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Students Get Hands Dirty With Integrated Product Design

Come up with a design for a wearable device. Participate in a cross-disciplinary development team. Map out an effective manufacturing plan. Build a business case and drum up interest in the product at a trade show. These are all critical steps in the cycle of developing and bringing today’s cutting-edge products to market, and now the agenda of a new experiential product design and development course offered at the University of Michigan.

The Integrated Product Development course, taught jointly by UofM faculty from the Ross School of Business and the Stamps School of Art & Design, brings together cross-functional teams comprised of design, business, engineering, and information students, mostly at a graduate level with a sprinkling of under grad thrown in. The teams collaborate on designing, building and marketing a new product, and the semester culminates in the IPD Trade Show, an event where the community and public come together to meet the student teams, test out prototypes, and vote for a winner.

This semester’s class and the 2017 IPD Trade Show challenged students to design and produce a wearable device that could be worn in everyday life while incorporating active technology that would respond to user needs in an innovative way. There were other requirements for the project: It had to provide reliable sensing, monitoring, or protection capabilities; demonstrate a distinct advantage over any similar product already in existence; and be profitable, while selling for under $200. Students were also tasked with designing web pages and videos to advertise their new wearable creations.

Integrated Product Design

Grad student Samuel Dion’s team came up with Cocoon, a smart sleep mask for travelers. Image Courtesy of University of Michigan

While the IPD trade show and contest is obviously a fun venue to showcase work, it’s really the hands-on nature of the IPD course that is essential training for students, allowing them to flex their leadership and problem-solving skills before entering the workforce.

“This is the real world brought to a particular course,” says Larry Seiford, Engineering Co-Director at the Tauber Institute for Global Operations at UofM. “It reflects exactly the challenges a company faces in bringing a product to market. The cross-disciplinary teams are a model of the team environment that students will work in upon graduation.”

The year’s theme for the IPD trade show is wearable technologies. In past years, it was portable electronics for college students, dorm furniture, and even a one-handed household device. By tasking students to evaluate a product from a real-world market forces standpoint, they are forced to consider product design trade-offs between feature set, price, market share, aesthetics and usability, Seiford explains. They also have to learn to navigate a holistic set of soft skills such as project management and team dynamics as well as prototyping, website design, and writing a business plan. “Action learning or learning by doing is always much more effective,” he says.

Students Take Up the Integrated Product Design Challenge

Ryan Kennedy, currently a master’s student in Industrial and Operations Engineering (IOE), loves the idea of experiencing all the steps as a product progresses from idea to physical offering. Kennedy’s team has come up with a UV Monitoring device, which will provide real-time feedback on current UV levels working in close connection with sun screen products and initially aimed a kids. “The idea is to reduce the extended feedback loop between sun exposure and sunburn to better inform users on how to protect themselves,” he explains.

Kennedy loves the idea of getting down in the weeds and experiencing the different functions. “This class has everything from business fundamentals to scaling up production to wiring and soldering with microcontrollers to thinking about design and wearability from the customer’s perspective,” he explains. “It also places an emphasis on teamwork and working across functions, which I believe to be critical today. As an engineer, you are bound to work with people who have different backgrounds.”

Samuel Dion, also a master’s student in IOE, relished the idea of working on a cross-functional team and participating in all the various stages of product development and operations. Dion’s team, dubbed Kiwi, has come up with Cocoon, a smart sleep mask for travelers, which melds noise-isolating headphones and a mask for comfort and darkness when sleeping, but then gently awakens the wearer with lighting that imitates dawn. Dion says Cocoon is a contender for the IPD trade show prize because it solves a real consumer need and excels on ergonomics and comfort.

Besides the development work, the IPD class and tradeshow provided Dion with an opportunity to hone skills beyond the usual engineering focus. “By participating in IPD, I have broadened my perspective for how to tackle complex problems while developing my hard and soft skills,” he explains. “I have developed numerous projects during my engineering education, but this experience usually stops when the product has been created. I am excited to work on the brand and convey our story to consumers. The trade show will be an exciting conclusion to an enlightening and fun experience.”

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About Beth Stackpole

Beth Stackpole is a contributing editor to Digital Engineering. Send e-mail about this article to DE-Editors@digitaleng.news.

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