For 19 years students in BYU’s Capstone engineering program have solved puzzling problems for project sponsors. This year they completed project no. 500—and 26 others.
Some alumni drive past the Maeser Building. For others, it’s a mint brownie at the Wilk. For David L. Erickson (BS ’91), the requisite stop in any campus visit is the water-jet cutting machine in the basement of the Crabtree Building.
“Every time I visit campus, I still go down and stare at it,” says Erickson, today a research and development engineering manager at Hewlett-Packard. For Erickson, it’s like visiting an old friend, one that, with 60,000 pounds of pressure per square inch, cuts through bone, stone, and metal.
Erickson and a team of eight engineering undergraduates built the machine from the ground up over the course of their senior year. It was one of the first four projects in BYU’s Engineering and Technology Capstone Course: Integrated Product and Process Design, a course dreamed up by several faculty members and initiated during the 1990–91 school year with a new professor, Robert H. Todd, as its founding director.
“I had this reservoir of experience seeing what real engineers did,” recalls Todd, who had returned to academia after spearheading dozens of successfulprojects for Michelin Tire and GM. “And I sensed that what we were teaching students wasn’t as relevant as it ought to be to really prepare them for what would be expected of them in industry.” With that conviction, he teamed up with mechanical engineering professors Carl D. Sorenson (BS ’81) and Spencer P. Magleby (BS ’83) and started knocking on doors at Geneva Steel, Hill Air Force Base, GM, Ford, and others, asking, “Ever heard of BYU?” and “Would you be interested in turning over a back-burner project to a team of engineering undergraduate students?”
Today, 19 years later, the Capstone program has more than 200 national and international sponsors. The program, a required senior-year course for all mechanical engineering majors, has given thousands of engineering students hands-on experience with authentic industrial projects. Just this year, Capstone surpassed project no. 500 (turn the page for a glimpse of project no. 500 and a review of past projects).
“Capstone gave me great real-world experience,” says Spencer C. Harding (BS ’09), whose team designed a piece to be used in the assembly of Boeing’s 777 airplane. “Just having the Boeing name on your résumé does a lot.”
Sponsors pay $20,000 to fund a Capstone project, a cheap alternative to standard engineering-firm estimates. And the students’ deliverables are comparable to those of professionals—“at least equivalent and, in some cases, maybe even better,” says Paul Cannon, an engineer at ATK, one of the nation’s premier aerospace and defense companies. This year ATK sponsored its 25th BYU Capstone project. “We’ve supported BYU Capstone for many, many years, and we’ve been very impressed with the quality and the technical excellence we see coming out of BYU.”
In the end sponsors receive and capitalize off of all patents and intellectual property developed by the students. Todd says forfeiting the intellectual property on these projects pays back tenfold—the program gets better projects with better companies as a result of that agreement.
“Our most valuable result is the change that occurs in the students,” says Gregg M. Warnick (BS ’93), Capstone’s external relations coordinator. “The students come away with learning that is really a kick-start for the rest of their careers.”
For more information about Capstone, visit capstone.byu.edu. To inquire about sponsoring a project, call 801-422-6322.
Project No. 500: Just Plane Cool
Students help Boeing produce the 777 safer and faster.
Each month seven new 777 airplanes roll off the assembly line at Boeing’s manufacturing facility in Everett, Wash. Considering the more than 3 million parts assembled per plane, that’s no small feat. The 777 is the world’s largest twin-engine jetliner, and Boeing is backlogged: the company has hundredsof 777s still on order.
A team of engineering students in BYU’s Capstone program may have found a way to help. Recruited to make an attachment on Boeing’s 777 assembly line safer, the students have created a mechanism that could also shave time in the assembly process.
The 777 is manufactured on a moving assembly line that creeps forward 1.8 inches per minute. Employees work on scaffolding that connects to a crawler on which the airplane rests as it moves down the line. These work stands, weighing as much as 40,000 pounds, are connected to the crawler with a pin and clevis attachment—basically a pin driven through lined-up holes.
“The challenge with that is there actually has to be a person there to insert the pin,” says Daniel R. Call (’09), leader of Capstone team AssemblyImprovement Technologies. Workers have been injured in the process, and manually inserting the pin consumes time.
Charged with replacing the pin and clevis, the BYU team has designed a new attachment that automatically locks the stand to the crawler on contact: Boeing employees simply push the stand into place. The new attachment is also a wider target for the forklift operators. A light indicates when the attachment is locked; to release, an employee simply pulls a spring-loaded lever. The students believe these features will cut time in connecting the 84 different stands Boeing uses to assemble the 777. Another engineering feat: per Boeing specifications, the new attachment holds 7,000 pounds of load in any lateral direction while still giving five inches of vertical leeway, up or down, which allows the stands to stay level with the crawler when the warehouse floor is not perfectly level.
“Even though it’s this little widget, it’s still cool,” says team member Richard J. Zieger (’10), who, with the rest of the team, toured Boeing’s 777 factory as part of the design process. “I mean, we’re contributing something to Boeing.”
Boeing plans to refine the prototype and begin testing it on the line. “It will be a time-saver, and it will be safer,” says Chuck Harrison, the engineer at Boeing who was the liaison for the project. “I would love to work with these students again in the future.”
BYU engineering students have completed more than 500 Capstone projects over the last 19 years, getting firsthand experience in more engineering industry sectors than can be displayed on these pages. The projects featured here represent some of the students’ best work. Some projects achieved a final product or solution, while others were just a step in a longer engineering process, which is never done, according to Robert Todd, director of Capstone. “We can always make things better,” he says.
Improved Space Glove
Sponsor: NASA Ames Research
NASA recruited Capstone team High Five to redesign the palm of a space glove. The new palm joint allowed greater flexibility and dexterity without causing abrasion.
Automated Sound Acquisition
Sponsor: John Deere
John Deere engineers wanted a better way to identify the source of unwanted noises coming from their engines. Capstone team Buckoustics developed a robotic sound acquisition system that has a movable microphone that can record sound data from various positions near the engine surface.
Catheters Made Faster
Sponsor: Edwards Lifesciences
The process of making the catheters, or tubes, that are used in open-heart surgery involves dipping the tubes in an acetate solution. Capstone team Immersion Automation developed a machine that cuts the time it takes to dip the catheters, allowing Edwards Lifesciences to increase output.
COMPUTERS AND ELECTRONICS
Sponsor: NMB Technologies
Nicknamed “The Wave,” the ergonomic keyboard designed and built by Capstone team KeyFlow Designs makes the desktop computer keyboard friendlier to fingers and wrists. The prototype was further developed by NMB, and more than 1 million keyboards have been sold to date.
Concrete Trenching Machine
Sponsor: Asphalt Zipper
The Asphalt Zipper is a portable milling machine that grinds damaged asphalt into a fine material that can be either left on-site as road base or easily loaded and transported off-site for other uses. Capstone team Concrete Crushers reinforced Asphalt Zipper’s concrete-trenching attachment, enabling the machine to cut through steel-reinforced concrete roadbeds.
Sponsor: Cheney Family Enterprises
With a snow-bike conversion kit designed by Capstone Team Sherpa, a traditional mountain bike can be ridden on snow-packed trails in the dead of winter. The kit has front-ski and rear-track attachments that are compatible with most mountain bikes.
GOVERNMENT AND MILITARY
Apache Helicopter Engine Nacelle Redesign
Sponsor: Boeing Mesa
The Apache helicopter’s two gas turbine engines are covered by protective housings called nacelles. The nacelles protect the engines from the elements and house engine connections and supports. In preparation for a nacelle redesign, Boeing recruited Capstone team Rocky Mountain Tool Design to investigate parts reduction, material-change opportunities, and new processes.
Coconut Oil Handpress and Drying Machine
Sponsor: Pope Foundation
Women in Tanzania and Kenya can now use microcredit loans to purchase the coconut drying and pressing system designed by Capstone team Tropical Pressure. The apparatus, made from materials available locally in Africa, has an oven to dry coconut meat and a press to squeeze out the oil. The oil can then be sold locally or exported abroad.
Mini Baja Vehicle
BYU regularly placed in the top three in the muddy, off-road Mini Baja competition sponsored annually by the Society of Automotive Engineers. Capstone teams built a dune buggy vehicle to compete in the international competition every year from 1997 to 2005, placing first multiple times. The competition, which brings in teams from upwards of 100 universities, includes a sales presentation, a hill climb, a rock climb, a maneuvering test, and an endurance race.
Abrasive Water-Jet Cutting Machine
In Capstone’s first year, a team of students harnessed a stream of water that travels at three times the speed of sound in their water-jet cutting machine—a machine that is still used on campus today. The water stream, at 60,000 pounds per square inch, easily cuts through almost anything—stone, metal, composites, and more—with the accuracy of plus or minus 0.005 inches. The machine is controlled through computer software created by the students, who won the 1991 Society of Manufacturing Engineers CAD/CAM robotics contest for their creation.
Sponsor: Excel Industries
The Cooperative Automotive Reliability Development Capstone team designed a system to test the life of car-door components. Their machine, capable of opening 95 percent of American-made car doors, opens and slams a car door shut with varying amounts of force and can conduct up to 80,000 slams without human assistance.
By the Numbers
515 Capstone projects completed to date
205 sponsoring companies
25 projects sponsored by ATK, the most of any sponsor
$20,000 to sponsor a project
2,832 students have been through the Capstone program
4 projects completed in Capstone’s first year
27 projects completed this year
A Pioneer in Engineering Education
If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then the more than 40 colleges and universities that have modeled their engineering programs after BYU’s Capstone course speak volumes.
Forty is Capstone director Robert H. Todd’s best estimation—so many schools have requested detailed documentation of the program in Capstone’s 19 years that he’s lost count. In April his colleague, Capstone external relations coordinator Gregg M. Warnick (BS ’93), gave a presentation on the program at the National University of Singapore. Last year inquiries came from Iowa State University (ISU).
“The kind of capstone experience available in BYU Mechanical Engineering is what many current engineering programs would like to have, but only relatively few have in place,” says Theodore H. Okiishi, an academic vice president at ISU who visited Provo to benchmark the Capstone program last fall. He was impressed by the two-semester Capstone course, which puts teams of students to work on real industry projects—each project guided by an engineer from its sponsoring company. Every Capstone team is also coached by a professor or by a professional engineer.
“That’s where [BYU’s] system really shines,” says Jim Heise, who runs ISU’s capstone engineering course. At ISU two or three faculty members oversee 15-plus projects. At BYU the faculty-to-project ratio is nearly one to one, and the breadth of faculty members’ expertise enables Capstone to bring in a wide variety of interdisciplinary projects.
Compared with capstone-like experiences nationwide, Okiishi and Heise say BYU ranks among schools like Harvey Mudd College, MIT, and Penn State. “BYU is definitely one of the leaders—probably one of the top five,” says Heise. A good indicator, according to Okiishi, is the amount of money industrial sponsors put into a program. For BYU, that affirmation has come from big-name industry sponsors like NASA, Ford, General Mills, and ATK, one of the nation’s largest aerospace and defense companies. “BYU’s is the only program I’m aware of in which we, as sponsors, keep all the intellectual property,” says Paul Cannon, a program manager at ATK, which sponsored a Capstone project this year. “Other universities don’t offer that.”
Todd has spent his entire BYU career improving the program. He and his colleagues have published or presented more than 30 papers on Capstone, openly sharing their curriculum developments, like using psychology tests to build more dynamic teams and allowing the teams to bid for projects they want most.
“Engineering is not just a discipline,” he says. “Classes teach the fundamentals of engineering—the science, the mathematics, the chemistry. But Capstone lets them play the real game.”
Back on Campus
Terri Christiansen Bateman (BS ’93) must be the cool mom. She helped build a spaceship, after all—one that will travel to Utah schools, including the elementary school her youngest attends.
The Galileo Mark VI Education Simulator, sponsored by the Alpine School District, was one of 27 Capstone projects completed this year by teams of BYU engineers. Bateman coached two of those teams: the group that built the space simulator and the team that reduced the cost of producing the catheters used in open-heart surgery. She’s been coaching Capstone projects for five years now, the perfect part-time job for a former Ford design engineer turned stay-at-home mom—not to mention she’s a BYU engineering alum.
“I’m not sure I could ask for a better job,” says Bateman. “I love the students and the environment for learning at BYU. I love that every Capstone project is real.”
Dozens of alumni like Bateman, many of whom are graduates of the Capstone program themselves, have returned to campus to support the program. They fill one of three roles: sponsor, liaison engineer, or coach. Sponsors fund and provide students with projects to work on; liaison engineers from the sponsoring companies guide students through projects; and coaches work with student teams on a weekly, and sometimes daily, basis. Nearly half of the 66 individuals who filled those capacities this year were alums.
“I can’t seem to stay away from BYU,” says Boeing engineer Kenneth R. Hardman (BS ’84), now in his sixth year of coaching Capstone projects. “The Clyde Building was my home for four years. I feel a sense of gratitude for that experience.”
While Capstone didn’t exist when Hardman was an undergraduate, he asked to be involved as soon as he learned of the course. “Helping these studentsapply the engineering skills they’ve learned helps me apply those same skills in my field,” he says, “and Capstone gives [students] a leg up. They now have a portfolio to show of things they’ve actually designed and worked on.”
Brian S. Kinross’ (BS ’92) Capstone experience came up in every job interview he had coming out of BYU. Since then he’s convinced both of his subsequent employers to sponsor Capstone projects. Today Kinross is an engineering manager at AGC Automotive, where he has sponsored six Capstone projects and, more often than not, been the liaison engineer interfacing directly with students. Helping students speak the language of a practicing engineer is rewarding, he says. “It goes back to my education experience. I’ve felt the value of Capstone in my life. Maybe that’s why I’m passionate about the program.”
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