By: Ellen O’Connor

Third-year electrical engineering students are working on year-long projects to solve industry problems. One team in particular is studying residential power monitoring systems for home appliances.

A year-long project course is giving electrical engineering technology students a taste of what lies ahead after graduation as they work to find solutions for problems encountered by the industry.

The third-year students have the opportunity to perform actual product development, which will increase their professional skills and industry knowledge and contribute to their employability after graduation.

“Instead of treating or viewing the students as senior students, we are treating or viewing the students as junior employees,” said David Thibodeau, professor of mechanical and engineering technology. “It’s a forward-looking perspective.”

Each student team, with assistance from program staff and partners, is responsible for all phases of their assigned project, from planning and budgeting to the final goal of seeing their product in the marketplace.

Projects range from auditing the school’s energy usage to studying the effect of electric vehicles.

One project in the works is a residential power monitoring system that will measure the energy usage of each appliance in your home. The numbers are then displayed through a user-friendly online database that can be accessed through your computer or smartphone.

“Canadians are actually leading the world by electricity usage per capital, which is four times the world average,” said Dazheng Zhang, a member of the four-person team. “Many people are using and paying for electricity without knowing the details.”

Users will be able to log onto the database the team creates to view not only their daily average energy use, but also the specific item use and the national average. By making these numbers easily accessible, the team is hoping home-owners will become more aware of how much energy they are using.

“We’re hoping that if they don’t cut down on their usage, they will at least move their usage to a better time, which will help the grid and save them money,” said Jared Fleming, another team member.

The project course was first introduced in the mechanical engineering technology program and has since expanded to other programs such as electrical and civil engineering technology.

“In this model we engage the industry partners,” said Alexander Yang, professor in electrical engineering technology and project manager in construction in the Applied Research Office. “They bring a certain amount to the table that they contribute including cash and more importantly, their participation.”

Throughout the year, the industry partners meet with the student teams bi-weekly to keep up to date on their progress and provide their expertise. Some industry partners involved are Hydro One, Siemens, Elevator Cab Renovations, Ironside Engineering Inc. and the college itself.

The students also incur no expenses now because the Applied Research Office matches what the partners give toward the project through funding, typically from the Ontario Centres of Excellence. The students then have a real budget they must efficiently manage to complete their goal.

“It gives us real project experience,” said Fleming. “If you have the knowledge but don’t work with a team, don’t have deadlines, and you don’t have a real problem that you have to find your own way around, then it’s just theory.”
Zhang said the projects provide them with a chance to put together their course knowledge, project management skills and the project itself to complete their goals. He added that it also teaches teamwork.

“Since this project is about one year long, our team members will gradually learn how to communicate effectively, how to deal with conflict and also how to present leadership to get things done fast,” said Zhang.

In April, an Applied Research Day is held to provide students with the chance to display their projects and network with potential employers. A project is then chosen to continue on in a provincial competition, in which Algonquin College has done historically well, placing top five every year.