1. About Senior Design
The Senior Design course, also known as the senior capstone course, is found in all engineering departments, each managing it according to the needs and style of their discipline. Within MAE, aerospace (AE) majors concentrate on a vehicle design project, while mechanical (ME) majors pursue projects from a wide spectrum of areas under the Mechanical Engineering banner.
The Mechanical Engineering Senior Design course sequence is required of all seniors in their final year prior to graduation, and is taught over two consecutive semesters. The sequence itself is taught twice per academic year, once in Fall-Spring, and again in Spring-Summer.
The course is centered around a single, substantial, team-based engineering project (the “Project”) on which each student team member is expected to work several hours per week. Additional activities include a lecture series on the practice of engineering (covering topics like project management, fabrication, ethics, intellectual property…), meetings with a faculty advisor to address technical matters, and meetings with a Graduate Teaching Assistant to monitor progress.
At multiple times throughout the semester, teams turn in written documentation (proposals, status reports, engineering change orders), and make oral presentations to the class. At the conclusion of each semester, teams turn in a final report and deliver a final presentation, which is advertised and open to the public.
2. Becoming a Partner
We have created the ME-SDP program (the “Program”) as a framework of interaction between Mechanical Engineering students and the professional community, complementing other channels such as internship and co-op employment, career fairs, sponsored research, professional extension services, etc.
It is important for potential Partners to understand its characteristics, benefits and limitations—only then can we make sure that it serves both the students and Partners as we intend. Consistent with our academic mission and timeline, ME-SDP projects follow these general guidelines:
2.1. Problem definition and scope
2.1.1. Partners contribute a written problem prompt (the “Prompt”) relevant to their environment. This Prompt describes a challenge or unmet need which may be tackled through a combination of engineering analysis, design, device, or process.
2.1.2. Prompts are open-ended and allow for the use of multiple approaches and disciplines (they do not have unique solution). Prompts might include problems yet to be worked on, or solutions may exist but further optimization, alternative configurations, or cost savings are possible.
2.1.3. Prompts fall predominantly under the general areas of mechanical engineering (design and manufacturing, dynamics and control, fluid mechanics, structural mechanics, and thermal sciences) and may include instrumentation and microprocessor interfacing / programming.
2.2. Project logistics
2.2.1. Projects are formed to address the challenge formulated in a Prompt. Senior Design faculty maintain an ongoing portfolio of Prompts, which are matched to student groups at the beginning of each two-semester sequence (Fall/Spring and Spring/Summer).
2.2.2. Projects are team-based. Teams normally comprise three to six students, depending upon Project scope and complexity. Student preference is taken into account in how teams are formed and project assignments are made; unselected Prompts potentially remain available for subsequent semesters.
2.2.3. Our reference scenario is a small engineering consulting firm. Students are required to take on leadership and technical roles as would typically occur in a professional setting, experiencing the dynamics of working in a prototypical engineering team environment.
2.2.4. Projects generally touch multiple phases of the early product design lifecycle: ideation, concept design, analysis, detail design and, where feasible, prototyping and testing.
2.2.5. Projects must be substantially completed within a two-semester time frame and span the majority of this time frame. The faculty works with the Partner and student team to adjust Project scope and timelines where reasonably justified.
2.2.6. Partners are invited to interact with the student team on whatever frequency is most appropriate for the execution of the project. SD faculty manage the classroom and advise students, but our experience is that lack of interaction with the Partner leads to disengagement. We request a single point of contact for communications, and recommend brief (<30 minute) status / Q&A meetings no less often than every 3-4 weeks.
2.2.7. Student teams are required to professionally document their progress and findings. Partners will be presented with formal reports and supporting documentation.
2.2.8. While Partners can expect a spirit of collaboration, the head professor has final responsibility and authority to modify deliverables and rebalance student team efforts according to academic interests.
3. Value Proposition
3.1. First and foremost, ME-SDP provides a unique opportunity for long-term interaction with very capable UT Arlington engineering students—in a mutually beneficial manner—who will soon be looking for employment.
3.2. The core benefit of ME-SDP lies in the work content of a dedicated student team. Because these teams are neither managed nor motivated in the same manner as professional full-time employees, results vary, but are often commensurate with hundreds of hours of entry-level engineering personnel (many of our senior students, in fact, have prior or concurrent industry experience).
3.3. Every student team is assigned a faculty advisor and a project monitor to help maintain their efforts on track, further increasing the value of the student team’s work output.
3.4. Senior Design students leverage dedicated University facilities, including a Senior Design Lab and a Senior Design Studio with reserved space for physical prototyping, and ancillary equipment to perform light assembly, metrology, rapid fabrication, and high-end (CAD/CAE) analysis. Beyond these, they also access a full-service, professionally staffed machine shop run by the MAE Department to support fabrication needs at low per-hour costs.
3.5. Student teams can also reach out to UTA’s academic resources and research facilities throughout the campus, including those of the College of Engineering, College of Science, The UTA Research Institute, TMAC, and others. Subject to availability, per-hour costs can be very competitive depending on the level of assistance requested.
3.6. Throughout the two-semester sequence, Partners are invited to interact with the students and draw on their research findings and ongoing work. At the conclusion of each semester, students present the Partner with a formal written report and supporting materials (specifications, analyses, CAD files, etc.) compiled throughout the project.
3.7. Last but not least, through their support and engagement, Partners help build a strong engineering community in our dynamic, industry-rich North Texas area, and have a lasting impact in the life and career of new generations of engineers—from which we all benefit.
4. Value Proposition
4.1. Participation in the Program costs $5,000 per project for a two-semester engagement. In special cases—for example, if warranted by a smaller- or larger-than-usual project scope—the faculty will negotiate a different fee amount or an in-kind contribution.
4.2. As a gift, rather than a contract, your donation is gratefully acknowledged and publicly recognized by the department and the University. Fees and contributions are usually reinvested in the Program in the form of equipment, supplies, software licenses, training, and laboratory upgrades.
4.3. Payment is made in full via credit card or check prior to the start of the first semester, which is around mid-August for Fall/Spring and mid-January for Spring/Summer. Payment ensures assignment of the project to a student team and performance throughout the two-semester period as outlined above. Credit cards are easily done via https://giving.uta.edu/give (enter “Senior Design” under Comments, and “19018” under Mailing ID Code).
4.4. Beyond said financial contribution, Partner commitments are as follows:
4.4.1. Contribute a well-redacted problem Prompt on a topic consistent with the above guidelines (a PPT template is provided for this purpose). It is acceptable for the Prompt to contain high-level goals or even stretch goals; these will be discussed, prioritized and transferred as appropriate into a task list as the semester starts.
4.4.2. Be available for an initial meeting with the student team to explain the Problem and answer general questions.
4.4.3. Provide any specialty or dedicated facilities, equipment, consumables, or fabrication services needed for the performance of the project (any University-provided professional services, such as machining, 3D printing, etc., shall be undertaken only with the Partner'’'s prior approval and charged separately).
5. Not Work For Hire
We believe strongly in the value proposition of this Program, but it is important to realize that Senior Design is not a work-for-hire agreement—such as it would be obtained through engineering firms at significantly higher cost—nor is it an investment or sponsorship in a contractual sense. Work under ME-SPD is performed on a good-faith / best-effort basis, seeking mutual benefit, and without guarantee of specific results (e.g., performance of every stated goal in the Prompt). Faculty and project monitors advise the student teams, but do not act as professional project managers or mediate in all Project details. While students are motivated and graded based upon their performance, they are neither UTA employees nor become “de-facto” employees of the Partner. Fees contributed by the Partner are used by the Department for expenses deemed to be beneficial to the Program at large, and are not intended to be held in escrow to meet specific Project hardware expenses. Certain projects are better served through more definite contractual agreements rather than Senior Design programs; we are happy to discuss the benefits and limitations of each.
6. Confidentiality and Intellectual Property
Although intended to bring value to students and Partners alike, ME-SDP is not formal university sponsored research nor a work-for-hire engagement. Accordingly, provisions for confidentiality and intellectual property (IP) are as follows:
6.1 Prompts supplied by Partners to be used in the ME-SDP Program shall be free of confidential content before submission and during execution of the Project. Projects are subject to UTA’s rules of academic integrity, but are otherwise conducted in an open, collaborative environment purposely requiring oral and written reporting to peers, advisors, faculty, and open audiences (final presentations are open to the public). Confidentiality restrictions that severely limit students’ ability to discuss their work can interfere with learning outcomes and unfairly lower their grade. Therefore, confidential information in SD projects, if any, should be such that it does not affect the students’ ability to report and discuss substantive technical contributions.
6.2 Prompts supplied by Partners to be used in the ME-SDS Program shall be free of IP-oriented content before submission and during the execution of the Project. IP-oriented problem statements are unsolved problems seeking an inventive solution of commercial value, vs. technical activities associated with the reduction to practice of existing ideas or concepts (e.g., analysis, optimization, specification, fabrication, testing, integration). Although creativity is encouraged and intellectual property may be discovered, the expectation is that this course is not a platform for the sponsored pursuit of ideas or business enterprises. The University encourages other agreements and mechanisms for sponsored research to meet such needs. UTA’s guide to research agreements between The University of Texas at Arlington and private industry is found here: http://www.uta.edu/research/administration/departments/gcs/university-process/research-agreement.php
6.3 Should IP be generated, parties acknowledge that all intellectual property developed, conceived and reduced to practice by University faculty, staff and student employees using University facilities is subject to ownership by the Board of Regents of The University of Texas System (“Regents”) as set forth in the Regents’ Rules and Regulations, Series 90000, found online at http://www.utsystem.edu/bor/rules/#A10. Assignment of Senior Design student IP rights to the Partner may be requested, but this limits prospective technical contributions and incurs an additional $2,500 fee to cover the higher administrative burden.