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Mechanical engineering students help 12 firms improve products (Released: 5/3/96)

by Richard Veilleux, Office of University Communications.

STORRS, Conn. -- Kazem Kazerounian doesn't expect his 61 mechanical engineering students to get much sleep during the next week. He also doesn't think the students like him -- or their advisors -- very much at the moment.

But nods of approval from other members of the University of Connecticut's Department of Mechanical Engineering faculty and from the executives of the 12 companies involved in a novel senior design project will make it all worthwhile when 20 projects are unveiled from 1-3 p.m. May 7 in the second floor laboratories and hallways of the Engineering II building on UConn's Storrs campus.

For some firms, the culmination of the year-long projects will mean better products, more efficient -- and economic -- methods of making their product, and even new products, all crafted at a fraction of what it would have cost the firms to perform the work themselves.

"This provides us with an excellent opportunity to interact with Connecticut industry as well as valuable experience to our students," says Kazerounian, a professor of mechanical engineering and director and coordinator for senior projects.

Though long a part of the mechanical engineering curriculum, the senior design project until this year involved only one semester's effort. Because of the short time frame, the projects had to be relatively simple and, consequently, there was not a serious commitment from those involved, Kazerounian says.

This year, however, responding in part to a desire to give students the training that businesses have long clamored for, the projects were extended to a full year. Companies were asked to contribute $3,000-$5,000 for each research project, and each firm also had to commit an engineer to the teams. And the students, besides merely helping research an engineering problem, were required to participate in workshops teaching them a variety of non-engineering skills, including teamwork, peer criticism and oral communications. Each student also was required to write critiques of two other projects and had to make multiple oral presentations of their own project to the other 60 students, faculty advisors and guests.

Another unique feature of this year's activity is that all 22 mechanical engineering faculty are actively involved.

All the effort was worth it. In one project, a request from Goss & DeLeeuw Machine Co. of Kensington, students developed a "radical design" for an automated machine system that cuts in half the time needed for the firm's employees to build plumbing valves. The increased efficiency makes the machine less expensive to run while making twice the number of valves.

Another team of students designed what Kazerounian calls a "very promising, very unique" design for a system Hamilton Standard hopes to use in space vehicles for heat transfer.

Other students created a custom bicycle seat for an all-terrain sports wheelchair for Cannondale Bicycles in Georgetown, and the company also funded projects it hopes will result in a better braking system and transmission for bicycles.

Both students and the companies stand to benefit. The students, who will have spent at least 500 hours each on their projects, benefit by working side-by-side with engineers from the participating firms, as well as from intensive coursework, presentations, teamwork and brainstorming. The companies benefit by gaining access to a low-cost research and development environment they would seldom enjoy outside UConn.

"It's great exposure for the company," Kazerounian says, "Their engineers get to work with and get to know our students, our faculty. They have a chance to tackle problems they don't have the time or resources to handle during the normal course of their day.

"Without this program, to solve these issues, the companies would have to hire consultants. Here, the students can knock on every door in the school, picking up one piece of information from this faculty member, another bit from other faculty -- they can get answers to all their questions directly from experts in the area they're researching. And the companies also gain access to some excellent, well-equipped laboratories they would not have access to otherwise.

For their efforts, the students gain eight credits toward their degree and, quite possibly, Kazerounian says, a foot in the door of some of the participating companies.

Next year there should be enough seniors to handle another 20-25 projects. Interested companies for one of the student/faculty/company teams should call him at 486-2251, or Amir Faghri, mechanical engineering department head, at 486-2090.

Participating Firms
ABB Power Plant Laboratories Windsor
Abrasive Micro-Machining Program/PMC Mansfield- Storrs
Cannondale Georgetown, Conn.
General Electric Co. Plainville
Goss & DeLeeuw Machine Kensington
Hamilton Standard Windsor Locks
Pitney Bowes/Mailing Systems Engineering Shelton
Miller Co. Meriden
Ockam Instruments Milford
Peter Wolters of America Plainville, Mass.
Pratt & Whitney East Hartford
Spaulding Sports Worldwide Chicopee, Mass.
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