Creativity on display as undergraduate students compete at Malott Innovation Awards

Creativity on display as undergraduate students compete at Malott Innovation Awards

ME 463, the Senior Design course, allows students to take a hands-on approach to design with practical experience in critical thinking. Students work closely with faculty members to build and improve prototypes by putting to use the knowledge they have learned in their engineering courses over the last four years. At the end of the semester, the students showcase their team-based projects and compete in the Malott Innovation Awards.

The Malott Innovation Awards consist of a two-day competition at the end of each fall and spring semester between groups enrolled in ME 463. Supported by an endowment created in 2007 by Dr. Thomas J. Malott and Sandra H. Malott to support faculty efforts to integrate concepts of innovation into the mechanical engineering curriculum, the competition works in tandem with the course objectives of promoting creativity and imagination in product development and provides an excellent finish to the course.

“Now that the global economy has become a reality, our country finds itself in competition with a growing number of countries to provide almost any form of goods and services,” Dr. Malott said. “Many of these countries are now competing not only on the cost of labor, but also on increasing their ability to locally create clever and innovative products by a growing, highly educated, young population.”

Each senior design project is reviewed by the ME 463 faculty members, with the top five projects submitted to a panel of guest judges, generally comprised of Mechanical Engineering Alumni. The Spring 2013 Malott Innovation Awards were judged by Dr. Thomas Malott, BSME ‘62, HDR ‘02; Henry Bronson, BSME ’57; Beth Holloway, BSME ’92, MSME ‘97; Steve Lorenc, BSME ’83, MSME ’86; Dr. Robert Lynall, a professor in the Krannert School of Management; and Robert Widmer, BSME ’57.

Dr. Malott wants Purdue’s young inventors to develop innovative ways of thinking so they can continue to develop throughout their careers. “In my view,” Dr. Malott said, “our universities must generate a growing number of engineers and scientists with an understanding of the importance of innovation on economic growth and the desire to spend their careers keeping America the greatest generator of innovative thought."

Innovation and Teamwork

The Malott Innovation Awards give outgoing seniors the chance to show off their hard work that represents the culmination of their years of education. All of the countless hours spent in labs, working on homework, memorizing formulas, and sitting in class have all led up to this one event, the final step in the students’ undergraduate career.

But the awards are not simply given to the most original and unique projects. The students must be able to sell the judges on their product. “You can’t define a device or process as innovative unless done in a way that excites a potential customer,” says Dr. Malott. “If it’s not exciting, it becomes a book on the shelf, collecting dust.”

Each group selects one member to act as a representative that will showcase the group’s product and informational poster to the guest judges on the first night of the event. In order to be selected for the next round, the representative must convince the judges of their product’s creativity, usefulness, and value.

Another key element of the Malott Awards is to promote group cohesiveness. Throughout the course, students are taught that design is a collaborative methodology and are taught skills like leadership, teamwork, communication, and project planning.

“Teamwork was key throughout the entire design process for our team,” said Bill’s Movers team member Justin Norris, whose group invented an automated ping pong ball serving machine. “There was no one part of the project completed by a single individual. All steps were accomplished by a small group and verified by the entire team.”

And the winner is…

While each team clearly benefits from the course, only one may be declared the overall winner at the Malott Innovation Awards. After the first day of competition, only five groups are selected to move on to the final round. Each of the five finalist groups then present as a whole to the panel of judges to explain their product, its practicality, background, development process, and marketing plans.

“We want to select a winner,” said Dr. Malott, “but we also want them to know they’ve accomplished something they can be proud of…this group of finalists were as impressive a group as we’ve ever seen.”

In third place for the Spring 2013 competition was Chair Up!, who developed an attachment for wheelchairs that allows the user to clear obstacles such as curbs. By using a hand crack along the side of the wheelchair, the operator can use two sets of wheels at the front and back of the chair to lift themselves over the obstacle.

“A lot of things that existed were essentially new wheelchairs,” said Chair Up! team member Nate Schaeffer in an interview with Indianapolis-based WISH-TV. “That’s kind of an expensive option. We wanted to make something that was innovative in that it was an attachment that could be added to existing wheelchairs.”

Team ClimaCube came in second place, which developed a portable vaccine cooler that can self-sustain appropriate temperatures without the needing electricity. The cooler would allow vaccines to be safely transported to remote and undeveloped regions without the risk of the vaccines being ruined by heat.

The first place award went to Team Bill’s Movers with their ping pong ball serving machine concept. With the ability to program different spins and speeds, players are able to practice a variety of shots. A randomized setting can also allow the player to practice different speeds continuously.

All of the ME 463 projects had their merits, challenges, and rewards. For Justin and the rest of his team, the class has been an excellent finish to their undergraduate journey.

“As graduating seniors all starting jobs in various locations across the country, the project has become a fond memory and capstone to the education we received at Purdue, as well as a representation of the efforts of a great team of friends.”

First place team Bill's Movers