Two years later, many of these students return to the Multidisciplinary Design Laboratory to tackle even more challenging projects. The seniors in the MDL Experience are still looking for solutions to real-world problemsbut with a twist. In their case, they collaborate with an actual corporation, foundation, or entrepreneur whos provided financial and technical support in return for a team of fresh, creative minds.
This is really an opportunity for the students to integrate a lot of the information theyve had in their previous coursework, says Gary Gabriele, who designed both the MDL and the major in Product Design and Innovation (PDI). They have to go back to that knowledge theyve learned in a different course or even build upon it to educate themselves about something they never knew before.
We all work off each other, thats what makes this great. One person comes up with something and then someone else suggests a variation on that idea, says Philippe Montillier. Its actually like a real-life experience.
Montillier begins the meeting by offering an overview of the teams work so far. As industrial engineering students, he and Sarah Jurta manage the logistics of the project and confirm the teams data. PDI major Andy Chang describes the research hes conducted on the preferences of wine drinkers and the implications that has for the corks design. Chang also joined mechanical engineering students Aaron OConnor and Nat Fake to create the cork production machines design on a CAD program and then build a prototype that etches spiral cuts into the cork. Meanwhile, materials engineer Mike Thompson is ensuring the adhesives will seal the cork properly.
The idea for a strippable cork was invented by entrepreneur and airline pilot Mark Boudreau, who approached the MDL to help him make it. A wine connoisseur, Boudreau wanted to develop a traditional-looking cork that can be opened without a corkscrew.
The tradition would still be there. The maitre d can display the cork, you still could open it with a corkscrew. But if youre out in the field or on a plane and you dont have one, you can just grab this tab, says Boudreau, pulling on a tiny invisible handle at the top of a cork, and it just comes out like a spring.
The EZ Cork team shares the lab with 11 other sponsored projects. There are four from the National Science Foundation, including a lightweight power-assisted wheelchair and an improved hand-cycle for physically disabled cyclists. Seniors also can devote much of their final year to industry-sponsored projects, including the search for a more efficient steam turbine for GE Power Generation, an advanced air filtration system for UTC Carrier Division, and a new elevator design for UTC Otis Elevator.
We work closely with potential sponsors to identify challenging, open-ended, real-world problems. They give us projects they havent had time to pursue themselves, as well as funding and professional support, says Mark Steiner 78, the director of the O.T. Swanson Multidisciplinary Design Laboratory. These are truly substantive projects that provide a natural motivation for the students.
The EZ Cork team is already moving on to its second prototypean automated machine that guides the cork through a set of blades, creating a spiral cut that will allow the wine drinker to easily remove the cork. Entrepreneur Mark Boudreau shakes his head in wonder as he ponders the teams aluminum and rubber machine.
That right there would have made my life so much easier. Its unbelievableI hand cut 500 corks and then they put that together, says Boudreau. Everything it took me three years to think about and research, it took these guys a week or two to come up with. It was amazing to see.
But there are limitations to these projects. Mike Gradziel, a mechanical engineering student working on the Otis Elevator project, says a team may come up with off-the-wall ideas, but they cant always pursue them when theres a company expecting results.
Im sure we could have built a complex solution that met all the objectives, but it wouldnt have been a lot of use if Otis couldnt mass-produce it, says Gradziel, whos developing an elevator design that would save space and reduce costs. Cost constraints are a serious issue, and we felt its part of our job to take that into consideration.
|Rensselaer Magazine: June 2003|
|President's View||Your Mail||From the Archives||Hawk Talk||Class Notes Features|
|Front Page||At Rensselaer||Milestones|
|In Memoriam||Making a Difference||Staying Connected|
|Rensselaer Home Page | RPInfo | AlumServ Home Page|
Opinions expressed in these pages do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or the policies of the Institute.
|© 2003 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. All rights reserved worldwide.|
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), 110 8th St., Troy, NY 12180. (518) 276-6000
Web site design by the Rensselaer Office of Communications.
Contact Jane Van Ryan, Assistant Vice President, Office of Communications.
Questions? Comments? Please contact us.