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IPD Fair allows companies access to Lehighs intellectual power

Twenty different companies, plus NASA, recently visited Lehigh for the annual IPD Sponsor Fair.

The Butz Lobby of the Zoellner Arts Center, typically crowded with evening concert-goers, played host on this January morning to an event that was more akin to a trade show.

Twenty regional and national businesses and the space agency, NASA, have arranged their wares on tables along both sides of the long hallway.

Industrial turbines and surgical needles, military headgear and kitchen cutting boards, plastic trays of countless shapes and colors—no single theme prevails in the packed lobby.

Marketing slogans abound. “Nature’s Closest Rival: Is it Wood or is it Highwood?,” asks a display by Highwood USA, a Tamaqua, Pa., maker of synthetic wood products. “Yipppeee! We make it happen…together,” proclaims Vigon International Inc., a manufacturer of flavor and fragrance ingredients in East Stroudsburg, Pa.

The targets of this advertising, 150 Lehigh undergraduate students, are moving from table to table, examining products and asking questions of the company representatives.

The companies are seeking the students’ expertise, not their money. Each company will give financial support to a team of business and engineering students to design and make a product (or process) and to do a marketing study for the new product.

The students, enrolled in Lehigh’s year-long Integrated Product Development (IPD) course, mark their top five project choices on blue questionnaires. Their options are varied. NASA requires an inter-locking joint that keeps lunar dust out of an astronaut’s spacesuit. B. Braun wants a container for surgical needles. Aesculap needs a sterilizable, durable safety knife for neuro- and orthopedic surgery. GM hopes to create an “active rear spoiler,” a feature in some luxury autos, which enables high speed stability without a sacrifice in style.

After the IPD Sponsor Fair, faculty in the IPD program will match student teams with company projects.

“I’ve been doing this for 13 years,” says John Ochs, professor of mechanical engineering and mechanics and one of the founders of the program, “and so far, we’ve been able to make sure that every sponsor company gets a team that wants to work on that project.”

IPD: An award-winning program

The IPD program was founded in 1994 by the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science and the College of Business and Engineering to prepare students for careers in creating and commercializing new products.

By all accounts, the program has been one of Lehigh’s most successful endeavors in integrated learning. IPD has won an educational award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and its student teams are regularly invited to display their products at national competitions. It has been praised by The New York Times as a model for a workplace of “cross-disciplinary teams.”

IPD teams have made more than 300 products and they run the gamut:

• A small access panel door that enables drivers of commercial trucks to check fluid levels without having to lift open the trucks’ heavy hoods.
• A Baseball Radar Gun and Weather Station that combines the speed of baseball pitches with current weather conditions to tell scouts how a pitcher’s performance varies under different conditions.
• A wheelchair that exercises its owner’s upper and lower bodies to promote circulation. The chair was designed by Lehigh students and students from Mexico and The Netherlands.

Most IPD students are engineers, but many study business and design arts. The course is required for all majors in mechanical engineering, materials science and engineering, and supply chain management.

Cara Diorio '07 (center, with blue folder) was one of 150 IPD students who will be matched with a real-world problem to solve.

One supply chain management major, Cara Diorio ’07, said at the IPD Sponsor Fair that she is not at all intimidated at the prospect of tackling a technical project.

Pointing to the display mounted by Dresser Rand, a global supplier of turbines and pumps, Diorio says, “Companies like these need supply-chain managers to improve the efficiency of their manufacturing and distribution. They need people who not only know the product but who also know potential suppliers and their strengths and weaknesses. Everything has to move quickly.”

For Paul S. Chen ’84, the IPD Sponsor Fair represents a homecoming. Chen, quality assurance manager with Tray-Pak Corp. of Reading, Pa., received his B.S. in materials science and engineering from Lehigh in 1984. Tray-Pak, which makes custom thermoformed plastic packaging, needs a student team to do a detailed market analysis for its products.

“We’d like our student team to investigate trends in the industry,” says Chen. “This will be a multi-faceted analysis that could potentially include new products, new materials, so-called green materials and more.”

Another returning alumnus is Terry Hart, who earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering in 1968 and went on to serve as a mission specialist on the STS-41C Challenger space shuttle in 1984. Hart is manning the display table for NASA, which needs one student team for the dust-resistant space-suit joint and a second team to design a boom that will stabilize a spacecraft against the earth’s gravity when the craft reenters the atmosphere.

Two younger alums are coming full circle at the Sponsor Fair. Tim Marks ’04 and Patrick Clasen ’04 founded EcoTech Marine, LLC, as an IPD project in 2003. EcoTech Marine, located in South Bethlehem, achieved $500,000 in sales last year with its VorTech propeller pump for reef aquariums, and is hoping to triple that amount this year.

Marks and Clasen and their partner, Justin Lawyer, now want to hire their own student team to help design a brushless DC centrifugal pump that may find application beyond the saltwater aquarium market.

--Kurt Pfitzer

Posted on Monday, January 29, 2007

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