Simply put, MechSE students are leaders in innovation. They set records in international student competitions. Their senior design projects are immediately implemented by sponsoring companies. They win campus-wide innovation contests, and they start successful businesses—often before graduation! The innovation-rich environment of the new Sidney Lu Mechanical Engineering Building will equip our students for even greater success. This facility’s 1,500-sq-ft Senior Capstone Design Suite and nearly 4,000-sq-ft Innovation Studio—a 24/7 “makerspace”—will include metal-working and wood-working machines, 3D printers, and much more.

These spaces will inspire creativity and foster teamwork, opening up a world of possibilities and new ideas. Our students will work, interact, learn, play, and grow in an environment optimized for true innovation.

Innovation Impact: Mechanical Design Courses Inspire and Engage

For years, the focus of ME 370 (Mechanical Design I) and ME 371 (Mechanical Design II) was on the theoretical aspects of designing machines. Students focused on mathematically creating and analyzing machines using computer-aided tools. Over the last several years, MechSE faculty have been overhauling and invigorating the ways these core courses are taught, using concepts including collaboration, creativity, measurement, continual improvement, and a focus on the “customer.”

“I have never before seen this level of enthusiasm and excitement from our students for any mechanical engineering class I have taught. When you start thinking about other users, it is only natural you will get engaged and excited. While it is a more relaxed environment, the goal is clear – learn to empathize with the user in transforming these ideas into a mechanism,” said Assistant Professor Sam Tawfick.

Given the landscape of entrepreneurship on the Illinois campus, it is possible that at least some of the projects in these classes or in future classes would matriculate into Senior Capstone Design or become the centerpiece for a student startup.

Check out some highlights from these courses in recent semesters.

Robots Walking on Challenging Terrain

ME 370, Spring 2018

Following the tradition of previous robot races, 30 robots competed on the Bardeen Quad in a “March of the Automata.” Professors Arend van der Zande and Leon Liebenberg mentored our undergraduate teams to design and build an all-terrain robot to be the fastest to race across the Quad.

Marble Conveyor

ME 371, Spring 2018 and Fall 2017

Professors Alison Dunn and Seok Kim led the fall semester’s team projects, for which the primary goal was to use design knowledge to build marble machines. Each device was required to reliably transport 10 large ball bearings (1” diameter) in a circuit, with extra points for creativity, fast or slow circuit times, and directing the balls into multiple different downward paths. Dunn said the teams did very well, using many different mechanisms and themes.

Candy Dispenser

ME 370, Fall 2017

ME 370 students worked in teams to design and build candy dispensers for several user groups, including admission offices, machine shops, bank tellers, and executives. The project utilized the design thinking idea, which combines the concepts students learn about mechanisms and mobility with concepts that encourage user-centric designs through empathy, early prototyping, and peer-critiques. Professors Aimy Wissa and Placid Ferreira led the teams.

Pipe Climbers

ME 370, Fall 2017

The goal of the pipe climbing robot was to give the students the chance to combine and apply their knowledge of planar mechanisms and power trains. Student teams were asked to design a robot that could traverse an 8-foot-long, 2-inch diameter pipe (at 30-, 60-, and 90-degree inclines) and they were scored based on the robot’s speed and how well they could predict the power required to traverse the pipe. The project was framed in a “Pink Panther” theme where each team was asked to retrieve the rare and expensive pink diamond while remaining as stealthy as possible. Thus, teams were required to decorate their robots based on animals that can climb vertical or nearly vertical surfaces in nature. Professors Aimy Wissa and Placid Ferreria led the teams.

Tarzan Rope Climbers

ME 370, Spring 2017

The spring semester’s ME 370 final competition consisted of 40 student-designed robots climbing ropes strung across Boneyard Creek, on the Bardeen Quad. The student teams’ robot designs were judged based on speed, mechanics of the design, and creativity. Professors Arend van der Zande, Sam Tawfick, and Darrell Socie led the teams. Following in the tradition of previous robot races, MechSE students demonstrated their impressive creativity and hard work.

The new Innovation and Design Commons will offer MechSE students opportunities for communication and exchange of ideas. We’ll learn the importance of teamwork as we collectively labor to meet both project deadlines and standards. Personally, I have gained practical experience in the present Innovation Studio, which I am certain will be beneficial towards becoming a control engineer.

Obinna Onyemepu (BSME ’16)