Brewing up success

January 5, 2018
Steve Orlando

What can an espresso machine teach engineering students about building a jet fighter? Plenty.

As part of their new “build class” last fall, a group of mechanical and aerospace engineering seniors in the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering designed and built espresso machines.

In 15 weeks.

From scratch.

The idea behind the project: to give students hands-on experience in actually building something they designed – a concept that’s gaining popularity in engineering schools around the country.

The class, which gets financial support from aerospace company Northrop Grumman and diesel engine maker Cummins, teaches students how to pull off much bigger projects in the real world.  Students worked on sub-systems, then brought the entire system together, just as in manufacturing.

It also teaches them that you can’t just make a simple one-off, you have to understand how to build a dozen – or thousands – of units requiring automation, mass production, molding and casting.

As Professor Greg Sawyer, who oversees the class, put it, “You have thermodynamics, you have heat transfer, you have electronics. Espresso machines are really a microcosm of the engineering world.”

And if you think about it, injecting high-pressure steam into an espresso head to make coffee really isn’t so different from injecting fuel into an engine cylinder. (And after all, coffee is rocket fuel for the brain.)

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