The culture in Rochester Institute of Technology’s Mechanical Engineering Technology department is one of long standing innovation and entrepreneurship. Our ‘Idea Factory’ starts in our freshmen seminar where the students are required to generate, investigate, and develop ideas. In later courses they refine and focus their designs up to and including developing prototypes. We are developing a ‘technology shelf’ that allows us to produce products that have evolved from engineering models and alternate process production runs to hard tooling and packaged products that have gone through all the rigors of the production process. It is not just about creating a product but rather the discovery of why a product was successful or why and where it failed. Our products are given a two year cycle where the product may be ‘re-engineered’ to one having either a robust technology and/or enhanced supporting processes. It is also more about creation and construction of models in addition to analysis. We have taken concurrent engineering and included the manufacturing, assembly, and packaging disciplines. A unique requirement of this process is the ‘infusing’ into other courses participating in solving a product’s design and development problems. For example, for evaluating the cantilever beam of a project, the strength of materials class got involved and used it as a class project. Similarly, in machine design the fatigue characteristics of the design were analyzed. Students now see the application of what they are learning in classes and experience the results of their work. With the right set of resources, both human and equipment, fostering spirit becomes a self-generating event. Once left to their own imagination, students will become a natural breeding ground of idea generators and the task then becomes to guide and coach the teams to further their ideas. Students will endlessly add features and enhancements to their ideas and there truly does come a time when you must ‘shoot the engineer and release the product’. The hidden jewel here is the learning curve experienced when there comes the time to actually develop the idea into a production level product. Creating a Product Realization Club has gained a reputation of letting the students truly run with their own ideas rather than ones given them by a faculty member and it is clear that students will chew on their ideas like a dog on a bone. This amount of intensity can never be accomplished by preset assignments and the trick is to get the student teams to champion their own work. In today’s technology there is seldom a product that involves only one discipline. Consequently, ‘interdisciplinary’ teams are encouraged. Teams frequently have students from different disciplines such as mechanical, electrical, packaging, industrial design, and even business that all contribute and share the experience of following an idea through a product life cycle. Faculty must be onboard with this concept and must show a unified support. Our Industrial Advisory Board is an active participant including financial and technical support. This culture is not just at the borders of RIT but is encouraged to include other colleges and even high schools. Competitions and meetings are held at regular intervals. In one particular example SUNY Morrisville is responsible for the manufacture of the injection molds for all the plastic parts for a unique kitchen scale. Publishing and presenting their work is an important requirement and teams from Morrisville and RIT were successful at the ASEE St. Lawrence section student paper and presentation competition. There are many hidden benefits from this endeavor. One major benefit is the early realization by the student as to why should take a Materials or Electronics course. We have seen an average of one grade point shift upward from our mechanical students when taking an electronics course. Another hidden benefit is that the students loose their fear of starting projects and developing them to the end. Faculty advisors can also benefit from this as they provide much more interactive advising to the students. The Product Realization endeavor has demonstrated impressive results in its early career and we are continuously exploring new techniques and ideas to further its benefits to the students and college.
William M. Leonard, Carl Lundgren, and Robert Merrill, "What is the Culture at the University that Fosters a Spirit of Innovation and Entrepreneurship?" in "Teaching Entrepreneurship to Engineering Students", Eleanor Baum and Carl McHargue Eds, ECI Symposium Series, Volume P02 (2003). http://dc.engconfintl.org/teaching/13