MapleSim Revitalizes the Freshman Engineering Design Course at McMaster University - User Case Studies - Maplesoft

User Case Study: MapleSim Revitalizes the Freshman Engineering Design Course at McMaster University

The freshman design engineering course, or "cornerstone" course, is a critical component of the curriculum at most institutions. It introduces students to the fundamental techniques of design and the various tools of engineering. The modern incarnation of this course integrates general design and analysis concepts and the application of computing tools such as CAD. In a general sense, it is intended to answer the question "What do engineers actually do?" for a young student.

During a recent initiative to enrich its cornerstone course, McMaster University introduced MapleSim into their engineering course curriculum. MapleSim is physical modeling and simulation software that allows students to analyze and explore the system dynamics, and ultimately the design options, for a real system. Prior to the introduction of MapleSim, McMaster’s cornerstone course focused on development of the CAD solid model based upon the dissection of an existing product. Students were exposed to existing designs, but possible design modifications were not considered. This is typical of most traditional freshmen Design and Graphics courses where often CAD models alone form the core of a design project.


The problem is that when using only CAD tools there is no real opportunity to apply good engineering analysis, which is fundamental to understanding and retention. At the freshman level the engineering information that the students are learning is too detailed and complex for them to do much more than create the CAD drawing.

There are approximately 1000 first year students entering engineering studies at McMaster University each year, and all of them take the same first year courses, specializing later in their second year. Dr. Thomas Doyle, Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at McMaster University, wanted to find a way to increase the engagement of these first year students by providing them with both practical knowledge and an understanding of the theory behind engineering design.

Working together with Dr. Doyle, Maplesoft engineers built polished MapleSim models that adapted information from the CAD designs created by the students in Autodesk® Inventor®. As a result, from the CAD model the students were able to quickly develop a corresponding dynamic model using MapleSim and systematically assess hand calculations and system performance. Students were then able to manipulate the model configurations and explore the design parameters. Pedagogically this meant that the students’ projects now had a complete engineering design iteration process – i.e. they can analyze possible designs, run simulations, do engineering “what if’s,” and gain design experience that is not typical of most freshmen design courses. As a result, the students had a deeper understanding of fundamental engineering concepts.

“Using MapleSim, students can visualize primary movements of an engineering system and identify design defects readily,” says Dr. Doyle. “The MapleSim software, although extremely powerful, has been presented in a way that is very easy to use, such that freshmen can design, operate, and build complex models. In my first year teaching the Cornerstone course using MapleSim, I witnessed better designs and true engineering insights in the final results of the students’ projects. As a result, MapleSim is now a mandatory component for every engineering freshman at McMaster University.”