Vial robots

Engineering students design and build manufacturing systems


At the end of fall quarter, sixteen students presented final projects for their Manufacturing Systems Engineering class which marked the end of a quarter-long, hands-on learning project. 

Ralph Stirling, instrument engineer, challenged students to create a mechanical system that moved a vial, opened its screw top lid, filled it with liquid, replaced the lid, and moved the vial again. Throughout the fall quarter, three teams worked to design, build, program, and test a complete automated system that accomplished these tasks.

In reviewing their projects, many of the students mentioned that having a good plan was important but that they all learned to overcome challenges such as time constraints, limited parts, and design flaws. 

“You have to design with manufacturing in mind,” said Garren Miler, senior mechanical engineering major, “because your idea is only as good as your ability to make it.” 

Each team attacked the design challenge differently and built unique solutions. The final systems included a variety of parts, including programmable robotic arms and parts custom-made on a CNC machine or a 3D printer. Elizabeth Butikofer, senior mechanical engineering major, said, “My favorite part was working in the shop. I didn’t have experience with that and Quinton was able to help me with that.” 

Students also had a chance to flex their coding muscles while programming the robotic arms. 

A fourth team, composed of two students also studying electrical engineering, worked to reverse engineer a control system for a used automated manufacturing arm. While their project had a different goal, students still used their engineering skills to explore and create a system useful for manufacturing.

To learn more about WWU's engineering program, visit

Posted Dec. 29, 2021.

Student examines inside workings of robot
“You have to design with manufacturing in mind,” said Garren Miler, senior mechanical engineering major.
Robotic arm surrounded by students and professors
Students worked with programmable robotic arms and made custom parts on CNC machines and 3D printers.