Engineering students showcase results of year-long design projects at Senior Design Conference

At the annual Barnwell Memorial Mechanical Engineering Senior Design Conference, students get the opportunity to present a design that they spend the school year working on. This program allows students to get industry experience while also benefiting the companies that sponsor the projects.

Recently, the senior engineering students presented their projects at the Senior Design Conference, held in the Integrated Engineering and Science Building. Each project is a design that is pitched and funded by a company that is a member of the industry. The event had a total of 12 sponsors this year, most within a 100-mile radius of Ruston.

Students don’t come up with the ideas themselves but do have some say in their project assignments. Every year the industry sponsors post their project ideas. Students then bid on their top four choices. Faculty members assign the projects to groups based on various factors such as interest, academic merit and experience.

The event is divided into sessions that fall under three categories: safety, performance and “green.” Winning teams from each session were awarded trophies. This year the winning projects were respectively the Poppet Valve Control Cylinder Removal System, the Automated Wire Assembly Jig and the Multi-Terrain Transporter for the green session.

Henry Cardenas, director of the Barnwell Memorial Mechanical Engineering Senior Design Conference, said that the event has benefits for both the students the industry sponsors.

The students learn valuable skills for operating in the industry and working in groups. All students are required to participate in a total of four hours of team building activities that boost the productivity of the teams, according to research by Cardenas. The projects themselves provide students with a glimpse into real-world engineering work.

Jackson Picard, a senior mechanical engineering major who won runner-up for his group’s Active Snack Packaging design project, agreed that the experience of working on this project provided him with valuable and applicable skills.

“This project has shown the true process it takes to get something done in the real world, and that’s not something everyone gets before they make it there,” Picard said. “I feel like having done this project enables me to look at things from a different angle in the future and better judge what it will take to get done.”

Picard’s teammate David McCauley provided a similar testimony and revealed that working on the project can reap personal benefits for the students in addition to professional ones.

“Developing this project was fun, yet challenging, and I can say with confidence that all team members are satisfied with the finished product,” McCauley said. “Hopefully my work in designing this project will help me in my future career, especially if I work in a design-focused position.”

In turn, the industry reaps financial benefits from the senior projects. According to numbers collected from letters sent in by sponsors, the designs created for the senior projects have earned them a total of about $88 million in 2021 alone, and that number is only accounting for the mechanical engineers.

Cardenas emphasized the importance of the faculty in the success of the senior projects program. Each individual team was coached by a group of advisers made up of faculty members, and the teams met with their advisers once a week.

“A huge thing is how much the faculty advisers contribute. They meet with these teams. They adopt these teams,” Cardenas said. “Without them, we wouldn’t be doing anything like what we’re doing. The benefits wouldn’t be anywhere near as good.”

The benefits are so good, in fact, that Cardenas is working on a proposal to open a new center, called an industrial assessment center, which will provide a space for the program to continue pursuing projects dealing with energy, efficiency, green initiatives and sustainability while also continuing to benefit the industry through senior design.

“We’re trying to expand senior design into what would be a center funded by the Department of Energy to help out industry. And what we did in the proposal, we’re trying to show that we’re already helping, just want to build on it,” Cardenas said.

While Cardenas is still in the process of putting together the proposal, the fact remains that the senior design project program has potential to become an even bigger and better part of aspiring engineers’ education.

This story is by Communication student Alexis Newman.