I welcome the opportunity to work with local and regional industry. At the University of Nevada, Reno, we strive to create an enriching capstone course in the chemical engineering program. Our goals are to provide students with a challenge in which they generate an innovative solution to a realistic chemical engineering problem. The course (ChE 482) will guide them through generating design inputs, design output, cost estimation and regulatory issues. In doing so, students will experience typical industry challenges including working as a team, developing iterative designs, building prototypes if necessary, and measuring physical or chemical properties as needed. Students leave the course prepared to enter into design engineering roles in many process industries.
When industry sponsors a chemical engineering team, both the company and team will benefit. The company will have an opportunity to observe senior students working outside the scope of an intern role. They will work through a problem, develop a solution, complete a design, and evaluate the design in light of numerous constraints to determine if their design inputs meet their design requirements. The students will interact with the company as they would with a customer, providing the students a realistic design experience.
Companies gain a closer relationship with our department at the University of Nevada, Reno. They will have an opportunity to better understand the scope of the chemical and materials engineering department, and its breadth of resources and expertise. Further, they will have the opportunity to observe engineering students immediately prior to graduation and are well poised to recruit.
The intent is to offer as many as eight externally sponsored projects to the teams. For the current 2018/2019 academic year, the course will likely have eight teams. The bulk of the design experience will be done during the spring semester, starting in January 2019. The semester ends in May, and culminates in an open house for the College of Engineering at which the students display their accomplishments. Students will have an opportunity to select a project in December 2018 so that they can start the project in January and hit the ground running.
A company will have a loosely-formed technical problem to be solved. They will provide a mentor to work with the group of four to five students throughout the spring semester, January through April. Any project offered should be challenging, intriguing and realistic. It should not be mundane or on the level of busy work that is normally assigned to an engineering intern. I will work with you, if you like, to define the scope of the project to make it feasible.
The mentor will meet with the design team on a periodic basis. This may be frequent (every other week) or less frequent, but I hope for at least two opportunities for interaction. The meetings might be in person or by virtual meeting space. The mentor will oversee the development of the design inputs and offer such specification requirements such as budget, performance and usability requirements. The mentor will continue with the team from the onset of the project to its completion. The mentor will be invited to attend all formal presentations given by the team and will be asked to approve key documents. At the end of the term, the mentor is requested to provide written feedback to the instructor on the quality of the students’ final project.
The mentor can be involved in all phases of the project but should stay in an advisory capacity. They can offer constructive guidance to keep the project moving towards the intended goal. Providing the students with customer expectations will give the team a valuable design experience. They should not solve problems for the team as problem solving is one of the tenets of the course.
A wide range of projects are possible, and chemical engineering includes numerous technical subjects. Projects may include reactions, separations, mixing, etc. An ideal project has a “real world” flavor and is something that you would work on in your company, if you had sufficient band width. Specifying constraints is an important part of determining the project scope and provides a dimension to the project that most students haven’t previously experienced. The project should require approximately 200 hours of design work to include concept generation, modeling, measurements, design of unit operations and cost estimation.
By completing the design project, student will provide not only a conceptual design, but will also specify operating conditions, a flow sheet, a simulation (when appropriate), a HAZOP analysis and an economic analysis. Some projects may require determining specific physical properties, or a prototype.
The company will provide financial support for any required experiments and for costs of fabrication. The team’s budget will be tracked by the team and the sponsoring company. Students may not be compensated for their labor (see IP section for further information). Externally sponsored projects typically have total costs less than $2,000, and zero cost is typical. However, a company is not limited in the monetary amount with which they may be willing to support the student team. The company may offer, at the discretion of its management, use of company facilities for the team to complete their design.
It would be ideal to include at least one site visit to provide students with the “setting.” Many students haven’t seen industrial sites, and this can be a valuable part of the experience.
If the company wants students to travel further than 25 miles from the University, the company will need to cover all the travel expenses.
Students are required to give a formal presentation revealing details of their projects. The audience may include other companies sponsoring student teams. The students will be publishing information on a website regarding the project. Companies are discouraged from disclosing confidential information. Further details are provided in a separate document.
The University has policies regarding the intellectual property developed by undergraduate students. All IP is the property of the students unless otherwise agreed upon. The company can make other arrangements at the onset of the project but need to make those arrangements known in writing prior to engaging a team. A company may also offer compensation to the students with an intention to own the IP at the conclusion of the project, but those negotiations must take place after the semester has concluded.
The University has developed a formal policy regarding confidentiality and intellectual property.
The University is steward over a large number of academic licensed software available to the students. This software includes Solidworks, Matlab, ChemCad, MathCad, and Minitab etc. The academic licenses preclude use for commercial purposes and the files are often water marked with "academic use only" tags. Use of files generated by the design teams for application in industry can result in serious charges and fines to the University and to the company. If a company wishes to make use of such files in the future, they should supply the students with access to commercial licenses of these software applications.
Should the occasion arise in which the company and the student team are in irresolvable conflict, both parties should contact the instructor for mediation. The instructor will balance the needs of the company, the students and the University to arrive at resolution.
I hope that these requirements and guidelines are helpful in communicating expectations and can provide for smooth experience during the four-month project time line.
Chuck Coronella, Ph.D., P.E.
Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering