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Design Experience

Engineering design experiences are distributed throughout the electrical engineering curriculum. Introduction to the design process and the initial design experience occur in the freshman course ELEC 106. The engineering profession and the ethical responsibilities of professional engineers are discussed. Design problems are posed that require little or no in-depth engineering knowledge. For example, a first design problem might ask the student to design a dormitory room workplace. Functionality, aesthetics, and cost of implementation are a few of the issues to be considered. Case studies are assigned that provide an opportunity for the students to work in teams. The emphasis is on the synthesis of a product that meets broad requirements. The students are introduced to the concept of design in which there is no single right answer and where there are relatively few limits placed on the creative process.

Techniques of analysis, synthesis, iteration, and approximations are studied in the sophomore and junior electrical engineering courses. Specialized design exercises are used to illustrate the use of these techniques in the areas of circuits, systems, electronics, electric machines, and digital circuits and systems.

The senior year provides the opportunity for the student to begin to focus on design techniques in a particular area of interest through the choice of senior electrical and computer engineering elective courses. Examples range from the use of a load flow program to determine operational conditions of a small power system in a contingency situation (ELEC 403), to the design of a state estimator for a control system (ELEC 407), to the design and implementation of digital filters (ELEC 423).

The design experience culminates in the required senior design courses, ELEC 421 and ELEC 422. This two-semester design sequence provides students the opportunity to work on a project of interest and provides the faculty the opportunity to guide students in their first major design experiences and emphasize once more the various constraints that may come in to play in a design. The students are taught several different structured design approaches. Project definition and documentation are stressed. Design teams of three to four students are formed at the beginning of the first semester. Students are instructed on various practical aspects of design, such as layout considerations, safety, functionality, manufacturability, reliability, and documentation of design. In addition, financial, ethical, societal, regulatory, and environmental constraints and impacts of engineering designs are discussed and applied to the designs as appropriate. The student design teams select and propose a major design project to be completed by the end of second semester. They must enlist a faculty project advisor to guide their project. At the end of the first semester the design teams present their design proposals (written and oral) that include their preliminary design (block diagram level), a schedule for the following semester, and a cost estimate. In the second semester, the teams do the detailed design, and build, test, refine, demonstrate, and document their design projects. In addition to the technical aspects, project management and presentation techniques are taught and applied. A detailed project specification is developed and placed under tight change control. Financial and scheduling aspects of the project are tracked. A final presentation in both written and oral form is required at the end of the semester, along with a working demonstration. 

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