While brainstorming robot on a rail (ROAR) solutions, my co-workers and I wondered how we could create a similar technology without the high capital investment. This is how the concept for an order picking robot on an AGV was born (OPRA).
However, one big problem stood in front of us. How do we develop a new technology when our schedules are packed with projects already? Where could we find additional resources to create this new technology while still remaining a critical part of the process?
We didn’t have to look far for a great solution to our dilemma. Engineering schools are always looking to provide seniors with real-world projects and experience to put their knowledge to the test outside of the classroom. So I called up my alma mater and proposed our OPRA idea to the robotics board as a senior design project, and they were more than happy to help.
At the start of the school year, I met with four seniors who were ready to tear into the new concept. I explained to them the scope of the work and set them out to come up with a design in the first three months. After a few weeks on the project, the group visited our robotics facility in St. Louis to see some of our robots in action and get some design inspiration, and so far, the project has been a success. The students are getting real-world experience, and we have started development on a new technology.
So would I recommend other engineering companies sponsor senior projects? Absolutely.
We setup the project and let the seniors have at it. It was nice to provide the resources we wanted them to use and then see what they came up with. They definitely didn’t disappoint.
Now, I will caution you and say that the solution they come up with is not going to be a ready-to-produce product, but it will hopefully be a good starting point with all major issues identified for future research and development (or another design project).
So what back-burner idea is a good candidate for a design project? One that is:
— Non-time critical
— Open to interpretation and problem solving
— Involved enough to encompass an entire semester or course
— Related to a specific university course; agreed upon by department head
Another benefit of senior design projects is getting direct exposure to a great group of senior engineers. These students can be potential hires once they graduate, plus they will already be aware of the project and could help see it through to the end. So if you have a project you feel would be a great fit for a senior design project, I encourage you to reach out to a local university. It is a win-win for both your company and the students.