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Innovation

Rapid Prototyping Reset

Refreshing an MIT engineering design and rapid prototyping course

Published: Thursday, April 21, 2022 - 12:02

The Bernard M. Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program (GEL Program) recently revamped and relaunched Engineering Design and Rapid Prototyping (D-PRO), a Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics course last taught in 2012. It was updated to center on a new multidisciplinary project focused on the fundamental skills in engineering design.

D-PRO serves as one of five elective course offerings students in the GEL 1 Program can choose to fulfill the Design and Innovation Leadership Requirement. The course aims for students to develop a holistic view of the design process within an engineering industry context, which they do by conceiving, designing, prototyping, and testing a multidisciplinary component or system. D-PRO integrates classroom-based learning with hands-on exploration, challenging small teams of students to design and develop solutions to a modified, real-life application.

“Designing and building new products and systems. Working in diverse teams. Testing against quantitative requirements. Competing for contracts and market share. Those are all things we simulate during two intense weeks,” says Apollo Program professor of astronautics and engineering systems, and GEL Program faculty co-director Olivier “Oli” de Weck, who co-instructed the course.

Students participated in a team-based design competition to provide a solution (across both cost and performance measures) for a next-generation air-quality system for vehicle cabins. The key goal was to rethink the vehicle cabin comfort and health for an automaker’s transition to an all-electric vehicle lineup. Teams were tasked with reducing the probability of contracting a viral disease in the cabin (compared to present-day cabins) while achieving equal or better climate-control system performance and minimizing electrical power consumption. For an electric vehicle where everything runs off the battery, there’s no energy to spare.


Students in Engineering Design and Rapid Prototyping demonstrate their design capability by developing a functioning prototype of air quality and climate control systems for a 1/8 vehicle cabin test case (the volume around the upper body of one passenger). Credit: Olivier “Oli” de Weck

The teams also had to meet 16 design requirements before the vehicle maker scored teams on both “cost” and “performance.” The teams then competed to win a supplier contract from the vehicle maker.

“I appreciated that the industry-like structure of the class provided me with a glimpse into the business of engineering and illustrates all that goes into the development of new technology,” says current GEL 1 and Course 2 senior Kiely Smiga-McManus. Regarding the hands-on fabrication component of the course, she says, “I particularly enjoyed experimenting with the CNC wire cutter, which allowed my team to produce a high-quality system with complex geometry and crisp edges.”

Throughout the two weeks, the teams worked a full 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule every day to create and improve upon their first-iteration prototypes, and were challenged to further optimize their systems in a version-two design. Notably, each team chose to implement a different system architecture and design, despite having the same requirements, instructions, and materials available at the start. The different teams’ system costs also varied plus or minus 25 percent.

Course co-instructor Jim Magarian, GEL program senior lecturer and associate academic director, says, “It’s great to be able to offer a variety of ways that students can fulfill the GEL program’s design and innovation leadership requirement. D-PRO demonstrates that a substantial learning experience in engineering design can be attained in a condensed IAP [independent activities period] course format. I’m proud of this year’s D-PRO students for pushing the limits with their projects, illustrating how design optimization can be achieved through extensive analysis, testing, and iteration in a relatively short time period—if done methodically.” 

Guest lectures were given on computational fluid dynamics by Adrían Lozano-Durán and by Faurecia, a French automotive supplier that develops leading-edge vehicle interiors.

First published March 4, 2022; reprinted with permission of MIT News. 

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