Siberian Federal University: Ready to Go: Devices by CDIO First-Year Students Pass Trials

17 December 2021, Siberian Federal University held the trials of catapults, wind turbines and lighting fixtures within the Engineering Start, an annual CDIO bachelor’s degree student competition. The whole semester, the students invented, designed, and assembled devices according to the terms of reference.

CDIO is a methodology for engineering education adopted by the School of Non-Ferrous Metals and Materials Science and the Polytechnic School (Siberian Federal University) along with leading universities. The main point is practice-oriented learning, and the objective of the first semester is to instil technical thinking in freshmen who have taken a comprehensive and, in many ways, ahead-of-time path of engineering. In September, they received terms of reference and got started under the supervision of seasoned students (been there, done that) and mentors from among the lecturers for whom it is also a trial to make physical laws work for the good of humankind. Of course, in real life, engineers use their skills to launch rockets and assemble high-tech robots, but believe or not, it all starts with catapults.

“We apply a special method of teaching engineers and make conditions for students to independently come up with new products or technologies, design, and think over the strategies for introducing know–how into real production. All this works at the junction of several areas: metallurgy, engineering design, project management, IT, economics and big data analysis,” says Eugenia Fadina, HR manager at Krastsvetmet Refinery. Upon the trials, she assessed the works of potential employees for the company. The contribution of employers to the training process is an essential feature of the CDIO.

The Engineering Start assignments change from year to year. This time the students designed a lighting fixture, a wind turbine, and a catapult. The organizers have reduced the number of people in the team from 10 to 5 in order to assess the contribution of each to the project and to avoid situations when 2-3 people drag the team, while the rest are idle. When the team consists only of 5 members, and the deadline for constructing 3 simple but fully-functional devices is in less than 4 months, everyone has to work hard, studying the terms of reference, googling information, estimating, purchasing, 3D modelling, designing, and producing.

The students need to consider the laws of physics and chemistry, use all their knowledge of electricity, tension, inertia, and conduct the appropriate calculations. How does Hooke’s Law actually work? How will the tension change if one adds another rubber band to the catapult? How far will the projectile fly? The ideology of CDIO allows tasting these processes.

How powerful is the imagination of young engineers! Students surprise the lecturers every year. For example, the Light in the Darkness trial has many ways for implementation. One option is to use reagents and chemicals, the other is electric induction (the coil is spinning, the diodes are glowing). Alternatively, students can construct their own acetic acid battery or a galvanic cell.

One of the most visually impressive tasks is a wind turbine. The decisions the students make during designing (the number of blades, the angle of rotation, open or close type construction) affect not only the aesthetics of the device, but also its efficiency. The motto of the engineers is Striving for the Best Performance. This year, on tests, one hand-made wind turbine performed 36.000 μWh, which is the record for all 8 years of the Engineering Start. In fact, such a device will be enough for a laptop cooler, and five such turbines will charge a smartphone.

Constructing a wind turbine is the most spectacular assignment of the Engineering Start. Such engineering decisions as the number of blades, the angle of rotation, open or close type affect not only the appearance but also the efficiency.

“I wouldn’t manage that. If they put me to figure out the terms of reference, it would not be easy to me, but I’m a mathematician,” laughs Roman Yesin, assistant professor of the Polytechnic School (SibFU).

The catapult is quite a standardized device, and it might seem there is no way to surprise. But the students come up with a decoration in the form of a cannon or a crossbow. The visual component is curious, but the performance is crucial.

“It’s been a while since I have worked with first-year students. And when I saw kids, I mean, students able to solve such problems independently, and the sparkle in their eyes… It is so inspiring and exciting!” says Andrey Kolotov, assistant professor at the Polytechnic School.

Hard to tell whether it is difficult to study at CDIO programs and at the same time participate in engineering competitions and trials, given that the Engineering Start is just the beginning, and in the senior years, the tasks will get more complicated. Students with different backgrounds and experiences enter the university. Some of them had studied robotics and are familiar with terms of reference, and they are the first to come up with catapults-crossbows with remote control, while others have never done anything with their hands, and their first reaction is “Why? What for? How?”

There is always a lot of spectators at the test of catapults. The students are worried if the projectile hit the target or not.
The biggest challenge for students is working as a team. Over the 8 years of the Engineering Start, the organizers came to the conclusion that students should master not only design and calculations. The educational programs should include a team-building course. Therefore, at the final stage of any engineering trials students ask themselves what have they learned through the semester? Have they improved their skills in leadership, manufacturing, design, planning? This reflection is necessary for understanding the significance of theoretical knowledge, for seeing a connection between practice and theory.

Students analyse their achievements and failures with a professor-psychologist at the stage of reflection
“I enjoy watching how students change. Previously, they competed in whose catapult is the catapultiest. But now they are more into collaboration and cooperation. Now they talk less about personal skills. ‘We cannot excel at soft skills and leadership in two months,’ they tell me, and this is true,” says Olga Shubkina (assistant professor at the chair of Department of CDIO Bachelor of Engineering) after working with students on reflection.

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