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Tower Project Introduces Engineering Design Process

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dozens of structures, some flimsy, some not, rose from tabletops in the Nedderman Hall atrium recently, as students in the Engineering 1104 classes raced to complete a towerStudents work to complete an index card tower made of index cards in just 25 minutes.

The objective of the activity is to design and build a tower that generates as much profit as possible while meeting or exceeding minimum specifications. The constraints:

  • Height: Earn $100,000 for a structure that is 36 inches tall, with bonuses of $3,000 possible for every two inches above 36 inches that the structure reaches.
  • Strength: The structure must support 10 pennies at 36 inches high for at least 15 seconds.
  • Speed: The structure must be completed within 25 minutes.
  • Materials: 3”x5” index cards cost $10,000 per pack of 10 cards, with a 10-pack limit. Once construction begins, cards may not be returned, and additional cards may not be purchased. Tape costs $5,000, and scissors can be rented for $5,000. Tape cannot be attached to the table, ceiling or other structure.
  • Building environment: Two teams share a 6-foot table. If a team bumps the table in an attempt to damage the other team’s structure, points will be deducted.

Students work on an index card towerIn addition to building the tower, each team had to write a design plan and a list of construction materials and a final report has to be submitted one week after the competition.

The card tower project was just one of many activities that the introductory engineering class’s instructors assign students to introduce the engineering design process with an eye toward managing resources, teamwork, creativity and following a plan.