Mechanical Engineering Design for Complex Environments: Incorporating Industrial Design Perspectives into a Multidisciplinary Capstone Design Project

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The rapid pace of global communications development coupled with an unprecedented increase in technological advancement has increased the need for multi-disciplinary teams to solve the complex engineering problems of the future. The well-structured, multi-part ‘complicated’ problems of the past have transformed into the interdependent, multi-part ‘complex’ problems of today and the future. These problems prevent one person or disciplinary-specific group from having the requisite knowledge and skills to solve the problem independently. ABET acknowledges this reality by requiring undergraduate engineering programs demonstrate the ability of their students to work within a multi-disciplinary team upon graduation. Faculty may be challenged to meet this requirement because of a lack of sufficiently complex problems that may require a multi-disciplinary approach. One such problem was a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) sponsored project that asked West Point cadets to design a system that would sustain SquadX in a dense urban combat environment for up to 72 hours. A multi-disciplinary team of Mechanical Engineering, Systems Engineering, Engineering Management, and Defense Strategic Studies students embarked on this design challenge during the 2017-2018 academic year. The team quickly realized the need to better understand the dense urban operating environment. To remedy this gap, the faculty at West Point collaborated with the Industrial Design department at the Rhode Island School of design (RISD) to create an intensive, two-day experience that allowed both West Point cadets and RISD students the opportunity to better understand the challenges associated with a dense urban operating environment and military operations more generally. The purpose of this paper is to describe an intensive, two-day design experience conducted by faculty and students from West Point and RISD. This session brought together cadets assigned to a DARPA-sponsored SquadX urban sustainment project and students from the Design, Culture and Global Security course at RISD in Providence, Rhode Island. The students from both institutions were divided into five separate teams aligned with the preliminary functional decomposition of systems to be designed. After a preliminary orientation and team formation meeting the night prior, the teams spent a total of five hours collecting data around the city of Providence, synthesizing the results of the data collection, and presenting their work to the larger group. An analysis of student feedback from the experience shows that despite initial ambivalence or assumptions of unhelpfulness regarding the potential benefits of the multi-disciplinary collaboration, students gained some unique insights. Students were exposed to various design perspectives, a fresh perspective of their design challenge, and described the experience as ‘eye-opening’. The overall success of this experience provided the faculty a desire to further refine the relationship between RISD and West Point, to allow continued collaboration on future complex design problems.
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Rhode Island School of design (RISD), Multi-disciplinary Collaboration
Novoselich, B. J., & Weis, T., & Jones, H. H. (2018, June), Mechanical Engineering Design for Complex Environments: Incorporating Industrial Design Perspectives into a Multidisciplinary Capstone Design Project Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30800