This article presents the development, deployment, and assessment of a hands-on curriculum module for a senior-level course in component design at the Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In this course students learn how to design engineering systems using gears, bearings, springs, steel structures, and other components. The course has traditionally included a semester group project where students apply their component design knowledge to a realistic design application, helping to further solidify and integrate their design knowledge. In recent years the project has centered on the design of a trailing arm automotive suspension system with components that interact in complicated ways. Students are expected to follow a rigorous engineering design process and support their design decisions with thorough engineering analysis. Until recently this project was limited to virtual analyses and design solutions; the connection between these design solutions and physical realization was an obvious gap in the project experience. This project was revised to incorporate a targeted hands-on curriculum module, which was introduced in fall 2014. Objectives of this module include helping students gain experience with the ‘media’ of engineering design, and to help students connect analytical and simulation-based studies with the corresponding physical system. The implemented module is a two-part activity in which students design a suspension system using model-based design techniques (in Matlab), followed by physical testing and further analysis using a specially built physically reconfigurable suspension testbed. This testbed allows students to test unique designs rapidly, observe real-time dynamic system performance, and to analyze the difference between simulated and physical test results. Through this activity we gauge students’ attitudes towards traditional theoretical and paper-based design activities versus the hands-on module. We also work to answer the question: “to what extent does a project-based curriculum module influence student experiences and conceptual understanding of engineering design?” through systematic student surveys designed around this new hands-on curriculum module.

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