Skip to main content
UW-Madison team for 3M challenge
May 11, 2018

Student design team competes in 3M challenge to improve humanitarian aid delivery

Written By: Will Cushman


A team of four University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering undergraduates competed in April 2018 in a competition sponsored by the manufacturer 3M to improve aid delivery to areas struck by natural disasters, war or famine.

The 3M Disruptive Design Challenge pitted seniors Lexi Oxborough, John Springer, Justin Schweitzer and Will Jen against teams from Minnesota, Iowa and North Dakota in an effort to design containers that can better withstand humanitarian aid air drops. Relief supplies are often damaged during air drops or on impact, according to 3M, having clear impacts on their usefulness.

The competing teams each designed and built an emergency delivery container that “disrupts” current industry standards. The teams had to work under several assumptions, including how the containers would normally be handled, that the containers would be air-dropped and should be designed to withstand impact in case of a parachute failure, and that the containers themselves must be able to be repurposed in a way that is useful to the relief effort.

To meet those specifications, the UW-Madison team devised a container out of aluminum tubing, polycarbonate, plywood, ABS (a type of plastic) and various tapes and foam products. Upon completion, their container and its contents—three glass bottles meant to simulate donated blood—had to withstand being dropped from a height of 45 meters, being submerged underwater for five minutes, and being transported 300 yards.

Though the Madison team did not win the challenge, the students had a positive experience working as a team on a simulated real-world scenario, which doubled as the students’ senior design project, according to Oxborough.

“It was a really great experience to work on a project that has the potential to help people, and to be able to apply all of our engineering knowledge in the process,” Oxborough says.