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Thinking outside the… vending machine?

Vending Machine

The assignment for Associate Professor Christopher Kitts’ new class, Smart Product Design (MECH/ENGR 144) was intended to get students to think outside the box-or the vending machine, in this case. Working in interdisciplinary teams, students designed smart vending machines last quarter that were technically innovative, cost effective, sustainable, and impacted the customer and society in a positive way.

The Eco Dispenser was the brainchild of Michael Calcagno ’11, Nick Greos ’11, and Colby Moore ’10. Their machine was designed to both dispense reusable water bottles and the reusable, sustainable take-out box alternative Eco-Trays currently being used by SCU, as well as receive dirty trays and bottles for cleaning, saving the University thousands of dollars each year in disposable plates and take-out boxes, and shrinking the University’s carbon footprint by reducing the number of plastic bottles that are thrown away each day, according to Greos.

Another team designed a machine with multiple payment options where the consumer could purchase a snack, beverage, and hot entrée with “one-stop shopping.” “This class taught me a lot about myself as an engineer,” said junior Alex Fischer. “I learned so much about machine design and project management, and I got to sharpen my presentation skills. There is a stereotype about engineers,” he continued, “that we can crunch numbers but can’t interact with human beings; this class helped me develop my comfort level presenting our idea to the industry professionals Professor Kitts brought in.” Harmanjit Sekhon ’11, appreciated learning about the business side of engineering a smart product. “Thinking about how the product should be marketed and considering shareholders’ input was a new experience,” he said.

While the students all agreed they learned a lot and had some serious fun along the way interacting with their grad school “shareholders,” senior Alex Granieri commented on the number of hours they spent on their design, saying the course should come with a disclaimer: “sleep will not be had.” “True,” said Sekhon, “but the time paid off!”

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