Mechanical engineering students at work in the new Design Studio.

Leading edge thinking

New design studio enables students to take ideas to prototype in one space

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11:37 a.m., Sept. 19, 2013--This fall, the University of Delaware’s Department of Mechanical Engineering unveiled a new Design Studio that allows students to take design ideas from concept to prototype in one convenient space. Located on the first floor of Spencer Laboratory, the 5,900-square-foot studio is open to students 24 hours a day.

“This is where I hold all of my meetings, work on projects and it’s a great place to relax between classes,” said Zachary Rogers, a senior mechanical engineering major, who added he has been using the space constantly.

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The studio consists of four connected work areas designed to foster integrated learning: a prototyping lab, a materials repository, a machine shop and a collaboration laboratory. The prototyping lab contains computers, tools and desks for students to use while developing projects, including a new 3D printer that can produce plastic parts for testing.

Attached to this, the materials repository is filled with items commonly used in student projects including nuts, bolts, plastic, metal and wood. The repository is adjacent to a 2,318-square-foot machine shop where students can build their designs.

The prototyping lab is also connected to the collaboration laboratory, also known as the “collaborator” or, as students call it, “the pit.” This 1,237-square-foot space is the hub of the Design Studio, containing desks, chairs, computers and whiteboards to encourage communication among students.

Mechanical engineering student Richard Stanton praised the new studio. “It offers a lot of space and utility,” said Stanton. “It helps with communication with the team and we have access to a lot of computers. Now we’re no longer handicapped by [a lack of] tools — now we have tools that can help us.”

According to Jenni Buckley, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, the Design Studio is one of the most advanced spaces for undergraduate mechanical engineering in the country, rivaled only by facilities at Stanford University, Pennsylvania State University and Virginia Tech. 

“Our Design Studio is the only space in the country created specifically for mechanical engineering students. It has two to three times the space of facilities at other institutions, allowing for creativity that I hope will produce even better work from our students,” Buckley said.

Buckley has high expectations for the students using this space and envisions students creating even more patent-worthy designs.

“Last year we were involved in around five patents, this year I want to see 10 and next year I want to see 15. We just want bigger, bigger, bigger — more growth, more public awareness for the awesome designs that are being produced by our students,” Buckley said.

Improvements to the space are expected to continue over the next year and include connecting a testing room to the collaboratory and purchasing new equipment.

“We’d like to reconfigure the testing room and outfit it with equipment to measure force, speed and distance,” explained Buckley. “Taking down a wall and opening the testing room to the pit would allow students to design their ideas, walk straight into the testing room, put them on a machine and test them.”

Suresh Advani, George W. Laird Professor of Mechanical Engineering and department chair, said he hopes to secure the needed funds to complete the additional renovations through a combination of alumni donations and industry sponsorships by the 2014 fall semester. As the project continues to take shape, Advani said he is excited about the benefits this facility can bring students, particularly in networking and job preparedness.

“Hopefully having a central space will create more connections between students and faculty, alums and industry,” said Advani. “It will help students in their learning, connect them with alumni who stop by and facilitate one-on-one relationships with industry folks who visit, strengthening their job prospects in the future. So that’s what I’d like to see in the end: all those three connections becoming stronger.”

Article by Kevin Cella

Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson

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