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NIU Voices: 5 reasons your company should sponsor a senior design project

Dean of the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology Donald Peterson.
Dean of the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology Donald Peterson.

Now more than ever, companies must do more with less. Whether it’s increasing efficiency or meeting increased demand, the answer could be uncovered by students in Northern Illinois University’s senior design course at the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology.

Seniors form teams to apply what they’ve learned to a real-world challenge presented by companies. They develop prototypes to create or enhance a product, system, process, automation, algorithm, or smart technology.

In short, the teams combine our expertise in engineering to improve productivity and profitability for participating companies.

Teams meet with their companies to define the projects, develop proposals, budgets and timelines. The companies guide the teams until spring, when the projects are completed.

“The end result was a real work output that we put into production,” said Carl Modesette, director of product engineering at UniCarriers Americas Corp. of Marengo, which has sponsored many projects “Companies benefit in many ways.”

Here are five ways companies can benefit:

Discover solutions to problems without using internal resources: The team includes a faculty adviser and a teaching assistant, plus three students from mechanical, electrical, biomedical or mechatronics, engineering technology or industrial and systems engineering. They use NIU’s state-of-the-art labs.

In 2019, Wahl Clipper Corporation of Sterling needed to efficiently collect data on how consumers use their products, an initiative the company had on the back burner. Their team designed a circuit board attached to the product that sends data to the user’s smart phone.

Increase efficiencies in daily operations: A team of industrial and systems engineering students sponsored by Nobelus in Schaumburg streamlined production and created a form to seek refunds from suppliers for poor quality material. Their work led to immediate savings.

“They were able to uncover and analyze key processes for us. The team helped us increase output significantly,” said Nobelus Chief Operating Officer Kurt Paquin.

Scout out fresh new talent: Companies get to know their team members’ abilities and work ethics. Collins Aerospace of Rockford hired all the students on their 2019 team.

“NIU is a great pipeline for employees,” said Chris Griffiths, executive director of program development. “The quality of NIU students always continues to impress.”

Save money and enjoy a great ROI: For $10,000, a company gets a solution that could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. In 2020, a team devised a scalable, modular system to detect leaks in fluid pump components for MTH Pumps in Plano. “Our system is safer, faster and more accurate,” said engineering technology major Jacob Bostick. “We estimate it to cost half of what the current system costs.”

Help shape next generation engineers: Students gain experience that reflects all aspects of engineering design and industry practice including how to communicate ideas, how intellectual property impacts operations and how ethics influences engineering decisions, explained Peterson.

The options are limitless.

CEET is now accepting project proposals for fall 2020. Companies that are interested can visit go.niu.edu/seniordesignday or contact Peterson at drpeterson@niu.edu or 815-753-2256.

• Donald Peterson is dean of the NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology.

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