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Sponsor a Capstone Design Project

The National Fluid Power Association invites you to help us educate future engineers by sponsoring a fluid power-related capstone design project at your local engineering school.

By doing so, your company will have access to the best and brightest engineering students.

Benefits to Company Sponsors

  • A team of well-trained, creative student engineers work on your project for 15 (one-semester) or 30 (full-year) weeks.
  • Your problem is approached with fresh eyes with the potential for new solutions.
  • A final report detailing the design efforts, and often a working prototype demonstrating concept feasibility.
  • Exposure of your company to students and faculty, including recruiting exposure to graduating seniors.
  • Access, via the students, to university design resources including libraries, computing facilities, machine shops and faculty expertise.
  • Opportunity to contribute to the education of engineers by providing a meaningful fluid-power design project and by mentoring students on your design team.

What is a Capstone Design Project?
All ABET accredited undergraduate engineering degree programs have a capstone design experience where fourth-year students work in teams for one or two semesters on a practical design project. The purpose of the capstone design course is to provide students with a realistic design experience that allows them to integrate and apply the basic disciplinary material they have learned during their engineering program to synthesize a new product, device or process.

Most capstone projects are industry sponsored, which means you can have bright engineering students working on your project. Sponsoring a project is an excellent way to expose more undergraduate engineering students to fluid power.

While similar in objectives, each engineering program runs their capstone course in the way that best fits their program. Some capstone projects last one academic year (September to April) while others last one semester (September to December or January to April). A small program might run 10 capstone projects each year while a large program might have up to 50 each year. Some programs charge companies a fee to take on the project while others have no fee but require the sponsor to provide an advisor who meets with the students once each week. While every project is different, the faculty course coordinator provides guidelines for the overall project timeline and the expected project deliverables.

“Over the years Parker Hannifin has been thrilled to sponsor student projects with leading universities throughout North America. We view this as a winning proposition for all parties involved. The students get exposure to the fluid power industry and guidance from experienced industry resources. The university provides a meaningful learning experience to the students while continuing to expand contact with the fluid power industry's leaders. Parker wins by collaborating with leading universities, such as the University of Minnesota, and by getting exposure to the best and brightest engineering students.”

Van Mancuso, General Manager, Parker Hannifin Corporation

What Makes a Good Capstone Project?
The project undertaken by the student team must be selected carefully to provide an appropriate educational experience, to provide maximum benefit to the company sponsor and to ensure the maximum chance of success. The following are features of the ideal project.
      Challenging. Projects should challenge the creative, intellectual and technical abilities of the students.
      Innovative. Creativity is an important engineering skill, so projects should be amenable to multiple solutions. Sponsors should avoid imposing a particular solution on the students, but can guide students in appropriate directions by providing all relevant information about the problem.
      Unique. Students do best on new products, one-off manufacturing systems, or mature products where new technologies open opportunities for novel solutions. Students do not have the highly specialized knowledge where they can compete effectively with seasoned experts in a narrow area (e.g., mold design or automobile engines).
      Familiar. Students do particularly well developing products or systems in domains with which they are familiar. Consumer products or easily understood manufacturing machines are good examples.
      Design Process. Typically, the capstone course lecture sequence emphasizes application of best practices for product design process, including understanding customer needs, defining product requirements, generating and selecting among concepts, detailed engineering design, prototyping and costing. Projects should provide opportunities to apply these methods to real-world products or systems.
      Significant Engineering Content. The students are trained in the fundamentals of engineering. Nevertheless, interdisciplinary projects are attractive. Manufacturing, industrial engineering, computation, electronics and controls have all been featured in successful past projects.
      Analysis-Driven Design. The best projects have the students making use of analysis skills to model the problem and potential solutions so that the design is analysis driven.
      Realizable. Most courses suggest that physical, working prototypes be delivered at the end of the course. Thus, simple systems that can be prototyped by the students in the college fabrication shops are preferred.
      Appropriate Scope. Projects must be completed within the time of the capstone course.

Examples of typical fluid power capstone design projects:

  Hydraulic Regenerative Pedicab sponsored by Parker Hannifin Corp.

  Piston Pump Centering Mechanism for an Industrial Sweeper sponsored by Tennant Company


“Capstone design projects are meaningful for industry, students, and academic institutions. The projects provide relevant, real world experience for students - in both technical and teamwork dimensions; provide industry bandwidth and leadership experience for project advisors; and help Universities create more accomplished graduates. Tennant has sponsored many capstone projects in the past decade, at both the University of Michigan and Minnesota. In every case, we have gained more than we invested.” 
Pete Swenson, Director, Global Technology & Advanced Products, Tennant Company

What About IP?
Intellectual Property policies for ideas resulting from undergraduate student design projects are different at each school. At some schools, students own the IP for work created in a course but encourage assignment to the company sponsor through a pre-invention agreement executed at the start of the course. At other schools, the school owns the IP but will automatically grant the sponsor exclusive rights. It is important to discuss IP issues with the capstone course faculty coordinator and to execute any agreements before or at the start of the project. Confidentiality may also be an issue. Typically, project results are presented in a report and a presentation or design show. Discuss with the faculty coordinator possibilities for what is presented if public disclosure of ideas will be an issue. 

What is My Commitment?

  • Create a project description and work with the capstone course coordinator to refine.
  • Pay the fee (for those programs that require a fee).
  • Provide a mentor to meet with the student team weekly (for those programs that require an advisor).
  • Pay the costs of constructing any physical prototypes (decisions to spend made by sponsor).
  • Answer student questions and provide frequent feedback.
  • Attend final presentation.
  • Help ensure that the student designers have an excellent, real-world design experience.

How Do I Find a School?
Capstone design projects with fluid power content typically are most suited to mechanical engineering or agricultural engineering programs. The exception would be projects that focus on electronics and would be a better match to an electrical engineering program.

ABET accredited engineering programs are listed on the ABET web site, www.abet.org. There are 291 mechanical, 43 agricultural and 308 electrical ABET approved engineering programs in the United States. Find one in your area and contact the person who coordinates the capstone design course. They will be happy to talk with you. Or, contact Sue Chase at NFPA, (414) 778-3376 who can match your company to a local capstone program. It is generally better to work with a school that is nearby because it means you can be more involved in the project and can even invite the students to tour your company.

Need More Information?

Contact Sue Chase at NFPA, (414) 778-3376.

Contact Professor William K. Durfee at the University of Minnesota, (612) 625-0099. Professor Durfee is the Education Co-Director at the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP), has supervised many capstone design projects, and can connect you to a capstone program in your area.

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