This story is featured in the spring 2021 issue of St. Thomas Engineer.

St. Thomas has been fortunate to partner with 3M engineers on multiple senior design projects every year. Students find themselves central to the design process for the company, engaging with numerous employees to receive feedback and improve their success and learning.

During the summer and fall of 2020, 3M challenged a team of four mechanical engineering students to design a new solution for the transportation and storage of large rolls of plastic film. The original method involved using single-use materials and was very time-consuming due to the need for custom fabrication for each rack. Elimination of the need to build a custom rack for each roll would improve employee work efficiency. In addition, 3M would reduce waste and save money on packaging. During the design process, there was continuous back and forth contact and multiple designs were drafted.

“I learned how to gather and incorporate feedback into a design while utilizing and pulling from engineering skills learned throughout my time studying at the university,” said Kristen Andrews ’20, one of the students on the team, who now works as a product development engineer at 3M. “I learned firsthand that the design process is not linear but rather a loop, and what matters is the communication and analysis of the feedback to stay on track and create something innovative.”

The team built a full prototype of their design and successfully demonstrated it in a live situation. Being able to physically test a prototype in an industrial setting was the highlight for the students, especially during the chaos of COVID-19.

The 3M team worked closely with the students, which provided the opportunity for improved student learning and resulted in a better design for 3M’s needs.

“The beauty of the Film Roll Jumbo Racking project was in the opportunity it afforded the students. They would need to create and invent, innovate, test theories and iterate, model/prototype, engage with customers, think operationally with an eye on cost, and lead,” said 3M Application Engineering Manager Mike Sherman ’96. “Projects like this get students out of the rigorous academic environment and into the real world. The end result: the students get valuable technical and life experience. 3M gets a valuable design that we can utilize to increase our operational effectiveness. It’s a win-win.”

The School of Engineering is always searching for new industry partners, and problems to be solved with our Senior Design Clinic. If you are interested in learning more about how your company can become involved, contact us at (651) 962-5750 or engineering@stthomas.edu.

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