Behind the Desk: Product Development Lab

Behind the Desk: Product Development Lab

The Product Development Laboratory, a mandatory 2-credit course in the fifth and sixth semesters of the B. Tech and Dual Degree curriculum, was an initiative taken by the institute to promote innovation among students, most of whose entire education has largely remained theoretical. While the idea behind the initiative is brilliant and has earned great support, there are mixed reactions towards the actual proceedings. It has been close to two years since its inception and it is now time to take a ground-zero survey of how well the idea is being implemented.

 

The Implementation:

The actual proceedings in the Product Development Lab of the various departments stuns in its variety. Every professor has his way of conducting the Lab and his own ideas for evaluation.

Department of Chemical Engineering:

MM approached Prof Pradeep Choudhary for acquiring the details of the lab. There are 20-30 students in a batch. Steps taken to achieve a conspicuous product at the end are more important than an actual product. There are about 30 students in total in a class. Students are allowed to form their own groups. Both software and hardware products are appreciated. Products like portable dehumidifier, water purifier etc has been created. After a concrete idea is formed for each week, every week, one person from every group needs to show the professor the progress of their work. Based on their presentations, every group is marked. Work on the product is done after class hours. Money for components is initially spent by the student/professor and is later refunded on submission of the relevant bills.

Department of Computer Science and Engineering:

According to Prof Pankaj K. Sa, groups of 2-3 students are expected to explore the possibilities of creating and designing a product rather than to come up with a full-fledged product. Research based problems are discouraged. They are expected to come up with ideas for products in the 5th semester and in the 6th semester; they are left to themselves to continue development on their own. Not all can come up with their own ideas. Some approach the teacher, and problems are discussed with them. If they like it, they can follow the idea. Sometimes, they come up with good ideas, sometimes they do not. It is all about learning. Whosoever comes up with an idea where funds are required, funds are allocated. The department is allocated funds and it is given out as and when required. Follow ups are made in the second half of each semester regarding their progress. Some students continue beyond 6th semester as well.

Department of Electronics and Communication:

MM talked to Prof SK Das regarding the Lab. He commented that students can either come-up with their own ideas or the Professor in-charge can give out the problems; it works in both ways. Before they can proceed with a product, the idea and design is thoroughly discussed with the professor-in-charge after which the purchase of components is done. In the weekly classes, students are asked to perform simulations of the product/part(s) that they have so far. Proper documentation needs to be done in every class. Actual products do exist for every group. They may not be end products but they are in the testing phase. Since it covers two semesters, students can continue with the same product in the sixth semester or can come up with entirely new ones.

Department of Electrical Engineering:

Prof Sanjeeb Mohanty says in one batch, teams of 4-5 students come up with their own project ideas during the 5th semester and continue working on them throughout both the 5th and 6th semesters.

Department of Industrial Design:

Prof B.B Biswal mentioned that the students are taught about how to design a product, new concepts and they get to implement the coursework through experimentation. In every class, an experiment is conducted and the evaluation is done through the records that they write for each class. Funding for this lab is not an issue at the moment.

Department of Mechanical Engineering:

According to Prof S.K. Sahoo, the project ideas that can be subsequently manufactured /commercialised are more appreciated. The lab is mainly about design and development. Students have to come up with product ideas on their own and they do. In PD Lab-I, initially, we have a lot of theory classes. Then, students come up with ideas for products and develop on their idea individually. In PD-Lab II, we go for groups and focus on the 3D modelling and patenting process. However, till now, none of the currently pursued projects seem to have commercial value. Although there is no restriction on whether a product needs to be software or hardware based, tangible products are appreciated. Lot of exercises are required before a potentially commercial product can be taken up.

Department of Metallurgy and Materials Engineering:

Prof Anshuman Patra says the fifth semester initially started with a brief idea of all instruments. They taught the students about software that they are not very conversant with to give them a hands on experience about working with them. They have made designs and prototype models. Now, they are stuck due to funds. They have been divided into five groups. Each group has to come up with a different idea. They are given enough time for the literature review. Each class, they present their progress, materials required etc. Each class, a different group member presents.

 

The Evaluation:

Like almost every lab course in the institute, there is no set system for evaluation of performance in the PD Lab. The criteria to be considered and standards to be set remain solely at the discretion of the Professor-in-charge. Following are the comments given by the respective Professors-in-charge.

Department of Chemical Engineering:

Evaluation is done based on weekly performance. Evaluation is based on conceptualization, design, testing etc. There is also a final examination and viva at the end of the semester.

Department of Computer Science and Engineering:

With 98 students accommodated in more than 40 groups, it is difficult to evaluate within the 3 hours of a weekly class but regular evaluations are done. There are no fixed criteria of marking. It’s based on how much progress and work they have done on developing their ideas and their involvement.

Department of Electronics and Communication:

Since documentation is encouraged, evaluation depends almost entirely on the documented record and on the weekly product testing. Evaluation is done weekly.

Department of Electrical Engineering:

Evaluation is becoming tough. Students submit their records at the end of the semester which is an important part of the evaluation process. Apart from this, in certain classes throughout the semester, evaluation is done out of 10 based on design and progress.

Department of Industrial Design:

The evaluation is mostly done based on the record books the students submit in each class.

Department of Mechanical Engineering:

Grading is done individually for every student based on the product idea, design, and progress in every class. A proper record is maintained based on which marking is done.

Department of Metallurgy and Materials Engineering:

They are marked on the basis of presentation, ideas, attendance, general attitude in the class and the viva taken.

 

The Lacunae:

On speaking to the professors-in-charge, they expressed certain lacunae in the present system of the product development laboratory course.

Department of Electrical Engineering:

Funding is a definite problem. If every department were allotted some money for Product Development, it would be better because in this case, money is an absolute necessity and a certain amount should remain at the PD Lab Prof’s disposal. We are told that money is there and is available but there are a lot of problems in obtaining it. Moreover, according to Prof Somnath Maity, particularly for hardware based projects, there is a need of a scheduled theory class to analyse the requirements and procedure of a particular project. But due to no theory class, it is not fulfilled.

Department of Electronics and Communication:

Students are able to come up with some ideas but there is no ready monetary support. The department also doesn’t have proper infrastructure to this end. For example, we don’t have high-end PCB machine and therefore cannot produce end product, we can only have small scale prototypes. Casing cannot be done in the laboratory, only outside parties can help us.

Department of Mechanical Engineering:

Students generally focus on the product that they have seen somewhere when the whole idea is to address the problem or necessity which will decide the type of product to be developed.

There is no specification that every group will be allotted a certain amount of money. It depends on the department as to how much they want to provide. Mostly, PD lab groups receive absolutely no money throughout their course. Currently, no project is funded by the institute. A lot of bureaucracy is involved in the process of obtaining funds for PD Lab projects. The method of reimbursement via the teacher has limitations in the sense that the Professor has a limit to how much he can spend by himself.  

 

The Suggestions:

A number of suggestions were shared by the faculties-in-charge of the PD lab of the various departments.

Firstly, since availing funds turned out to be a major issue, allocating certain amount of money for PD lab is a good idea wherein the the amount shall remain at the discretion of the faculty-in-charge. Otherwise, the process of reimbursement must be made simpler than the status quo.

One of the professors believe that since actually developing a product is only part of ‘Product Development’, a full theory course which would cover all aspects of PD such as need analysis, problem definition, concept and alternative idea generation, 3-D modelling, patenting etc will be helpful. Students tend to focus on the product, product that they have seen somewhere, instead of the problem. It is when you analyse the problem can you come up with a relevant product.

It is also a suggestion that the same Professor be in-charge for PD Lab - I and PD Lab - II for one group of students. This will help them continue with the same projects instead of coming up with another for the following semester.

Since Professors have their individual areas of specializations, having a group of Professors handling the PD Lab would be a good idea in the sense that students would be able to get a larger pool of choices for their product and the required guidance for the same.

 

The Dean Speaks:

We spoke to the Prof B. Majhi, Dean, Academics, regarding the Product Development Lab. This is what he had to say:

As far as funding is concerned, there is absolutely no dearth, it is just that the faculty has to chase. A faculty is free to order the components as per the requirements. While doing so, they have to spend from his pocket and later can acquire reimbursements from the funds. Regarding the delay in the procurement of the requirements, the HODs and the concerned faculty members should coordinate among themselves. Otherwise it’s just a planning problem and administration has no hand in it. The institute can only help with funds.

It is decided that one theory class will be introduced to the schedule for the PD Lab in the upcoming semester. The objective of the PD Lab is to lead to a final product after working on a particular project. But even if it is difficult to reach to the final product due to time constraints, PD Lab is where students get acquainted to the procedure of approaching a project and stirring their brains to lead to the end product. It is the exercise for the minds out here in NITR and it would be definitely helpful in the future. Every faculty is free to evaluate in his way. There is no particular scheme of evaluation.

On asking for the Semester Feedback results for the Product Development Laboratory, the administration refused to disclose it to MM.

 

Conclusion:

All in all, the Product Development Laboratory is a novel idea on the institute’s part. Keeping in mind the present requirement in the country, the concept of the PD Lab makes a lot of sense. It is the implementation where improvement is required, be it infrastructural or in fund allocation. It also requires a lot of dedication on the part of the students as well as the faculty. Developing a viable product is often a difficult and long-drawn process and while one shouldn’t be complacent, they must be realistic as to how much of product development can be achieved in the course of a semester or two.  

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