The University of Michigan is a public research university. Its College of Engineering is a preeminent school focused on research, education and culture, and ranks fourth among engineering programs in the U.S.
The University of Michigan is a preeminent public research university in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The College of Engineering ranks fourth among engineering programs in the U.S. The Department of Aerospace Engineering, founded in 1914 and the oldest undergraduate program in the U.S., is consistently highly ranked in the top three nationwide. Seven astronauts are among the more than 4,000 alumni.
Over twenty years in academic partnership, Siemens has granted software to the University of Michigan for several different schools within engineering. Today, all students at the College of Engineering have access to Siemens software, and many student teams are granted access to higher-level software editions for use in preparing for intercollegiate competitions. In the past few years, Siemens has grown its commitment to supporting innovation on campus by upgrading a technical and collaboration space in the Wilson Student Team Project Center for use by all students for design reviews and other purposes. Siemens Digital Industries Software has also demonstrated its commitment to the future of education by co-creating massive open online course content with the faculty in topic areas at the leading edge of engineering education.
In early 2020, George Halow, professor of practice in the university’s Department of Aerospace Engineering, reached out to Siemens to discuss his ideas for integrating systems engineering and business leadership instruction into the aerospace curriculum. Halow joined the university in 2019 after a 31-year career at Ford that spanned multiple positions in engineering, manufacturing, business, and technology strategy. He wanted to help develop skill sets and knowledge that would fill the gap between industry needs and new employee capabilities in areas such as systems engineering and essential business skills, including team leadership, complex project management, ethics, risk-based decision-making and collaboration.
“I was hired in May of 2019 to implement essential business skills in this highly technical and very strong curriculum, and also build upon the exceptional lab instruction performed by Professors Washabaugh, Smith, Bernal, and others,” Halow says. “At the undergraduate level, the first phase is an enterprise leadership course, which is an overview of the industry. We launched that in September of 2019 and the results were very positive.”
As advances in technology are transforming industry at a record pace, there is a need for highly skilled technical specialists who can innovate beyond the traditional boundaries between engineering disciplines. The next generation of smart products are complex systems of systems that require a model-based systems engineering (MBSE) approach. Unfortunately, formal instruction to address this gap is lacking at the undergraduate level at most major universities, creating a potential gap between what engineering students learn and what employers desire from top-notch engineering students.
To close the gap, in 2020 Michigan Aerospace Engineering introduced a new systems engineering and leadership course. The laboratory exercises for the course use system development lifecycle (SDLC) principles to provide instruction in key systems engineering tools and processes, as well as leadership and business skills. Sophomores, juniors, and seniors can attend the class.
“We wanted to focus on student project teams because they actually bring a disciplined project that has competition rules and regulations,” Halow says. “Engineering students gain critical hands-on design experience as well as important team, organizational and management skills. The projects have all the subsystems that will be affected – propulsion systems, structures, aerodynamics, et cetera. They are ready-made projects to which we could apply these learnings.”
Student competition projects are a microcosm of the product development cycle in industry. “They begin with establishing new requirements, then cascade those requirements down to systems and subsystems,” Halow explains. “Students design, build and test to the requirements, then verify and validate the design, and the result is what the teams compete with. It’s the classic systems engineering V-model laid out on the academic calendar. Students run through this cycle in the fall for student competitions that happen in the spring, for example, developing a fully functional drone or an electric-powered propeller-driven craft.
The University of Michigan’s emphasis on hands-on student competitions is embodied in the Wilson Student Team Project Center, a 20,000 square-feet, $10 million facility in which competition teams can experience development and fabrication, enrich theoretical instruction, and empower team members with practical application of knowledge. The center serves 25 organizations and more than 1,600 students and is accessible 12 hours a day, seven days a week. The center is the result of commitments by the College of Engineering, the University of Michigan, and numerous sponsors and donors, including Siemens Digital Industries Software.
To introduce the design-build-test-fly cycle, the university enlisted the help of Siemens experts to develop a series of five labs that students work through in the first weeks of the class. Through virtual meetings, the Siemens experts collaborated with university personnel to thoroughly understand the requirements and learning objectives of the course and discussed the tools and technologies that could be applied to achieve the objectives. Siemens also provided tutorials and demonstrations that enabled the University of Michigan staff to execute on the projects and develop the work packages for the exercises. The labs employ leading-edge design, engineering, manufacturing and product lifecycle management solutions from the Xcelerator™ portfolio of solutions and services from Siemens Digital Industries Software.
Tony Komar, a Siemens systems engineering evangelist, worked with professors, students and instructional assistants, helping them understand the value of the systems engineering methodology. “I built out a systems model of a drone with embedded requirements, an example of the kind of project the teams focus on. Students are given the model for a requirements decomposition and cascade exercise. At the system level, you may have a requirement for a vertical acceleration, but at the logical level the requirement may be the speed of the motor rotation needed to deliver thrust from a propeller.”
The lab exercise uses Teamcenter® software and Capella, an open-source system modeling tool. The model included requirements for operating conditions, scale, lift/thrust, and power, cost and load limits.
The second lab exercise involved computer-aided design (CAD) technology, for which the project teams used NX™ software to design a 3D fin, propeller blades and other components. Using solid modeling techniques, students create 3D models of assemblies to evaluate design parameters including material and mass properties.
Maia Herrington is a sophomore student and an instructional aide for professor Halow who wrote the lab. “This was the first lab I wrote, and I ran into a lot of issues,” Herrington recalls. “I met with a Siemens NX expert who walked me through the most efficient approach for what we were trying to accomplish, as well as a few alternative methods we could implement in the lab. The support we received was fantastic.”
In the following lab, project teams used the assembly developed in the CAD lab exercise and employed Simcenter™ Amesim™ software for multi-domain system simulation to add a power source, a servo, a motor control board, a joystick controller and an Arduino. Using the mass properties from the CAD model, the teams calculate the minimum power required to drive the blades at three different speeds.
The subsequent lab, developed in close collaboration with a Siemens simulation expert, focused on simulation and optimization, for which the teams used Simcenter™ STAR-CCM+™ software for computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and Simcenter™ Nastran® software to calculate the thrust/lift of the propeller at different speeds, as well as the resultant forces and moments of the propellers and shaft. To experiment with optimizing the performance, the teams make modifications to the geometry of the propellers, repeat the simulations and compare the modified design to the original.
The final lab exercise, developed with the help of a Siemens manufacturing expert was designed to introduce the project teams to key manufacturing considerations and collaboration with manufacturing engineers. With investment, cost, and volume information provided in the lab, the students were asked to make key tradeoff decisions involving costs, materials, tooling, labor and manufacturing and assembly time, along with a decision rationale.
Together, the laboratory exercises, developed over the summer of 2020, represent an investment of hundreds of hours of support from Siemens employees with decades of experience in their respective fields of expertise. “We have been overwhelmed with the support that Siemens has brought to the party here,” Halow says. “From a tool standpoint, from a technical support standpoint, and from a collaborative partnership relationship standpoint, it’s been perfect on every front.”
With a groundbreaking engineering course based on real-world MBSE product development tools and techniques, the University of Michigan is empowering students with the knowledge and hands-on skills that are needed by their future employers and underrepresented in engineering curricula. “We want to take this approach into other dimensions, other engineering departments,” says Halow. “If it works in aerospace, why can’t it work in mechanical or biomedical or in any other engineering discipline? The sky is the limit as to where this can go.”