CU Engineering College Partners With Industry On Real Project Experience

Published: Nov. 14, 2000

When senior Ted Bertele graduates in December with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, he won't be stuck wondering how to apply his engineering knowledge in an industrial environment.

While a student at CU-Boulder, Bertele got experience in real-world manufacturing, including responding to customer needs and working with machine shops, purchasing requirements, time-and-cost constraints and other issues.

Bertele has been part of a team of undergraduate engineering students who worked with engineers from Ball Corp., a Broomfield-based manufacturer of food and beverage packaging, on a challenging project related to the company's manufacturing process. The two-semester project involved five students and was aimed at developing a device to measure the wall-thickness of metal cans to an accuracy of 50-millionths of an inch.

"It's a very valuable experience. It's a chance to see where the rubber meets the road," Bertele said. "As industry gets more involved in student design projects, the transition from school to work is not going to be so dramatic."

The project was brought to students through the new Industry/University Cooperative Project Center, launched in Fall 1999 by professor attendant Jack Zable of CU's mechanical engineering department.

"We are working to bring industry-based projects to our senior design course sequence so that students can get experience working with professional engineers on significant projects," said Zable, who came to the College of Engineering in 1997 after a successful career with IBM.

"Industry sponsors benefit from new ideas, gain an edge in recruiting top students and obtain a tested, functional piece of hardware, with documentation, at the end of the project," he said.

The I/UCPC program, which began with three industry-sponsored projects, has seen extraordinary growth with students now working on 18 industry projects in the areas of research, development and manufacturing. Sponsors pay a fee for participation, which goes toward the purchase of materials and new equipment for student use.

In most cases, the project ends with the school year and a formal presentation of the results to the industry sponsor. Last year, for example, CU students in conjunction with an industry mentor designed an improved mechanism for a robotic assembly used in the manufacturing of a tape-library product by Boulder-based Exabyte Corp. They delivered the mechanism and accompanying documentation to the company, and Exabyte personnel successfully installed the mechanism.

In some cases, the industry sponsors continue their relationship with one or more of the students in order to do further work on the project. Bertele has been working part-time for Ball Corp. since last summer to further develop the design of the measuring device. He also is working on a second project with Ball this semester, to optimize die wear through experimental and theoretical analyses of different coatings and lubricants.

"The program has been very successful," said Greg Robinson, manager of research and development for Ball's packaging operations, who brought two additional projects to the program in its second year. "I think it's really good exposure for students to work on real problems like this where the answer is unknown, and we get the benefit of the fresh perspective and energy brought to the table by these talented students."

Student projects, which are supervised by a faculty member and an industry representative, go through several stages, similar to those that would be performed in a professional setting. Stages include initial design, theoretical analysis, fabrication of parts, assembly of a prototype, testing, redesign, retest, complete documentation and written and oral presentation.

Students work either in the college's state-of-the-art Integrated Teaching and Learning Laboratory, the mechanical engineering department's Durning Laboratory or at the sponsor's work site.

For more information on the I/UCPC program, including how to sponsor a student project, call Jack Zable at (303) 492-3410.