Penn State Berks engineering course partners with Berks LaunchBox

They say it’s best to build bridges, and that’s exactly what Associate Teaching Professor of Engineering Marietta Scanlon and her class have done this semester.

In the Engineering Design and Analysis with CAD course, Scanlon’s students, comprised of seniors majoring in mechanical engineering and electro-mechanical engineering technology, utilized CAD (computer-aided design) — specifically Autodesk Fusion 360 — to design and simulate loading of a cantilever bridge. Engineers typically use powerful software to simulate failure, but there’s no substitute for experiencing the real thing, and the Berks LaunchBox allowed the students to do just that.

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Scanlon spoke of the importance of the course’s “application to design” process and how students gained the opportunity to “study via simulation.” She also stressed the importance of exposing the students to hands-on projects that allow them to complete the entire process of design, simulation, fabrication and testing.

Step one took place in the classroom, where students modeled a cantilever truss based on a specific set of criteria. Utilizing Fusion 360’s powerful software, the students were able to simulate failure based on applied loads and make predictions on where and how their bridge would fail when loaded.

Then, Scanlon and her class spent about three hours at the Berks LaunchBox, located in the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in downtown Reading.

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The Berks LaunchBox assists early-stage entrepreneurs and startup companies with accessing the tools and resources they need to launch and grow in the Greater Reading area through accelerator programs, mentoring, co-working space for startups, a makerspace with equipment for prototyping, and Meetups focused on business development.

Working in teams of two and leveraging the makerspace, students fabricated and assembled their trusses, cutting the material with laser-cutters housed in the LaunchBox. Scanlon and her class worked alongside Patty Leshinskie, part-time LaunchBox facilities specialist and mechanical engineer, as well as Michelle Hnath, LaunchBox facility coordinator, and Erica Kunkel, LaunchBox director.

Once the trusses were assembled, the students returned to the Berks campus and loaded their trusses to failure.

“Comparing their predictions of failure based on simulations to the actual bridge failure based on loading up the truss created a very powerful experience for the students, which would not have been possible without the support of the LaunchBox,” Scanlon said.

“It’s great to be able to expose the students to the space and the resources that the LaunchBox has to offer,” Scanlon added when asked about the experience.

“Being able to work with the Berks LaunchBox has added another dimension to the course and extends the Berks campus to the city of Reading, providing our engineering students with even more opportunities.”

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