Saturday, February 24, 2018

Camosun’s Mechanical Engineering Showcase returns

September 15, 2015 by Pascale Archibald, student editor

No one would expect the bust or hardcover book sitting on a fireplace mantel as being anything other than what they appear to be. And if you’re thinking secret-passageway triggers, I would say you’ve read a few too many spy novels in your time. But while secret passageways seem to exist solely in works of fiction, some Camosun students have taken on the task of building one.

It’s just one of nine final projects from students of Camosun’s Mechanical Engineering Program.

Mechanical Engineering instructor Jeffrey Stephen has been involved with the showcase for 10 years. He explains that students have three months to invent, build, and test their inventions.

Camosun students displaying their final projects at last year’s Mechanical Engineering Showcase (photo by Camosun College A/V services).

Camosun students displaying their final projects at last year’s Mechanical Engineering Showcase (photo by Camosun College A/V services).

“The students then present their projects, concepts, and their development to a team of engineers,” says Stephen. “They have a half hour to do that, and they earn 10 percent of their grade. They then go on to the showcase, where they demonstrate to the public. I find I’m getting better at assessing the students’ abilities and can understand more how to direct them towards success.”

As a result, Stephen says that for the past few years the students of the program have been making incredibly impressive inventions, some of which Victorians may have already heard about or even seen.

“We’ve had a few projects that just hit the news,” says Stephen. “We made a brand new coffee grinder for 2% Jazz coffee that went through patenting processes, and a beer vending machine for Phillips Brewery that’s just been installed into their storefront.”

These capstone projects are unique in the world of mechanical engineering, according to Stephen.

“There are other college-level engineering schools that do encourage capstone design,” says Stephen, “but some of them have it theory only, so as long as the students can draw it then it’s the end of the project. We actually require our students to build it, prove that it works, test it, and then present it. No other school makes their students defend their designs in front of an industry panel of engineers.”

The projects are an excellent way for the students to find out that theory doesn’t always line up with reality, says Stephen.

“They’ve spent two years studying the academia side of engineering and the theory,” he says. “It’s not until they actually try to apply it that they realize what it takes to physically build something, to invent and use parts that can actually be manufactured, and apply the physics concepts that they have learned in a way that actually works. Essentially, they get a massive appreciation for the creative process because they start from zero and they have to create something. The process of creative development is such an important skill and they really, really get a good dose of that.”

Second-year Mechanical Engineering student Keith Jacobsen is part of Savvy Cabinets, the team who will present their secret-passageway project in the showcase. Jacobsen has found the process to be very enlightening.

“It’s a pretty complicated project,” says Jacobsen, “insofar as there’s a lot of artsy components. It looks very simple and it should seem very simple when you first approach it, but in order to make it appear as simple as it does, it’s a fairly complicated design.”

It turns out that frequent aesthetic changes make for a lot of work when it comes to moving mechanical parts, as Jacobsen explains.

“The biggest problem of our design has been an iterative issue,” says Jacobsen. “We would design an aesthetic of the bookcase and then design some hinges that would be able to activate this thing. Then we would show it to the client and the client would change something, so we would have to go back and redesign the aesthetic, which would make us have to redesign the hinges.”

The take-away message from this project, according to Jacobsen, is that classroom learning isn’t everything.

“They don’t tell you about the price ranges of components in the classroom,” he says. “So it’s really nice to learn the real-world applications of what we’ve learned for the past two years.”

Camosun Mechanical Engineering Showcase
10 am to 2 pm Friday, September 25
Free, Camosun College Interurban campus

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