A design competition for engineering students invented at Lawrence Technological University is entering its ninth year with enthusiastic support from industry.
Initial financial support for Innovation Encounter came from the Kern Family Foundation. The Wisconsin-based foundation, founded by the family behind Generac generators, seeks to boost the level of entrepreneurship education in the nation’s engineering schools. Innovation Encounter is now self-sustaining through its sponsors. The competition itself was created by Donald Reimer, college professor of engineering at LTU, based on an innovation event that LTU attended at the Illinois Institute of Technology in 2007.
Since the first Innovation Encounter in 2010, more than a dozen universities from coast to coast have participated. Most have been members of a group of schools called KEEN, the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network, universities that have had grant support from the Kern Foundation. Industry sponsors over the years have included ElringKlinger Automotive Manufacturing Inc., Faurecia, Ford Motor Co., Masco Corp., Microsoft Corp., Sundberg-Ferar Inc., and Visteon Corp.
Lawrence Tech won the event in 2015, placed second in 2014 and third in 2016.
“Innovation Encounter continues to engage students and industry in solving real-world engineering problems,” Reimer said. “Lawrence Tech is proud to host this event as an example of the university’s longtime motto, ‘Theory and Practice.’”
In this year’s competition, held Oct. 20-21 on the LTU campus, Marquette University placed first, Ohio Northern University second and Worcester Polytechnic Institute third.
In Innovation Encounter, student teams are given a real-world engineering challenge developed by the event’s sponsor. This year, the sponsor was Dürr Systems Inc., the Southfield-based subsidiary of the German mechanical and plant engineering firm Dürr AG. Three Dürr engineers served as the event’s judges.
The problem statement presented by Dürr focused on infrastructure upgrades of an existing automated industrial paint shop. The teams were challenged with doubling the production output, while not increasing the length or footprint of a coating systems production line.
Although Innovation Encounter is an engineering challenge, by the very nature of the competition, students with non-engineering majors also add needed diversity to the teams. “It was interesting to watch the students’ thought process as they tackled the challenge problem,” said Tim Devries, Dürr project manager. Designs and calculations were not enough to bring home the win. The teams also needed to show confidence as they presented their challenge solutions and answered the questions asked by the Dürr judges.
“Innovation Encounter is an excellent opportunity for students to obtain practical experience with a real world engineering issue,” said Gina Zasadny, entrepreneurial coordinator at LTU. “This provides a terrific platform to stretch technical, creative, and business skills that will transfer to the workplace. Ultimately, this type of experience makes the student stand out among their collegiate peers.”