Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Minnesota

Capstone Design Project


The Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Minnesota invites you to join us in helping to educate future engineers by sponsoring a project for ME4054, the required, senior-level "capstone" design course. The purpose of this course is to provide students with a realistic design experience in which they can integrate and capitalize on the basic disciplinary material they have learned during their mechanical engineering program to synthesize a new product, device or process. We have found that "real-world" projects sponsored by industry result in some of the best experiences for our student designers.




The project undertaken by the team of four to six students (on occassion up to 10 students) must be selected carefully to provide an appropriate educational experience, to provide maximum benefit to the company and to ensure the maximum chance of success. We have found the following to be attributes of the ideal project.

Challenging: Projects should challenge the creative, intellectual and technical abilities of the students.

Innovative: We stress creativity in the course and projects should be amenable to multiple solutions. Sponsors should avoid imposing a particular solution on the students, but can guide them in appropriate directions by providing all relevant information about the problem.

Unique: Students do best on new products, one-of 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.

Customer understanding: We stress a customer-based design methodology in the course. Thus it is important for the students to understand the market or user of the product, service or system being designed so that appropriate product design requirements can be specified.

Significant mechanical engineering content: Our students been trained in the fundamentals of mechanical engineering. Nevertheless, interdisciplinary projects are attractive. Manufacturing, industrial engineering, computation, electronics and controls have all been featured in successful past projects.

Basic analysis: The best projects rely on fundamental, first-order analysis skills. A project which requires detailed finite-element analysis will generally be less successful than one which can be analyzed using a spreadsheet.

Realizable: We encourage physical, working prototypes to be delivered at the end of the course. Thus, simple systems that can be prototyped by the students in our fabrication shops are preferred.

Appropriate scope: Projects must be completed within the fifteen week semester. Two-semester (30 week) project proposals will be considered, but there will not be continuity in the members of the team.

Please note that normally, the course does not take on projects as a service for individual inventors.




The best projects are those which involve little or no exchange of confidential information. Although not encouraged, standard confidentiality agreements can be signed by the students. These agreements are between the company and the student, not between the company and the University of Minnesota, and should be used only where students need access to additional, proprietary information to progress on their project. Student work cannot be completely confidential because they make presentations in class, showcase their results in a public, end-of-semester design show and file their design reports in the department archive. It is generally possible to make arrangements so that students can both meet the requirement of having something to show and report while avoiding public disclosure.


By University of Minnesota policy, intellectual property generated by students in a course, including this capstone design course, is assigned to the University of Minnesota. If the student-generated IP does not involve UMN faculty or staff or existing UMN IP, after a brief review at the end of the course, the University of Minnesota will assign ownership of the IP back to the students. If the company wishes, at the start of the course it can have the students sign an agreement stipulating that the student-generated IP then be assigned to the company. The essence of this procedure is that IP generated by the students working on the project belongs to the sponsoring company if the pre-invention assignment agreement is signed by the students.


The project proposal form can be accessed by clicking on this link. The completed form should be sent to:

Tori Piorek
Department of Mechanical Engineering

Fall semester projects start around September 1 and project ideas should arrive by August 15. Spring semester projects start around January 20 and project ideas should arrive by December 15. When we receive your project proposal, we will review it to determine appropriateness for the course. We will then contact the adviser to confirm its acceptance or to discuss changes that could make the project acceptable for the course. Although not required, we encourage you to discuss your idea with the course staff before submitting the formal written description.


Contact Brad Bohlmann at (612) 626-1795 or