Design Expo 2016: The Big Reveal Radiates Energy, Excitement as Senior and Enterprise Projects Come to Light

Design Expo Day
Design Expo Day
Bethany Schaefer's team designed a hitch-load measurement device for John Deere tractors. Tests will continue at the company.

Feeds and speeds, pop-and-swaps, chat 'bots and Blue-tooth Roombas–the lingo flies thick and fast along a poster-lined labyrinth of evolutionary ideas at Michigan Tech's Design Expo 2016.

The 16th of what for 13 years was known as the Undergraduate Expo as usual draws a crowd. It's the optimum view of Big Picture and nitty-gritty detail. It's a grand finale, but also a continuing story; Capstones and team work form foundations for future expansion.

Senior Legacies

John Deere sent a tractor to the Three-Point Hitch Load Measurement system team. Too bulky for the ballroom. But like so many expo exhibitors, mechanical engineering major Bethany Schaefer's articulate passion more than makes up for the absence of heavy machinery. Real-life testing was the most satisfying part of the process. "You don't get the full magnitude on the computer—it's amazing. It's like yesssss—it's working!"

No issues fitting a jaw-adjusting sleep apnea device, fetchingly displayed on a skull model, into its assigned exhibit space. Biomedical engineering major Nathan Dills wanted to work on this project because his dad has sleep apnea. Dills and his team say the next steps are expanded testing and comparisons to similar devices on the market. The ultimate goal: "Seeing something we created that is comfortable for people to wear," says Emilee Philson, another team member and biomedical engineering student.  

Sleep disorder no more: A truly jaw-dropping display of a senior design team's device for mild apnea.
Sleep disorder no more: A truly jaw-dropping display of a senior design team's device for mild apnea.

Past the Exploring Friction Stir Back Extrusion—one of just four or five different groups in the US striving to make strong, seamless, smaller tubing. Past the Visualization of the Biofilm Layer on Orthopedic Implants During Surgery, which will save pain, money and time. Past dozens of other remarkable projects, biomedical engineering major Zhongtian Zhang simply sums up the purpose of his team's Multi-functional Bracelet to Monitor Hand Hygiene and Noise Compliance in Healthcare Environments.    

"It won't go if you don't wash your hands." There's a noise monitoring component—an annoying series of beeps.

Jackie Mayrose, fellow team member and biomed major, explains that senior design projects are the culmination of a Michigan Tech engineering education, but by no means a one and done. Even though graduates will move on in two weeks, they refer to present projects in future tense. The bracelet is in its third year of development; the current sponsor is Keweenaw Aspirus.  

"Our design is an improvement on both of theirs," says Mayrose. "We're hoping they'll continue next year."

The inner workings of a multifunctional bracelet could help medical staff monitor their hand sanitation.
The inner workings of a multifunctional bracelet could help medical staff monitor their hand sanitation.

Dave Olsson, marketing director of Aspirus Keweenaw, hopes so, too. "It's really needed in the world of health care."

Two booths down, two seniors are tackling a first-year design project. Mechanical engineering technology majors Richard Guinn and Zion Schaub's quest for an economical, easily repeated method to form complex sheet-metal structures produced a hypnotic video—and identified roadblocks for future teams to work through. "We're kind of the guinea pigs for this project," says Schaub. "We knew coming in there would be trial and error. It'll be neat to see where it goes."

Enterprise Enthusiasm

Several of Michigan Tech's 27 cross-disciplinary Enterprise teams compete throughout the year. Supermileage Systems, nationals-bound next weekend with its 9,000-miles-per-gallon-equivalent vehicle, displayed corporate structure as well as electric power innovations.

"We run like a business," explains CFO and electrical engineer Andy McMichael, part of the three-member executive team including CEO Pierce Jensen, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering major, and COO Christian Romans, electrical engineering major.

The Big Reveal Radiates Energy, Excitement as Senior and Enterprise Projects Come to Light
The Big Reveal Radiates Energy, Excitement as Senior and Enterprise Projects Come to Light

"I don't need Enterprise. I just do it 'cause it's fun," says computer scientist Scott Pomerville, at the nearby, brightly flashing Wireless Communication team display. "And it's how I got my first internship."

Highlights of the 50-plus-member team's projects include a Visual and Performing Arts system to create wireless triggers for stage effects, and a home project with wireless LED cubes, "something that almost anybody can do," Reyes says. "The magic happens right here, with multiplexer chips."

Science and Technical Communication major Shelby Marter of the IT Oxygen team is also here by choice.

"I wasn't required to be in Enterprise. I want to do it because it's a necessary experience."Shelby Marter

Team projects include a tool to communicate between your vehicle and your phone, for example, sending a notification on windshield-wiper deals to a driver during a rainstorm. For Marter, who focused mainly on business analysis, the most fun aspect is "understanding the dynamic nature of the projects. Changing daily is a given."

Thumbs-up from the Judges

It takes 102 judges—both on-campus and industry experts—to cover the full scope of projects on display. They relish their duties.

"They're all so good. We get talking and I forget I'm judging," says Jim Desrochers, associate director for employer relations at Michigan Tech.

"It's really nice to see the research they do," says electrical and computer engineering graduate student Saurabh Bhatia, who draws on his own Enterprise experiences. "I've been there, done that,so I'm just probing for in-depth knowledge. Not intimidating at all."

Tom Porter, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, is an alumnus ('68) and returning expo judge.

"They get better every time. The depth of their knowledge is impressive."Tom Porter

Competition results will be announced early next week.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.