In the last decade, there has been a dramatic increase in the efforts dedicated to involving undergraduate engineering students in research activities. Since mechanical engineering education includes broad topics, such as materials, mechanics, design, manufacturing, control, and fluids, undergraduate students gain valuable experience by working on interdisciplinary research projects, developing necessary skills for future engineering careers, including graduate studies. Currently, foundational topics in mechanical engineering are taught separately in most engineering programs, without emphasizing the connection among concepts and applications across topics. The advance of additive manufacturing technology provides a unique platform to integrate multiple mechanical engineering topics and courses to enhance undergraduate research and education. This paper reports the education projects and programs being developed at University of (Place holder) to improve undergraduate mechanical engineering education integrating 3-D printing technologies and advanced materials, emphasizing three core topics: design and manufacturing of 3-D printing systems, design of smart nanocomposites, and broad applications of 3D printed materials including wearable and embedded sensors. Specific instructional objective is to improve students’ understanding of key materials, manufacturing, and mechanics concepts by 3-D modeling and 3-D printing of multifunctional polymers and nanocomposites. The long-term goal of this effort is to promote graduate education and to increase graduate enrollment by engaging undergraduate students early in research projects.
The integration of advanced manufacturing and smart materials is carried out in three consequential undergraduate projects: (i) design of direct-extrusion based 3-D printing system; (ii) 3-D printing and characterization of nanoparticles reinforced composites. In the first project, two undergraduate students modify filament deposition modeling (FDM) 3-D printers by re-designing the material extrusion component. Fiber reinforced composites can be directly extruded to the desired location from an extrusion component installed in the 3-D printer. By adjusting control parameters and travelling speed of the printing head, materials can be printed with various spatial resolutions. The second project focuses on the development of nanoparticles reinforced composites. Thermoplastic polymers and zinc oxide nanoparticles are mixed at various weight ratio to control materials viscosity, allowing them to be 3-D printed as free-standing samples for characterization and testing. In the last two years, six junior mechanical students have been recruited to the additive manufacturing related undergraduate research projects. They all decided to pursue graduate degrees after completing undergraduate research at the University of (Place holder). This paper will also report students learning outcomes and self-assessment results.
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