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Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture Mechanical and Materials Engineering Newsletter – Spring 2013

Making Room for More

New Equipment Provides Big Impact for Future Engineers

Members of the School of MMe advisory board received a tour of lab equipment upgrades.A new data acquisition system, laser scanners, and a 3D printer are some of the improvements that mechanical engineering students will soon see, thanks to a $1.82 million Washington state appropriation to the WSU School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering.

“Engineers are extremely important to the Washington state economy. They are the ones who are going to solve global challenges in energy, the environment, and health,” says David Field, interim director of the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. “Our state legislators understand that for our students to be trained to meet these global challenges, state-of-the-art equipment is more important than ever.”

WSU’s engineering programs will be seeing a dramatic increase in the number of engineering students in the next few years. Facing increasing industry demand for engineers and computer scientists, the state legislature allocated $3.8 million each to WSU and the University of Washington to increase capacity in engineering and computer science programs. The initiative aims to address a shortage of Washington state engineers and will result in a more than 30 percent increase, or a total of 425 new students, in WSU’s engineering programs. With support from this initiative, WSU mechanical engineering programs in Bremerton and Everett are also expanding, which allow place-bound students to improve skills that are needed in industry.

But, to grow the programs, one of the limiting factors has been lab space and equipment. Approximately half of the $1.82 million appropriation will go to update labs in Pullman, while the other half is split between the WSU mechanical engineering programs in Bremerton and Everett.

The Bremerton and Everett funds will support development of lab capabilities on those campuses and should enable the students to complete their studies without traveling to Pullman for the laboratory portion of the curriculum, says Cill Richards, professor in the School of MME who is overseeing the laboratory fund committee. In Pullman, labs for undergraduate classes are being upgraded and modernized. The laser scanner and 3D printer will serve five classes and additional elective courses. New equipment, including lathes and mills, are being added to manufacturing laboratories. A new internal combustion engine test stand will serve five courses as well.

“Laboratory classes are the current bottleneck in the mechanical and materials engineering programs,” says Bob Olsen, associate dean of undergraduate student services. “Some equipment used for these classes is older than the students in the courses, and, in some cases, time for hands-on laboratory and design experiments is limited by the amount of equipment available.”

Important changes in data acquisition are also being made in the labs to catch up with the 21st century.

“The new data acquisition will allow students to access data from experiments via their own computers using a web browser,” said Richards. “They can also use an app if they have a smart phone.”

The intent is not that students can do the labs everywhere but that instructors can have students in a lecture class run an experiment together to supplement lectures, she said.

“Much of the equipment not only upgrades what is already in the lab, but enhances the laboratory experience and strengthens the connections to material in lecture classes,” she said.

“One of the real strengths of MME’s program is the hands-on experience that our students get,” she added. “This equipment will strengthen the quality of our program.