Lawrence Tech Offering Low-Risk Product Development

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Companies can take advantage of the engineering expertise of college students to help develop, investigate or test new products through the Industry-Sponsored Projects Lab that starts this fall at Lawrence Technological University.

All Lawrence Tech engineering students are required to complete a capstone project in their senior year in order to graduate, and many of these projects have involved challenges faced by companies where students have worked or interned.

The new Industry-Sponsored Projects Lab assigns a team of students to do research that can positively impact a company’s bottom line. Working with a faculty mentor, three to five engineering students will tackle a research project for a semester, although some projects may last longer. The Industry Advisory Board of Lawrence Tech’s A. Leon Linton Department of Mechanical Engineering will provide guidance.

Two companies that have worked with Lawrence Tech students on previous projects applauded the introduction of the project lab.

 “We appreciate the enthusiasm, fresh thinking and commitment we get from students at Lawrence Tech, and our company has benefitted from the level of technical expertise they bring to projects,” said Tom Watson, vice president of R&D, Technology & Innovation, for Johnson Controls Power Solutions in Milwaukee.

“A relationship with Lawrence Tech is a real benefit for a company our size because of the access we gain to the students and research resources,” said Mathew DeMars, president and chief operating officer of The Vehicle Production Group LLC in Troy.

Under a master agreement to be signed with the university, each participating company retains ownership of any technology that is developed and sets confidentiality requirements.

The senior capstone projects could involve product design, manufacturing, ergonomics, structures, materials research, mechatronics computer systems and control systems.

By the time they are seniors, engineering students at Lawrence Tech have the technical expertise to work on such projects, and many also have practical experience working as interns or employees of manufacturing companies. The project lab formalizes a process that has taken place at Lawrence Tech for almost 80 years.

The client company will pay a nominal fee to cover laboratory use, faculty guidance, administrative expenses and some local travel. The company will also provide a mentor and materials for its design project.

Students will deliver a conceptualization of the project, the supporting engineering computations and test results, a final design, and a prototype. The team will give weekly status reports, three presentations during the semester, and a confidential final report.

Cultivating the entrepreneurial mindset has become a major goal for undergraduate engineering programs at Lawrence Tech thanks in large part to a five-year, $1.1 million grant from the Kern Family Foundation.

In addition, Lawrence Tech students are actively engaged in one or more of the six centers of excellence that have been identified by the College of Engineering.

“Our students are engaged in solving real-world problems, and these industry-sponsored projects demonstrate our ‘theory and practice’ methodology,” said Dean of Engineering Nabil Grace.

A student team can provide in-depth research capabilities along with access to Lawrence Tech’s high-tech testing and diagnostic facilities, according to Vernon Fernandez, associate professor of mechanical engineering, who is directing the project lab. 

“We think this type of research could be of tremendous value in the supply chain inside the company. There may be a technological hurdle that is preventing a company from moving ahead on a new product,” Fernandez said. “This can be a low-risk way to create a prototype or validate a process.”

Companies interested in participating in the Industry-Sponsored Projects Lab should contact Fernandez at vfernande@ltu.edu or (248) 204-2571.

(c) 2010, WWJ Newsradio 950. All rights reserved.

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