Preparing students for the real world means introducing them to industry-standard tools such as ANSYS AIM — as early as sophomore year.
Undergraduate engineering students are incredibly busy, overloaded with curricular activities. My mechanical and mechatronics engineering students carry a load of five courses in such complex subjects as mathematics, physics, materials, thermal science, and automation and control. Every four months, they also complete a co-operative education term in industry.
Because undergrads are so busy, I was shocked two years ago when a group of second-year students approached me about incorporating a new project into an already-challenging class, numerical methods.
“You know how we’ll focus on a capstone design project when we’re seniors?” these students said. “Well, we’d like to do something like that sooner. Like right now.”
I laughed and assured them that my course was already jam-packed with content. “You’d have to work on any design project outside the classroom, because I simply can’t devote enough lecture hours,” I replied. “And you clearly don’t have the time.”
“But Professor Bedi,” said one student, “we already are working on independent design projects.” My second shock came as these students showed me their sketches and other design work for their own ideas — all completed during their free time.
An Entrepreneurial Generation
Born between 1980 and the early 2000s, “Millennials” are often characterized as lacking initiative. In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth. Raised with Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg as role models, my students hunger to create their own entrepreneurial successes by participating in real-world product development.
I agreed to add a project component to numerical methods, but with one condition: only four hours of lecture time would be devoted to this project. The students would voluntarily attend another six hours of lectures and spend 25 to 30 hours working on their projects independently.
The students agreed enthusiastically. They formed teams and quickly arrived at someinteresting project topics that required numerical methods to solve. Their ideas were creative and diverse, ranging from the mechanics of cooking to more traditional topics such as bridge building.
Finding the Right Tool
During our first year, one glaring problem emerged: Students were spending way too much time on low-level programming tasks. Initially excited and energized, they were soon bogged down in programming challenges and long solve times. Our teaching team — which includes Ph.D. students Chris Kohar and Kaab Omer — realized we needed a professional tool to accelerate the design process, while also teaching practical skills. In the spring of 2015, we approached ANSYS about licensing ANSYS AIM for our students. We chose this solution because of its intuitive user interface, its broad range of physics capabilities and its rapid solve times. In addition, it is an industry-standard solution that students will likely encounter in the workplace.
Transforming Students into Innovators
When we introduced ANSYS AIM to students during the fall 2015 semester, the results were even better than expected. Because Millennials are very comfortable working with software in all aspects of their lives, only one hour of instruction was needed before they were off and running with ANSYS AIM.
To reduce the burden on students, we shortened the project window to only 15 days. During this time, students had to build engineering models, verify them via simulation and confirm their results via physical tests or a review of existing research.
On November 17, the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering held a poster session where 28 design teams showcased their results for faculty, staff and fellow students. Their innovative ideas, developed using ANSYS AIM, included such diverse products as wheelchairs, coffee cup sleeves, airfoils, submarine hulls and badminton racquets. While supporting their development efforts, ANSYS AIM has also taught students such essential concepts as design geometry, complex elements, boundary conditions and loads in a practical, hands-on manner. We were also able to reinforce the importance of understanding and validating numerical results.
When I tell people my sophomore students are using professional design tools, they’re surprised. But in today’s world of product complexity, short product life cycles, and pressure to launch innovations quickly, I’m doing my job as an educator by exposing my students to real-life design problems — then giving them the industry-standard tools to solve those problems most quickly and efficiently.
To learn more, check out ANSYS Discovery AIM.