The University Record, April 18, 1994

Engineering students put textbook theory to practical use

By Kellee R. Davis
News and Information Services

While most students are memorizing mathematical equations or spending endless hours at computing sites during exam week, seniors in a College of Engineering course are hammering out the final tweaks in their self-designed prototypes.

Their work, which puts textbook theory to practical use, will be presented to such sponsoring organizations as Dow Plastics, Dana Corp. and the Budd Co. at this year’s Design Expo ’94, to be held April 19 in the atrium of the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Building.

“Having your final grade depend on one project is a little nerve-wracking,” says Matt Reuter, a senior in mechanical engineering, “but we’ve been working hard all semester. I expect we’ll do well.”

Some 16 companies provided engineering problems for the students, financial assistance and, in some cases, technical guidance.

In return, the student teams spent 14 weeks developing a design solution, a working prototype, written report and an oral presentation. Often their ideas are implemented by the sponsors as is the case with Applied Process Inc. of Livonia.

Applied Process supplies the heat treatment for clutch plates used in automatic transmissions for automobiles. During this process, the clutch plates are loaded onto a horizontal apparatus, similar to a dishwasher rack, with precise spacing so the plates are not touching.

The machine was originally created in 1992 by former U-M engineering students. It has increased productivity and reduced the risk of injury to the employees, who used to cut themselves on the sharp metal while attempting to load the rack by hand.

“The students’ automatic plate racking machine has been used in our production for over eight months and works fine. I enjoyed the contact with the students. They saved us about $10,000 and they learned a ton,” says Applied Process president John Keough.

This semester a new group of five students is working on an extension of the automatic plate racking machine, and they have redesigned the apparatus to load a variety of plates with varying degrees of size and thickness.

“The whole process isn’t just about results,” says Sridhar Kota, associate professor of mechanical engineering and applied mechanics, “but about the students learning to be resourceful and creative to solve open-ended problems. Our sponsors tell us the students look at problems with fresh eyes and see solutions that their engineers might miss.”