Northern Arizona University (NAU) students selected this project because they value the interdisciplinary, real-world experience, and the technical challenge of designing, building, and testing a wind turbine that they can bring to competition. They also expect that the project will better prepare them for employment after college than alternate academic projects for their capstone courses.
Some students have progressed with wind related projects at NAU through design and elective courses and wanted to work on a challenging design project that was unique among the choices of projects at NAU. Many students are interested in pursuing careers in renewable energy and feel this project and competition can be a stepping stone to success in their future careers.
This year, team NAU is iterating on their 2016 design to make improvements on performance and to meet the challenges of the current year’s competition. Specifically, they are making improvements with braking, yawing, blade performance, and power electronic topology.
Team NAU consists of 10 undergraduate students with a variety of diverse backgrounds—six Mechanical Engineering and four Electrical Engineering students. For the fall 2016 semester, the engineering teams were separated into two different capstone sections to concentrate on their respective design improvements. The team met weekly within a leads meeting with faculty and then broke out into their discipline specific teams to work on their respective design challenges. Each student within those disciplinary teams has a role for which they are the lead or content expert ranging from blades to manufacturing to project management to power electronics. In the spring 2017 semester, the engineering students are continuing their tunnel design iterations and testing through their capstone course.
This year, the team is small but diverse in technical knowledge from a variety of coursework and work experience and they all work extremely well together. They also have the advantage of being able to use the experience and knowledge gained from previous teams to progress more quickly in the design process. For example, this year’s team looked back to the 2014 and 2015 designs to build on and improve the previous yaw systems. They also looked back to the 2016 designs to build a better performing blade. This institutional knowledge will help this year’s team succeed where previous NAU teams did not.
Going into the project, the team recognized the potential for challenges in communication and team dynamics when working within an interdisciplinary team. Although this year’s team was split up into two capstone sections, communication has worked well through the leads meetings. The pace and unique design challenges of each of the two main disciplines has led to some second semester design logistical issues. Specifically, if the project was run again, the electrical team could benefit from having one or two more students to share the workload. But, the students are enjoying the overall technical challenge of the competition, and have been overcoming their respective design challenges by working together as a team.
After working on this project for an entire school year, the team has learned the importance of working together as a team and persevering through difficulties. This year’s team has found a strength in its diversity, and they applied their different experiences and backgrounds into their design process. Through these differences, the team has grown in their technical knowledge as well as in their skills in working with an interdisciplinary team. Working on the Collegiate Wind Competition project, the team members also have learned about their own design capabilities and professional development goals. All of these lessons will assist the team members in future endeavors both within industry as well as in daily encounters with future team members.