Published in 120th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition Proceedings: Atlanta, GA, June 23, 2013.
NOTE: At the time of publication, the author Steffen Peuker was not yet affiliated with Cal Poly.
In higher education, hands-on undergraduate education using state-of-the-art laboratory equipment is important to meet the quality standards expected in the engineering profession. However, the development of modern engineering laboratories is not only time consuming, but also budget constraints can hamper the development of needed laboratories for instructional purposes as Bidana and Billo state: "Development of state-of-the-art engineering laboratories is becoming an increasing problem in the University environment. Due to the greater variety and increased complexity of much state-of-the-art hardware and software, the cost and cycle time for development and startup of a modern engineering laboratory can be excessive. This, together with decreasing budgets for technician support experienced by many engineering departments, often hamper efforts to develop new laboratories for engineering instruction." The solution presented by Bidana and Billo, O'Connel et al., and Webster is to involve students in the designing and building of laboratory equipment. Bidana and Billo investigated the development and startup of an Automatic Data Collection laboratory, whereas O'Connel et al. investigated the development of experiments for a power electronics course. Bidana and Billo concluded that "the use of students for laboratory startup was a win-win situation" and "students were able to gain valuable technical educational skills". O'Connell concluded that "students can participate meaningfully in the course lab component of curriculum development" and Webster argues that "the student's interest is heightened by the design aspects". Although there is agreement that undergraduate students can be involved successfully in creating laboratory equipment, the question remains if this can be done for the equipment needed for a thermal system design teaching laboratory which requires sophisticated equipment such as an air handling unit simulator, a refrigeration simulator, or an air duct simulator. This paper presents an innovative approach of cooperation between industry and students to build equipment for a thermal system design teaching laboratory at a four year institution. Instead of buying higher educational laboratory test stands from commercial sources, test stands were built by mechanical engineering undergraduate students—as their senior design project— under the guidance of a faculty member and in collaboration with local industry representatives. The complete process—from initial outreach to the industry to achieve successful buy-in, the cooperative projects management and successful completion of the projects—is described in detail. This process can be replicated at other institutions in order to build educational laboratory equipment in a short time frame—one academic year—and without any funding from the institution.