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Senior Design Day highlights engineering skills

May 8, 2013

Senior Design Day, the NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology’s annual rite of spring, brought out the creativity and talents of graduating seniors.

Projects on display at the May 3 event ranged from a scale model of a “smart home” to a home Hibachi grill adapter. In the corridors and labs of the engineering building visitors also found a variety of vehicles, including a futuristic-looking, three-wheeled cart that designers hope will get nearly 2,000 miles to the gallon of gas, a clean-running snowmobile and a small-scale version of a Formula 1 race car – all of which have, or will, compete in national competitions.

Other teams took on projects to redesign machine parts for companies, to devise ways to make alternative energy more efficient or to build safer cook stoves for Third World countries.

All of the projects were designed to prove that the students are graduating prepared for the work world.

Aaron McKeown, a senior in Mechanical Engineering and part of the Supermileage Team.

Aaron McKeown, a senior in Mechanical Engineering and part of the Supermileage Team.

“The purpose of Senior Design Day is to demonstrate that our students have attained a set of educational outcomes,” said CEET Associate Dean Omar Ghrayeb. “But they are not using textbook problems, they are working on a problem from the real world – so they are facing the same frustrations as professional engineers.”

A team of three mechanical engineering majors who made the ultimate home beer brewing set-up epitomized how students achieved those objectives.

Nick Skuban said that he hit upon the idea for the project while brewing in his kitchen. “I’ve been brewing for about three years. Each batch takes about five hours to brew, and I wanted to cut down that time,” said Skuban, who helped with the design and handled much of the metal fabrication.

After trying their hand at brewing, his teammates saw the value of the project. “Before we began we went to his place and helped brew a batch by hand. It sucked!” said Humza Shamsuddin, whose contributions included making from scratch the circuit boards that controlled the process.

The third team member, Josh Berger, was largely responsible for computer modeling that the team used to test its designs before getting to work.

All agreed that the experience tested every aspect of what they had learned in the classroom.

“We touched on thermodynamics, electronic controls, fluid dynamics, static structures and did a lot of computer simulation,” Shamsuddin said. “We were able to tie together all of those elements, on top of some computer programming, to actually make this process automated.”

How does designing and building a working “nano-brewery” help them get jobs after graduation?

“Everything we did is a practical application of something we learned in a class,” Berger said. “If I’m speaking to an automaker, I can discuss how we used finite element analysis in our frame, or I can talk about our heat exchanger, because that’s basically the same as a radiator.”