California State University, Long Beach
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DENSO Lab Keeps Students Current

Published: June 19, 2017

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Students working in the DENSO Lab.

When CSULB’s College of Engineering dedicated the DENSO Design and Manufacturing Laboratory in 2011, it elevated the Senior Design Show that took place in May with 28 new projects including experiments with exoskeletons and devices to disarm IEDs.

“It’s amazing what the students can do,” said mechanical and aerospace engineering’s Christiane Beyer, one of the founders of the DENSO Lab and a member of the university since 2009. “More than 100 students are enrolled in the Senior Design class, a two-semester capstone course that emphasizes the theory and practice of modern design and manufacturing.” DENSO Corp., headquartered in Japan, is a leading global automotive supplier of advanced technology.

During the first semester, students focus on project concept and embodiment design, while in the second semester, the students implement their projects.

“The course teaches systematic design methods and tools combined with the application of CAD/CAE/CAM software and modern manufacturing tools,” said Beyer. “Our very successful series of senior design projects has been facilitated by the additive manufacturing/3D printing, plasma cutting, CNC machining and 3D scanning technologies and capabilities contained in the DENSO Design and Manufacturing Laboratory.”

Beyer stresses the importance of keeping COE students current.

“It is just as important to value traditional technologies as it is to see the importance of the new technologies,” she said. “The senior design projects are amazing. I am often surprised by how far the students push the envelope.”

She likes the buzz of activity as the exhibit nears, a time when sleepless nights are not unknown and students get momentum when they see their projects come to life.

“There is a light in their eyes as the showcase approaches,” said Beyer.

CSULB’s professional partners in the surrounding community drive the Senior Design Project ideas.

“I try to figure out what they would like to see,” Beyer said. “What applications could be successful in the marketplace? The tools the students use in the DENSO Lab, the strategies and methods they learn, are the same no matter what their eventual application will be, whether it is in the area of biomedical, automotive, aerospace or consumer industry. I recommend to students to pick a project topic in an area where they see themselves later. They have a better chance of being successful in their career if they are motivated in certain areas now. If they were to express interest in lightweight structures for satellite design, for example, it would be my responsibility to support it in these labs.”

The DENSO Lab offers CSULB students a place for computer-aided design, manufacturing and non-destructive testing. They find an assembly robot, a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) milling machine, with the ability to machine parts precisely, and 3D printers with the ability to rapidly prototype three-dimensional solid objects of virtually any shape from a digital model. Stored nearby is a plasma cutter used to cut steel and other metal materials of different thicknesses with great precision using a plasma torch.

Beyer points with pride to the lab’s emphasis on additive manufacturing.

“The ability to print parts layer by layer gives us the ability to create complex shapes, even hollow and lattice structures,” she explained. “That is not possible with any other traditional technology like machining or casting. And we can 3D print parts with embedded continuous carbon fiber, Kevlar or fiberglass; we embed hardware or electronics while we print parts. The possibilities in new designs are enormous. We need to think outside the envelope of the traditional pattern of design processes.”

Beyer often fields inquiries from other campuses about the DENSO Lab initiatives.

“At the end of the day, the CSU and the UC have the same mission,” she said. “The DENSO Lab has worked with UC Irvine, UCLA and USC, for example. Moreover, I work hard to include other College of Engineering disciplines besides mechanical and aerospace engineering like computer science and computer engineering, electrical engineering or even disciplines from other departments like industrial design.

“We need to train the new generation in how to apply that new technology like additive manufacturing,” Beyer added. “When I talk to professional partners such as Boeing, Northrop Grumman JPL and SoCal Gas, I hear their need for students trained in the new technologies. We are in a good spot here at CSULB to train them hands-on.”

Beyer is the recipient of the Society of Automotive Engineers Southern California Section 2013 Section Educator of the Year Award. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Magdeburg in Germany.

Beyer believes Long Beach is a good place for the DENSO Lab with the 60-mile circle centered around Los Angeles, the second-largest manufacturing center based on the number of employees in the United States.

“This includes especially core strengths in aerospace and biomedical technology,” she said. “This is the right spot; here is where the decisions are made in design. Here is where we want to push the envelope.”

On her way to a semester-long sabbatical in the fall of 2017, Beyer is able to push the research topics in the DENSO Lab. She also looks for a higher enrollment of women in design and additive manufacturing, especially supported by the outstanding programs like the CSULB BUILD Scholars Research Training Program and HSI-STEM (Hispanic Serving Institutions-science, technology, engineering and math) Program. She’s even founded a non-profit organization for women in additive manufacturing that will offer opportunities for internships and scholarships.