DTU Roadrunners 2017

In deep water—project work for students

Wednesday 29 Mar 17


Knud Erik Meyer
Associate Professor
DTU Mechanical Engineering
+45 45 25 43 37


Claus Suldrup Nielsen
Laboratory Engineer
DTU Mechanical Engineering
+45 45 25 41 60
Already as first-year students on the courses offered by DTU Mechanical Engineering, students find themselves in deep water with project work and everything it involves in terms of interdisciplinarity, cooperation, and deadlines.

For engineers, it is absolutely crucial to have project work experience, and on many of the courses at DTU, they therefore learn about the CDIO principles: ‘Conceive’, ‘Design’, ‘Implement’, and ‘Operate’. CDIO was originally developed at MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA. On the BSc programmes Mechanical Engineering and Design and Innovation, and on the BEng programme Mechanical Engineering, even in their first year at DTU, students find themselves engaged in project work on one or more of the courses offered by DTU Mechanical Engineering.
“We throw the students in at the deep end in their first semester,” says Knud Erik Meyer, Head of Studies at Mechanical Engineering. “And they come up swimming beautifully.”

Build your own Stirling engine
“Using the heat from a tea-light, you must produce mechanical energy, and we will compete to see who comes up with the most efficient solution.” This was the instruction for an assignment which Associate Professor and Head of Studies Knud Erik Meyer and Associate Professor Anders Ivarsson asked their students on course 41000, Mechanical Engineering Practice, which is mandatory for first-year Mechanical Engineering students. Right at the beginning of the course, the students tried to build a Stirling engine out of a tin can and a balloon. In other words, they have already seen a solution that works. This type of engine was originally developed to replace the steam engine, but was superseded by the diesel engine. Today, it is used for special purposes, for example in submarines, because it is very quiet.

“The students find themselves in deep water, because really they ought to complete the courses on the programme first before launching themselves into engine design,” says Knud Erik Meyer. “However, we’re doing things the other way round: They’re thrown into it, and then they have to find out which disciplines they need, and then we give them simple tools during the process so they can find their feet.” Unlike many of the other subjects at DTU where the focus is on disciplines, the work on this course is project-oriented.

Photo: Lisbeth Lassen

The students on the course are introduced to a wide spectrum of engineering skills. The report that the groups have to submit at the end teaches them how to write technical reports in the way that engineers like them. In addition, the groups learn about CAD drawing, 3D printing, technical measurements, and, not least, cooperating with the craftsmen in the workshop.

Professor emeritus Henrik Carlsen, who gives presentations on the course as well as judging in the final competition, also mentions that a Stirling engine is a good starting point: “It involves basic disciplines and issues within solid and fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, materials and surface technology, tribology, design, and safety, and the Stirling engine therefore serves as an extremely good element in a course for mechanical engineers.”

What makes a good user experience, and how can we solve the problems that users experience?
On course 41010, User-oriented Design, the first-year Design and Innovation students are presented with a realistic issue that takes a specific problem for users as its starting point. Professor Per Boelskifte is head of studies at Design and Innovation, and teaches the new students on the course. This year, the task is called ‘Proposals for solutions which create a better user experience for citizens who are motorically challenged in Copenhagen’s urban space’.

Brugerorienteret design
On the course, the students learn basic techniques for identifying which problems users experience in various situations, and solutions then have to be prepared together with realistic users.

“The groups have to identify for themselves which problems users face when they use the city. This happens through ongoing dialogue with the users, and through fieldwork,” says Per Boelskifte about the project work. The solutions then have to be presented visually with posters, and with oral presentations. In relation to analysing the problem and assessing the quality of the solution for users, the Design and Innovation students acquire special knowledge compared with other study programmes about using qualitative methods such as fieldwork, one-to-one interviews, and focus groups.

New race track—eco-car faces new challenges
In spring 2016, the DTU Roadrunners team had lots of participants, both third semester students and students who were further on in their studies. By autumn 2016, however, the DTU Roadrunners team had shrunk to a small, exclusive group with just six members, all students in their fifth semester who are now working to prepare the eco-car Dynamo 12.0 for the Shell Eco-marathon 2017.

“As with a real CDIO project, we’re going the whole way with the team: The students have to be specialists within their own field—and generalists,” says laboratory engineer Claus Suldrup Nielsen, adding: “The eco-car assignment is not pre-defined. It is the students who together have to define the problem and the scope of the project—in other words develop ideas in the conceive phase.”

Every year, the students tackle new challenges, and this time round their biggest issue is probably the new race track in London, where the team had a really bad time of it at this year’s competition, which took place on 30 June – 3 July 2016. The track is also described as a ‘tricky track’, and not without reason, because the surface is very uneven. It proved too much for DTU Dynamo’s rear-wheel suspension, which broke under the strain, forcing the car out of the competition. However, when real-life circumstances cause a good and meticulously designed vehicle to drop out, it provides an obvious opportunity to tackle real engineering challenges.

ecocar 2017 Photo: Lisbeth Lassen 

So the new team is already busy trying to resolve the issues: “We want to redesign the rear-wheel suspension with springs that will better enable us to drive on the new race track,” says Claus Suldrup Nielsen. “Before London, we had competed in Rotterdam, where the track undulated slightly and was otherwise completely smooth asphalt. When we arrived in London, we discovered that plywood boards had been chosen for the parts of the track, and so there were some very distinctive shift from a flat surface one moment to a sloping surface the next, and this resulted in a lot of bumping for the car, which ended with the rear-wheel suspension disintegrating. The race track also posed problems for other cars, including Shell’s own entry, which was driven by Kimi Raikkonen.”

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