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ME Project-Based Design/Manufacturing Class Series Thrives



The ME department’s undergraduate curriculum has a unique team-based, Design-Build-Test spine of required classes. In Design and Manufacturing I, II and III (ME250, 350 and 450 respectively), sophomores, juniors and seniors turn concepts into real, working engineered systems and manufacturable products.

In ME250, lecture material and hands-on experience introduce students to systems and design thinking as well as cascading objectives and requirements, a routine part of professional engineering projects in industry.

The 2015-2016 academic year saw some new additions to ME250. Assistant Professor Jesse Austin-Breneman joined Mike Umbriac, ME lecturer and instructor in teaching the course.

“Austin-Breneman brings a lot of energy to the class, with innovative ideas for how to engage students during the lecture,” said Umbriac. “He also promotes the value of prototyping at several stages of the design process.”

Michigan Ninja Relay, a new ME250 project for the 2015-2016 academic year, was also introduced. This project, developed by Professor Kazu Saitou, Umbriac, and GSI Jean Chu, allows teams of four to five students to design, build and test a remote-controlled machine to move plastic cubes through a section of an obstacle course.  Each squad of four teams cooperates to try to score the most points by moving the most cubes.

In ME350, the emphasis is on modeling-based system design. Projects change frequently to add new challenges and stress new topics. This academic year, ME Professor Chinedum Okwudire and Umbriac introduced a “Guessers vs. Geeks” activity into the ME350 lectures. At the start of this activity, each student decides whether he/she wants to be a Guesser or a Geek. The Guessers guess the answer to a mechanical problem related to the lecture material. Problems include things like “how much force does it take to break a #6-32 bolt?” or “how much torque does it take to stall this small motor?” Then, the Geeks calculate the answer to the same problem using methods taught in class. This is followed by an in-class demonstration to see which group got closer to the real answer.

“The goal of this activity is to engage the students in, and help them to better appreciate the failure analysis topics from lecture that are not also covered in the project,” said Umbriac.

 The final course of the series, ME450, affords an opportunity for students to employ design process to find solutions to real-world design challenges as part of a capstone design experience.

“Students collaborating in teams work with end-users and stakeholders to elicit user needs and generate requirements,” said ME450 Lecturer Amy Hortop. “They’re able to develop and analyze concepts and validate their prototypes at a Design Expo, which will be held on April 14, 2016 this semester.”

 Each semester, various projects are proposed from the community, global health, industry, and research so that each team is working a unique project.

“Thanks to our sponsors, we are very fortunate that we’re able to offer a variety of projects every semester so that all students are working on a project that they are personally excited about,” said Hortop.

 According to Hortop, students are always interested in working on projects that will make an impact on the community.

“We currently have a team working with White Lotus Farms in Ann Arbor to find ways of using waste heat to warm a hoop house, allowing for longer, local growing seasons,” said Hortop. “Teams working with the VA Hospital in Ann Arbor and Kids in Danger, for example, are learning how important it is to engage in human-centered design. And, students are getting a taste of ‘real-world’ industry challenges through projects with Toyota, Ultra-Electronics, Packsize and many others,” she added.

ME450 is always looking for capstone projects. To learn more about the program or if you have a project that you would like students to work on, please contact Amy Hortop at [email protected] or visit