory Link, York College of Pennsylvania


Greg Link is an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the York College of
Pennsylvania. He received his B.S. in Physics from Juniata College and his BS in Electrical
Engineering from the Pennsylvania State University, where he went on to complete his PhD in
2006 under Dr. N. Vijaykrishnan. His areas of interest include embedded systems design,
microprocessor systems development, network-on-chip design, and temperature-aware
computing.

Laura Garrison, York College of Pennsylvania


Dr. Laura Garrison received her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Texas
and her M.S. in Operations Research from Stanford University. She then worked for AT&T Bell
Laboratories and AT&T Federal Systems before deciding to pursue her Ph.D. in Bioengineering
at Penn State University in the area of experimental fluid mechanics associated with the artificial
heart. After graduating, she worked at Voith Hydro for five years in the area of Computational
Fluid Mechanics. For the last eight years, she has been a professor at York College of
Pennsylvania where she teaches thermal sciences, freshmen design courses, and computer
programming.
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Wayne Blanding, York College of Pennsylvania


Wayne Blanding received his B.S. degree in Systems Engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy
in 1982, Ocean Engineer degree from the MIT/Woods Hole Joint Program in Ocean Engineering
in 1990, and PhD in Electrical Engineering from the University of Connecticut in 2007. From
1982 to 2002 was an officer in the U.S. Navy’s submarine force. He is currently an Assistant

© American Society for Engineering Education, 2010


Professor of Electrical Engineering at York College of Pennsylvania. His research interests
include target tracking, detection, estimation, and engineering education.

Emine Celik, York College of Pennsylvania


Emine Celik is currently an Assistant Professor at York College of Pennsylvania. In 2008, she
worked as a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Mechanical Engineering Department at Johns
Hopkins University. She received her Master of Science and Ph.D degrees in Mechanical
Engineering from Lehigh University. Emine Celik’s research interests include design and
development of engineering systems using analytical and experimental approaches (advanced
global imaging techniques). Areas of applications include flow-induced vibrations, flow around
bluff bodies, airfoils, perforated plates, cavity configurations, and biomedical devices.

Stephen Kuchnicki, York College of Pennsylvania


Dr. Stephen Kuchnicki is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at York College of
Pennsylvania. Previously, he was a postdoctoral research associate at Rutgers University,
specializing in computational modeling of dynamic deformations in solids. His areas of technical
expertise include solid mechanics, crystal plasticity, vibration, and fluid-structure interaction. He
received his PhD from Rutgers University in 2001.

Jennifer Dawson, York College of Pennsylvania


Dr. Jennifer Bower Dawson is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at York College
of Pennsylvania where she teaches courses in Machine Design, Controls, and Capstone Design.
She earned her MS and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University where she
worked on the design and testing of spacecraft hardware for Satellite Test of the Equivalence
Principle. Her academic interests include robotics, sensor design, precision engineering, and
service learning in engineering education.

Barry McFarland, York College of Pennsylvania


Barry McFarland received his BS in Technology Education from Millersville University in 1971
and MS in Technology Education from the Pennsylvania State University in 1981. Currently, Mr.
McFarland is the Machine Shop Manager in the Department of Physical Science at York College
of Pennsylvania.

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© American Society for Engineering Education, 2010


An Automated Bottle Filling and Capping Project for Freshman Engineering
Students

Abstract: All freshman engineering students at York College participate in a spring semester
design challenge as part of a year-long, two-course introduction to engineering. This paper
describes the course organization, the project goals, and project itself and how it supports the
broader engineering curriculum goals of engaging freshman engineering students in a design
project, exposing them in an interesting way to the breath of engineering, and motivating them in
their engineering studies.

The students work in small teams and have roughly 12 weeks to design an automated electro-
mechanical system that first transports three empty Snapple bottles, three tennis balls, and 36 oz.
of water to a 2⁄x3⁄ operational zone. The machine must fill each bottle with 12 oz. of water, cap
each bottle by covering the top with a tennis ball, and then deliver the capped and filled bottles to
an area outside of the operational zone.

The bottle-filling project serves as the second of two interdisciplinary engineering design
experiences during the freshman year. It introduces aspects of computer, electrical, and
mechanical engineering, including the following five primary knowledge areas: (i) machining
and fabrication; (ii) electronic circuit prototyping and programming; (iii) sensor and actuator
applications; (iv) mechanical design; (v) project planning; and (vi) presentation skills.

A project demonstration at the end of the semester determines the relative effectiveness of each
machine based upon a number of quantitative factors, including the total time required to
complete the overall process, the volume of water in each bottle, the number of bottles
successfully capped, the amount of water spilled, and approximate manufacturing cost. Some
qualitative factors considered are simplicity, creativity, and aesthetics. Student interest in this
substantial hands-on experience, as measured by surveys and exhibited by attendance,
enthusiasm, productivity, and success, appears to be high through the three years it has been
assigned.

1. Introduction

Traditionally, engineering curricula at the college or university level provide solid backgrounds
of theory and analysis before progressing to any significant practical and creative activities. The
engineering faculty at York College believes that for many students this is not the best approach.
First-year engineering students are often enthusiastic about engineering, science, and technology,
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but many students find that their zeal is diminished due to the gap between engineering practice
and analysis [1]. These students also tend to lack motivation when studying fundamental courses
such as calculus, differential equations, engineering mathematics, and physics, in part because
these early courses often have less focus on application of this knowledge and the students do not
understand how these courses relate to engineering. Additionally, the traditional freshman
curriculum does not give the student an opportunity to discover the differences between the
various engineering majors and how different fields of engineering interact. The engineering
faculty at York College also believes that it is important to provide the students with ample
opportunities to practice design within the curriculum. It is estimated that 70 percent or more of
the life cycle cost of a product is determined during design and employers find that recent
engineering graduates are weak in this area [2]. Reasons for the inadequacy of undergraduate
engineering design education include: weak requirements for design content in engineering
curricula (many institutions do not meet even existing accreditation criteria); lack of truly
interdisciplinary teams in design courses; and fragmented, discipline-specific, and uncoordinated
teaching [2].

Emphasis on freshman design projects has been increasing in recent years [3-9]. These design
projects can give the students a creative outlet and are typically fun. A design project can
introduce engineering applications early in the curriculum and provide for later cross-connection
with theoretical courses. Projects also can introduce students to the differences among
engineering majors so they can choose the major that is right for them. Recent studies also show
that creative design projects during the early semesters improve student retention rates and
increase motivation among engineering students [10]. Additionally, project courses provide
opportunities for students to improve their teamwork and communication skills.

While many higher education institutions either do not offer any freshman engineering course or
offer a basic engineering course without any hands-on experience, there are many institutions
have adopted engineering design project-based freshman courses. A one credit hands-on
introductory course in electrical and computer engineering using a variety of topic modules is
introduced in Pierre, et al [3]. The course is designed for electrical and computer engineering
freshmen using several modules. Each topic module demonstrates one application of a device,
for example a microprocessor being used to control a stoplight, and then discusses many other
ways this particular device can be used [3]. A freshman engineering design projects class is
described in reference [4] that involves students in the design of assistive technology devices for
clients from the community as a part of the new integrated teaching and learning laboratory at
the University of Colorado. Embedded system is introduced in the freshman year using LEGO
Mindstorms. Students are required to build LEGO robots, program them, and operate them
according to the instruction [5]. An engineering design project under coalition program is
described in reference [6]. An automatic irrigation system powered by solar energy was
introduced in the freshman year to motivate the students towards engineering major [7]. In
reference [8] a client based design project is introduced for the freshman students. Students are
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required to build a working prototype of the design project specified by the client.
Multidisciplinary team projects such as trebuchets, sumo cars, hill-climbing vehicles, rope
climbing devices, and the basic engineering vehicle launched bridge were introduced in the
freshman year to enhance the student interest in engineering [9].

The current paper describes a freshman engineering design course that integrates aspects of three
majors: computer, electrical, and mechanical engineering. This course was designed to provide
the following benefits to students. The course should:

≠ expose students to applications of multiple engineering disciplines in an interesting way;


≠ allow students to work in a multidisciplinary team;
≠ introduce time management tools such as Gantt charts;
≠ be based on a real-world application;
≠ provide hands-on experience;
≠ familiarize the students with basics of engineering design;
≠ promote interaction with engineering faculty and staff;
≠ develop technical writing and communication skills.

2. Course Organization

The course is scheduled as a 6 hour laboratory, meeting three times per week for two hours per
session, with four faculty instructing. As the course supports a large number of students (96
students at most in the current organization), and large class sizes would limit student-faculty
interaction, the students are distributed into six approximately equal smaller groupings. On any
given day of the week, these six groups are distributed among three classrooms and activities,
each of which has a different emphasis: ‘learn’, ‘plan’, and ‘do’. The two groups in the ‘plan’
classroom, for example, are assisted by two of the faculty, who primarily focus on the design and
planning aspect of the course, as well as presentation style and assessing student progress week
to week. The two groups assigned to ‘do’ are not directly instructed by faculty, but instead to
meet and work on the design itself, whether that is drawing up ideas, programming, testing, or
assembly. The two groups assigned to ‘learn’ on a given day are separated, such that one of the
groups is learning basic electronics and programming, while the other is working in the machine
shop. This further subdivision ensures that at most one-sixth of the total student body is in the
machine shop at a given time, reducing workload on the instructor teaching machinery and
helping ensure student safety. While this does mean that a given group of students only learns
electronics for one two-hour session every other week, we have found that directed instruction in
these periods is sufficient to allow students to achieve the end of semester goals. In the case of
York College, this rotating schedule provided at most a 16:1 student to faculty ratio during the
time in which students were supervised.

Each of the groups of 16 students is divided up into three to four project teams, giving team sizes
of four to six students. In our experience, while groups of four students are quite capable of
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completing the semester project, it is often preferential to have groups of five or six students, as
the unexpected absence of a teammate due to illness or withdrawal from the course can
otherwise be demoralizing, as the team feels that they are ‘undermanned’ if left with only three
members. Over the course of the semester, these teams produce plans, formulate design
methodologies, build prototypes, test and finalize the system, and prepare reports and
presentations.

The first day the students meet in the machine shop, they are taught general shop safety. Safety
continues to be of primary importance throughout the semester and is stressed at all times. All
students are issued safety glasses and are required to be dressed properly while in the laboratory.
During the semester, students are given safety and hands-on instruction on the use of the
following machines: manual milling machine, manual and CNC lathe, pedestal grinder, surface
grinder, horizontal cutoff saw, vertical band saw, and numerous hand tools. A unit in the wood
shop instructs students in the safe use of the table saw, band saw, hot-wire styrofoam cutter, and
various hand tools. Each student in the course, regardless of major, is required to machine at
least one component for the team project, allowing all engineering students to gain early insight
to the importance of design for manufacturing techniques. Other tooling and manufacturing
techniques can be introduced as well depending on institutional resources and student interest.
As an example, at York College, interested students can be introduced to fabrication using
Tungsten Inert Gas (TIG), Metal Inert Gas (MIG), and stick welders if their design requires the
use of such tools.

In our experience, the first four sessions of machine shop training provide the skills students
need, allowing the remaining sessions to be used for the production of these components.
Machine shop time also provides students with hands-on knowledge of assembly and design
techniques to produce an efficient and effective device. Machine shop experience helps students
to understand basic aspects of machine design, including operation of belts, chains, and other
moving parts, and the stability of structures. Students also gain manufacturing insight, bridging
some of the gap between conceptual design and difficulty of fabrication.

In the electronics laboratory sessions, students program microprocessors to control the action of
motors based on sensor input. As this course has no pre-requisite knowledge, care must be taken
to not overwhelm the students with information and options. At York College, the instructors
generally choose a single microcontroller (such as the Arduino or Picaxe) and output driver (such
as the SN754410, ULN2803, or power MOSFET) each semester, and focus on the knowledge
directly necessary for the project. The first meeting generally focuses on how to assemble the
basic microcontroller skeleton (which may include a programming connector, oscillator, and
decoupling capacitors), use the bench power supply, and use a provided skeleton program with
simple “PinWrite(0,1” or “SET PORTA HIGH” commands to blink an LED attached to the
microcontroller. The second session focuses on very simple dead reckoned motor/valve control,
including how to connect the chosen output driver, and how to use delay statements to cause a
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motor to turn on for X seconds, then off for Y seconds. At this point, it is important to emphasize
to the students that this is a sufficient set of knowledge to begin their project – if nothing else, a
modicum of success can be had through a dead reckoned system. The third electronics session
covers selection/if statements and the basics of a touch sensor/button circuit with pull-down
resistor, and a bit of analog input if time permits. As the students meet for electronics session
only once every two weeks, all students in the course should therefore have the basic skillset
necessary to understand how to design a simple device by the sixth week of the semester. As
only three to four project teams meet with the electronics instructor at a time, later sessions can
focus more heavily on the needs of individual project teams and designs, including the use of
infrared LED-based photosensors, relays, or function calls as appropriate.

Finally, in the ‘plan’ session each week, the students are taught elements of the engineering
design process. These elements of design include: brainstorming, project management,
purchasing, testing, documentation including flowcharting and schematics, cost estimation, and
presentation skills. Each week, students are given homework assignments in which they apply
these concepts to their particular design. The order that these topics are covered follows the
order in which they design and present their projects. The flow chart in Fig. 1 shows a step-by-
step design methodology of a typical design project and the topics can be divided into three
primary stages as described below:

Stage 1:
≠ Identify system’s design requirements/specifications.
≠ Discuss the design concepts with teammates.
≠ Agree on a basic design for each project subsystem.
≠ Create subgroups to concentrate on various aspects of the design.
Stage 2:
≠ Prepare an anticipated progress chart of the project.
≠ Create a parts list.
≠ Purchase or otherwise acquire equipment.
≠ Build a prototype of each component.
≠ Test the prototype.
≠ Build the interface.
≠ Test the interface.

Stage 3:
≠ Build the system.
≠ Test the system.
≠ Make final adjustments.
≠ Finalize the system.

An organized, methodological, effective design process, as described above, can improve


quality, reduce costs, and speed time to market, and thereby better matching products to
customer needs [2]. It is worth noting that, because of the time limitation of the project (one
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semester), students have very limited opportunities to make any major changes to the design.
Thus, the students learn that well-planned design project is very important.
Within the design portion of the course, the students are also introduced to typical components
that they may wish to incorporate into their designs. These components include sensors, motors,
and valves.

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Fig. 1: Flow chart for a typical design project


3. Project Description

The overall objective of this project is to transfer 12 ounces of water from a reservoir into each
of three empty SnappleTM bottles and to then cap each bottle with a tennis ball. The entire
process must be completed by an automated device or system designed and built by each student
team.

A successful project must satisfy the following constraints:

Control
≠ The device or system must be operated in fully autonomous mode. In this mode the
device or system operates without any human interaction aside from a start command.
≠ The device or system cannot be controlled through direct manual interaction. A deduction
to the project score is applied for any human interaction after the initial start command.
Power
≠ The device or system can be powered entirely or in part by a regulated direct current
(DC) power supply that is provided to the project teams. The maximum allowed DC
voltage and power are 24 V and 140 W, respectively. Even then, the 24V supply is
traditionally only allowed for valves that explicitly require it, and motors are limited to
12V and 50W. This power limitation helps reduce the chance of electrical or mechanical
harm to students. No alternating current (AC) power can be used directly to power the
device or system. The device or system can be powered entirely or in part by gravity as
well.
Spatial Constraints
≠ The filling and capping procedures must take place within an operational space that is 2′
wide and by 3′ long. The height of the operational space is limited only by the ceiling in
the room. The entire device, including the operational space, structure and required
machinery must fit on top of a 2′ wide by 6′ long table.
≠ The bottles, balls, and reservoir must be outside of the operational space when the overall
process is initiated. The reservoir may not be moved once the process is initiated. The
filling and capping procedures must occur in the operational space, and the filled bottle
must be moved out of the operational space to complete the overall process.
Reservoir
≠ Each group uses an identical water reservoir that is provided by the faculty. It must have
at least 64 ounces of water at the beginning of each run. The reservoir has near its bottom
a port through which water can be drawn. The reservoir must be open to the. Water may
be drawn from the reservoir by a pump or by gravity, or other effects not violating the
rules of the project. Water that is taken from the reservoir may not be returned to the
reservoir, as would be required by food sanitation regulations.
Budget
≠ Each group is provided with a strict budget of $100.00. Most of the components for the
project are supplied from department stock. Available materials include wood, plastic
tubing, motors, sensors, actuators, microcontroller boards, and electronic devices. The
cost of these components is not counted as part of the team budget, although they will be
included in the estimated manufacturing cost. If the project requires some components
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that are not in the stockroom, students can buy them from their budget with faculty
approval.

Students are responsible for selecting appropriate components and materials for the project
within the constraints described above. Faculty and staff are available to help students with
component selection.

4. Facilities

As noted previously, the design project described in this paper is conducted in three different
locations: electronics laboratory, machine shop, and project workspace.

The electronics laboratory, shown in Fig. 2, is equipped with power supplies, digital multimeters,
microcontroller boards, computers, oscilloscopes, signal generators, solenoid bulbs, and other
electronic components. Students learn basic breadboard techniques and test programming logic
using LEDs during the initial period of laboratory exercises. Once the logic works as desired
students build prototypes and test circuit operation with sensors, actuators, and motor in the
electronics laboratory.

Fig. 2: The electronic laboratory

The machine shop in Fig. 3 is equipped with typical tooling for metal and wood, as well as a
welding shop. Although the York College machine shop is well-equipped, this project could be
completed without extensive machinery and/or welding.

Finally, the project workspace in Fig. 4 is used to integrate the electronics circuits with the
structural design. The York College project workspace is equipped with computers on mobile
carts, portable power supplies, large working benches, and other supplies. Again any space with
electrical outlets and that is large enough to hold the completed projects would be sufficient for
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this project.
Fig. 3: The machine shop

Fig. 4: The project workspace

5. Project Progression

During the course of the semester, the students follow the design process as described in Section
2, above. Before the students are allowed to purchase or manufacture components, they must
provide documentation of their projects in the form of flowcharts, circuit diagrams, sketches,
parts lists, and Computer Aided Design (CAD) drawings. Figures 5 and 6 are two examples of a
portion of this documentation. Figure 5 is a flowchart outlining the basic controls of a typical
project and figure 6 is a CAD sketch of project design. Each team must also provide a Gantt
chart showing their project schedule. These schedules must be kept up-to-date throughout the
semester.
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Fig. 5: A functional diagram of a typical project

Fig. 6: 3-D CAD model of a project

While the students are learning the basics of design, they are also learning enough circuit design
and programming to handle sensor input and motor / valve actuation. Figure 7 depicts a control
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circuit for one of the projects.


Fig. 7: Electronic control circuit

At three points during the semester, the students are required to present their progress to the
entire class. These presentations are treated as if they were presenting their project to potential
customers and therefore are required to dress and act professionally.

After each subsystem (conveyance, water delivery, and capping) within the project is fabricated
and tested, the final product is assembled and tested. This usually occurs within the last two or
three weeks of the semester. At the end of the semester, the students demonstrate their final
working prototype to the class and faculty.

6. Prototype Demonstration

A test of each prototype is conducted at the end of the semester to determine which team has
produced the most effective filling and capping system. The entire class is present to watch as
well as engineering and computer science faculty members (whether or not they are directly
associated with the course), and many times student family members. There were 14 teams in
the spring semester of 2009. The competition took place in the project workspace. Fig. 8 shows a
filling and capping station and the liquid measurement station.

The filling and capping system is judged on a number of factors such as the total time required to
fill the bottles, the accuracy to which the bottles are filled, the amount of spillage during the
transfer process, the ability to cap each of the bottles, and the degree of autonomy of the filling
process. Other factors that are evaluated include the simplicity, creativity, and manufacturing
cost of the design. The contributions of each team member are also determined via instructor
observation and peer evaluations. The final project evaluation can is based on the following
criteria:
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Fig.8: (a) Filling and capping station (b) Liquid measurement station

12 Ounce transfer (36 points)


Ø Liquid Transfer (ounces)
Ø Over/Under Fill (ounces)
Ø Deductions (2 pts per ounce)
Spillage (15 points)
Ø Water removed from reservoir (ounces)
Ø Water in bottles (ounces)
Ø Spillage/waste (ounces)
Ø Deductions (2 pts per ounce)
Capping (24 points)
Ø Bottles capped in zone (4 points each)
Ø Bottles capped & outside of zone (4 pts each)
Transfer time (30 points)
Ø Total time (sec)
Ø Fastest time (sec)
Functionality (45 points)
Ø Conveyor (full 15 pts, partial 7 pts)
Ø Ball Release (full 15 pts, partial 7 pts)
Ø Liquid Transfer (full 15 pts, partial 7 pts)
Ø Human Interaction Deduction (15 pts)
Subjective (40 points max)
Ø Simplicity
Ø Cost
Ø Teamwork

Liquid transfer, spillage, and capping are directly measureable. The transfer time is a relative
score that depends on the fastest design. The functionality component judges the degree of
autonomy of the design project. The ideal design project should not have any human interaction
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except pressing the start switch. The subjective score measures qualitative aspects of the
prototype and the design process listed above. Fig. 9 shows a project from the spring semester of
2009.

Fig. 9: An automated liquid filling and capping project from the spring semester of 2009

7. Course Assessment

Two sets of surveys were administered. One covered course outcomes and was administered to
juniors one and a half years after completing the course. The other primarily dealt with attitudes
towards engineering and was administered at freshman orientation before taking any engineering
courses, and then repeated on the last day of the course, at the end of the student’s freshman
year.

Table I summarizes the results of the outcomes survey given to juniors. Twenty-nine mechanical
and electrical engineering juniors took the survey, checking Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, or
Strongly Disagree for each of the statements. The numbers in the table represent the total
number of check marks in each category for each question. There were a total of 257 Strongly
Agrees and Agrees and a total of 35 Disagrees and Strongly Disagrees. It should be noted that a
portion of the Disagree and Strongly Disagree responses in the categories relating to the machine
shop, electrical circuits, and programming can be attributed to the fact that student teams were
allowed to assign different responsibilities to different team members, and therefore some did not
gain experience in all three areas.
The outcome surveys also asked the students to comment on: 1) Things I liked best about this
course; and 2) Suggestions for improvement. Table II contains the entire list of the student
comments. Note that we moved a computer programming course into the same semester in the
student’s curriculum after these students had completed the course. Because of this, we expect
fewer issues with the programming section in future years.
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This section now examines the results of the survey given to the students regarding the design
course. The students were surveyed twice. First, they were surveyed during the freshman
orientation before they took the course. The second time they were surveyed was when they
finished their freshman year (FY), right after the taking this course. The student feedback after
completing the design project is taken as a reflection of the students’ observations about the
course and engineering.

Fig. 10 shows the results for intended student majors during the open house orientation (the
students’ entering majors) and the actual major after completing the freshman year. During
orientation there were no non-engineering majors, but 6% of the students who completed the
design project either declared to pursue other disciplines or came from other disciplines. The
data shows that some students switched between the closely-related computer and electrical
engineering majors. Most declared mechanical engineering students, however, remained with
that program. This may be because the electrical and computer engineering majors are so
closely related, and the project has helped students to decide which specialization area better
suits their interests.

Table I
Junior Survey Statements and Summary of Responses
Strongly Agree Disagree Strongly
Agree Disagree
I learned about the differences among computer, 12 11 6
electrical, and mechanical engineering majors:
I improved my teamwork skills: 11 17 1

I feel confident in my ability to use Gantt charts 8 17 4


for time and project management:
I learned about various applications of 10 18 1
engineering in the real world:
I feel confident in my ability to use the machine 10 15 3
shop to construct basic parts:
I feel confident in my ability to build a simple 6 17 6
electric circuit interfacing a microcontroller to a
sensor or an actuator:
I feel confident in my ability to write a simple 7 18 5 2
program to control electrical equipment based on
sensor input:
I learned the basics of engineering design: 13 15 1

I became familiar with some of the engineering 16 12 1


faculty and now feel comfortable asking them
questions:
I improved my writing and presentation skills: 6 18 5
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Table II
Junior Survey Written Comments

Things I liked best about this course:


≠ I had fun doing this project and learned a lot about electronics. It was a great way to
start off the major because it shows how important it is to design and plan well as well
as ahead of time.
≠ Became familiar with systems I was previously unfamiliar with.
≠ I liked that it was a large scale and comprehensive project. We had to use real world
materials and programming techniques to achieve our final design. The course is very
beneficial in exposing new students to real world engineering problems.
≠ Competition was fun
≠ The project was very involved and required a high level of organization and team
cohesion.
≠ Hands-on project
≠ Team project allows you to split workload
≠ Seeing the kids that weren’t serious about engineering not her the following semesters
≠ Doing a really neat project that was fun and learned a lot from
≠ Teamwork
≠ learning principles
≠ Weeded out kids who weren’t serious
≠ Machine shop, design, working without guidance
≠ Hands on
≠ Hands on activity. Really helped decide if engineering was for me.
≠ Interesting project. Good ice breaker for engineering.
≠ I liked to be able to see a finished product working
≠ Machine shop work
≠ Gantt charts (should be followed more closely)
≠ Teamwork
≠ Building a project without using Legos.
≠ It was an actual building project (please implement more of these)
≠ You got to work with a project from conception to planning to building, and then final
presentation.
≠ That we had freedom to model what we chose to
≠ The ability to utilize the machine shop
≠ Hands on experience with projects
≠ Getting to work with your hands
≠ Seeing results
≠ Real engineering
≠ Machine shop work and designing your own system
≠ Hands on work, so we could apply theory
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Suggestions for Improvement:
≠ Set milestones a little more strictly – many group members did not realize how
important it was to start early and without a defined leader (just meeting people) it took
a lot of drive to get someone to step up on their own and tell the other group members
what to do.
≠ Certain lessons should predominate the early semester, such as circuit design, and later
give way to more group work or individual time to complete design
≠ I would like to see easier access to parts for the project and a larger overview of the
tools in the machine shop.
≠ Our group did not receive much machine shop instruction due to snow days / canceled
class
≠ Have more examples of how to document (SolidWorks, etc.) and formatting
≠ Alter the course after the students have taken 1 programming class as a measure of how
much the students remember from programming.
≠ Not many of us had programming experience coming in. That is a good change to have
<Computer Science course> co-requisite with <this course>.
≠ It would have been nice to be taught about breadboard design or maybe proto-board
design layout techniques, what’s good to do, where to place what, etc.
≠ learning programming
≠ learning other basics of wiring … not just “do it”
≠ instructors ask a lot out of student but showed little interest in the success or failure of
groups
≠ It would help to have some programming experience.
≠ When there is a problem with a student’s circuit, do not fix it for them, explain what
needs to be changed and let them do it.
≠ Balance mechanical and electrical majors across the groups. My group contained 5 ME
and 0 ECE.
≠ Less review and structure meetings more emphasis on learning to build.
≠ My group had zero Electrical Engineering majors, nobody came into our project with
any previous programming experience.
≠ Should be worth more than 2 credits based on work load of the course
≠ Multiple projects that groups could choose from.
≠ More time after hours to complete the projects
≠ Actually or physically look at video or project from the years past
≠ More instruction on computer programming and wiring
≠ Less design reviews
≠ More help with electrical components
≠ More time to work
≠ The course seemed like it lacked a lot of structure. I didn’t’ like only having machine
shop once every two weeks either, since those skills were a big part of the project.
≠ Go slower. Any recommended books or websites? Google is getting harder to search
for things.
≠ Nothing comes to mind.
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Table III shows the key questions and results of the freshman survey. Questions were asked in
four areas: aspects of engineering, teamwork, communication, and the student’s engineering
major. The survey had 20 questions and 12 of them are presented here, which are closely related
to the objectives of the course. Other questions ask students about the community responses of
the engineering major.

Fig.10: Engineering major statistics

These questions address course objectives which were established by the faculty. The questions
about the engineering profession mainly focused on the breadth of engineering expertise required
for a successful project and cooperation between engineers from various disciplines. During the
open house 77% students said that electrical, computer, or mechanical engineers cannot work
alone. After they completed the course 83% agreed that engineers need to work together. This is
a positive improvement towards understanding the broader nature of engineering design.

The second set of questions was on teamwork. 90% of the students agreed that a team would
include others such as production workers and salespeople. Before they took the class 73%
agreed that engineers should work in a group, but after taking the class 86% believed this.
Seventy-two percent also thought that working as team would reduce the time to finish the
project when they started the class. But, surprisingly, after completing the course only 61%
agreed with the same statement. This could be because some teams worked became
dysfunctional as the semester progressed.

The survey also asked about communication skills. Before taking the class only 40% of the
students thought that writing was an important skill to acquire in order to be a successful
engineer. Afterward, 67% of the students believed that writing skills are important for success
in the field. This is a positive improvement in understanding of the value of communication. A
large majority of incoming engineering students (93%) were proud of the major. This fell to
88% after the freshman year, which correlates with the approximate 6% that chose to leave the
major.
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Table III
Freshman survey questions and summary of responses

Strongly Agree Disagree Strongly


agree disagree
OH FY OH FY OH FY OH FY
Aspect of Engineering Questions
Most real-world engineering problems involving machines 3% 6% 17% 37% 57% 45% 23% 10%
and mechanical systems can be solved without extensive
knowledge of electrical circuits and microprocessors.
The fundamental laws and equations that electrical 0% 0% 10% 23% 90% 65% 0% 12%
engineers use to solve electrical engineering problems are
very different than the ones mechanical engineers use to
solve mechanical engineering problems
Electrical engineers do not need to know much about 0% 0% 7% 15% 70% 70% 7% 13%
mechanical engineering as long as there is a mechanical
engineer who is available to handle the mechanical aspects
of an engineering problems and vice versa.
Teamwork questions
In the real-world, most engineers tend to work on 0% 1% 17% 12% 70% 64% 13% 22%
problems by themselves or in small groups, not as part of
a large team.
In the real world, engineering teams are usually made up 3% 2% 7% 8% 53% 47% 37% 42%
of engineers and do not include others such as production
workers, and salespeople.
The primary advantage of working as a part of a team is 17% 12% 55% 49% 28% 34% 0% 4%
that you can finish project faster because more people are
working on it.
Communication questions
Engineers who excel at writing memos and reports are 13% 15% 27% 52% 43% 28% 17% 3%
much more likely to be professionally successful than
engineers who are average writers.
Engineers generally communicate with other engineers, 7% 6% 37% 19% 47% 61% 10% 12%
scientists, and technicians, not with non-technical person.
An engineering analysis that is complete and correct 3% 6% 50% 16% 40% 51% 7% 25%
speaks for itself. You don’t have to “sell” the conclusions
to you audience.
Engineering major questions
When I was in high school, I knew that I was going to be 30% 25% 50% 39% 20% 33% 0% 3%
an engineer.
When I tell people that I am going to be an engineer I 43% 43% 53% 51% 3% 4% 0% 0%
usually receive a positive response.
When I am in a social gathering with my friends I avoid 0% 1% 7% 10% 83% 66% 10% 22%
mentioning that I studying engineering.

8. Conclusions
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This paper detailed a freshman design project in engineering taught at York College. This course
is motivational in nature and based on hands-on experience, exposing the students to aspects of
computer, electrical, and mechanical engineering. The course format is a combination of lecture
and laboratory exercises, which includes time in the electronics laboratory, the machine shop,
and the project workspace. The freshman students are involved in designing an
electromechanical autonomous bottle filling and capping system, which requires a design team
skilled in several aspects of engineering. The course meets the program’s goal of engaging the
freshman engineering student in a design project, exposing them in an interesting way to the
breadth of engineering, and motivating them in their engineering studies.

The student surveys presented in this paper convey much information about the effectiveness of
the course. Students’ understanding of engineering as a whole and of the value of
communication has been improved after they completed the course. Survey also showed that
students had a mix feeling about the teamwork after they completed the project. The surveys
showed that students had a better understanding of the breadth of engineering through the design
project.

9. References

1. Daniel Frey, “Project Based learning, The Importance of Freshman-Year Projects,” MIT
Faculty Newsletter, Vol. XIX, No. 4, February 2007.

2. Manufacturing Studies Board of the National Research Council Report “Improving


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3. John W. Pierre, et al., “A One Credit Hands-On Introductory Course in Electrical and
Computer Engineering Using a Variety of Topic Modules,” IEEE Transactions on Education,
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Annual Conference & Exposition, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, June 15-18, 1997
9. Kenneth W. Hunter, Sr., “A Multidisciplinary Team Design Project for First-Semester
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Course,” ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, June 20-23, 2004, Salt Lake City, Utah.

10. Geraldine B. Milano, Richard Parker, George Pincus, “A Freshman Design Experience:
Retention and Motivation,” ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, June 23-26, 1996,
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Washington DC.
11. C.L. Dym, A.M. Agogino, O. Eris, D.D. Frey, L.J. Leifer, “Engineering Design Thinking,
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