Skip to main content
Industrial engineering students Greyson Wainwright, Josie Beres and Rayne Wolf work on a desktop hydroponics system.
December 2, 2022

New industrial engineering course puts design, manufacturing into students’ hands

Written By: Tom Ziemer

University of Wisconsin-Madison industrial engineering students Rayne Wolf, Josie Beres and Greyson Wainwright huddle around a desktop hydroponic system, inspecting the growth of alfalfa, mung beans and soybeans.

Later in the fall 2022 semester, some of their classmates will design and 3D print a component of an automated system for potentially growing plants in space.

If that doesn’t sound like your typical assignment for an industrial engineering course … well, that’s because this isn’t your typical industrial engineering course, as the name, Biomedical Design and Manufacturing, makes clear. While the plant-growing project veers into the biological sciences (another team project has students 3D printing models of human bones), the idea is to give students hands-on experience with technologies used in advanced manufacturing, along with tangible design challenges to solve.

At a more fundamental level, Assistant Professor Hantang Qin also hopes to inspire students to cultivate an inventive mind, along with other broadly applicable skills like teamwork and leadership.

Hantang Qin
Hantang Qin. Photo by Joel Hallberg.

“When we talk about design, innovation is important. You don’t follow standard rules. We teach a few guidelines. You have to be creative,” says Qin, who brought the course to UW-Madison in fall 2022 after teaching it for several years as a faculty member at Iowa State University.

In the course, undergraduate and graduate students learn manufacturing and design fundamentals, predominantly in the context of biomedical applications. They get a crash course in anatomy and biomaterials, review existing research studies and consider ethical questions that arise in the biomedical field. And throughout the semester, they get plenty of practice in 3D modeling and design software they may use in their future careers. Qin hopes to draw students from a range of engineering disciplines beyond industrial, particularly biomedical and mechanical, as well as from the health sciences.

As part of their coursework, students can earn official certificates in SOLIDWORKS, a widely used software for computer-aided design and additive manufacturing. The cost of the certification exam, which served as one of the course’s midterms, is also covered as part of the class.

“It’s an awesome thing to put on your resume, because a lot of people say they have SOLIDWORKS experience, but to actually have that stamp of approval from the company itself saying you’re certified in modeling with their software says a lot,” says Wolf, a first-year master’s student in industrial engineering from Potosi, Wisconsin. She’s hoping to eventually work on the data science or technology side of the manufacturing industry. “It will be especially useful in future positions.”

Wainwright, a junior majoring in industrial engineering from Lynnfield, Massachusetts, signed up for the course in hopes of broadening his perspective. In that regard, the course has delivered, even exposing students to Qin’s research on optimizing 3D printing for in-space manufacturing.

“We’ve done a whole slew of things,” says Wainwright, who’s planning to pursue a career in healthcare engineering. “We’ve learned a lot about mechanical design, we’ve learned a lot about manufacturing and 3D printing. It’s a lot that I hadn’t realized could be necessarily under industrial engineering.”

The students spent one recent class session visiting the Waisman Center, touring labs to get ideas about applications of industrial engineering tools to neurodegenerative disease diagnosis and treatment. Qin is a proponent of connecting students to real-world use cases, both in academic research and industry settings.

In the future, Qin has designs on developing similar hands-on courses in robotics and automation. He plans to dust off a previously dormant teaching lab on the second floor of the Mechanical Engineering Building that’s stocked with machining, production and quality monitoring equipment.

“This is just the start,” he says.

Top photo caption: From left to right, industrial engineering students Greyson Wainwright, Josie Beres and Rayne Wolf work on a desktop hydroponics system, one of several hands-on group projects in Biomedical Design and Manufacturing. Photo by Tom Ziemer.