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Hi Folks,


I would like to provide you with some info about the upcoming offerings of ENSC 405W and 440 so that you can start thinking about the courses now. Next semester, Steve Whitmore will be teaching ENSC 405W. Andrew Rawicz will be teaching ENSC 440 in the following semester. Please read this e-mail very carefully.


As you know, ENSC 305W has been renumbered ENSC 405W, and it has also incorporated the material from ENSC 304 (Human Factors and User Interface Design). As well, 305W and 440W took place in the same semester in past years, but now span two semesters. This change has several consequences, which are outlined below.


First, the course content has changed in that ENSC 405W will cover more material about design and safety, but will continue to focus on documentation and team dynamics. You will thus be expected to produce a proof of concept version of your capstone project in ENSC 405W -- the documentation and presentations will also differ slightly. In ENSC 440, the documentation is reduced, and you will be expected to produce a prototype of your project (with an increased emphasis upon design for manufacturing).


Second, because you will be working in a team for eight plus months, well-functioning team dynamics become essential. For that reason, we strongly recommend that you start forming teams over the remainder of this semester so you are ready to start work on your project next semester. Preferred group size is 4-6 people (instructor permission is required for larger or smaller groups). Note that the project goals are expected to be scaled to the number of team members.


We encourage you to form teams with people you know and with whom you work well as this generally ensures that conflict is minimized. Those who are not in teams by the first class of ENSC 405W will be formed into teams or added to teams. We note that teams formed at the last minute often, but not invariably, function poorly. Note that if an individual is assigned to your team by an instructor, you DO NOT have the right to refuse this assignment.


We also caution you that forming teams with friends also has some risks, most notably a lack of diversity. You must consider the overall skill set of your group. Having a group where everyone has excellent hardware skills, but limited software skills is generally a bad idea (and vice versa). Similarly, forming a team with limited cultural and gender diversity tends to limit the generation and sharing of alternative perspectives and ideas. Ideally, you want a group where you balance the various technical skills with communication and project management skills, and with alternative social and cultural experiences.


Initially, you will need to come up with several ideas for projects – do some brainstorming. We are particularly impressed by ambitious projects which have a clear social benefit and market potential (both are broadly defined). But you also need to find a balance here. If most of your team members are taking 18 credit hours each, an overly ambitious project can result in lower grades in your other courses. Not a good idea. Careful planning is required from the start to the finish of your project.


We suggest that once your team has come up with an idea for a project, you e-mail or meet Andrew (rawicz@sfu.ca) and/or Steve (whitmore@sfu.ca) with enough information that they can provide some guidance. We suggest you come up with several ideas. Projects may be of your own devising, or you may come up with a problem that is sponsored by a company or a faculty member (faculty members often have interesting project ideas suitable for 405W/440). However, it is critical that the sponsoring company or faculty member does not overly control your definition of the problem or your proposed solution. The proposed solution and the design and fabrication must be of your own devising.


You might also give some thought to choosing a company name and a product name. Keep in mind that ENSC 405W/440 requires you to simulate the design and management processes of a start-up company as well as to build a device or system of some significance. Selected lectures and shop activities will provide you with the background for product R&D and fast prototyping (industrial engineering).


Another caution for you to heed is that you should NOT start immediately designing and ordering parts as you will simply be wasting your time (and money). Groups which have followed this path invariably find they have made inappropriate choices because they have not adequately defined the problem they are working on. First, determine the problem you want to solve; then define the problem as clearly as you can (i.e., focus on the functionality -- the "what" -- of the device or system rather than the design -- the "how").


Keep in mind that one of the key things we want you to learn is a sound approach to the design process. Focusing initially on the technical design rather than the problem to be solved is not a sound approach. “Bottom-up design” increases the likelihood that your product concept will have minimal commercial value. Market analysis of a concept or concepts derived from an evident market need is the most appropriate approach to starting your project. 


Still, we recognize that some of you want to get started to lighten your load next semester. We suggest you read over some of the past projects to get an idea of the workload involved in the courses. A tentative outline and schedule is posted in the lectures section of this website. Note that an updated course outline and schedule will be posted at the start of thesemester. Also note that attendance to scheduled classes in both courses is mandatory, and attendance will be recorded. Failure to attend classes will result in lower grades.


    1. You might also try the following in order to get a bit of a head start:

      1. Set up your group and brainstorm possible engineering problems in need of a solution.
      2. Set up a team discussion/planning group on Caucus, Google Groups, or elsewhere.
      3. Speak with Andrew and Steve about your proposed project.
      4. Devise a company name and product name, and set up document templates.
      5. Learn to use Adobe Acrobat and MS Project (available in the 10000 level labs).
      6. Find a sponsor and/or potential financing.
      7. Research the problem/project.
      8. Write a draft proposal (you can find further info and examples on the 405W website).
      9. Start working out the requirements for the system.
      10. Start thinking about who your user is and what is needed in terms of the UI.

Comprehensive information about initial concept analysis and methods, and the phases of product development and prototyping, will be provided to you in selected lectures in both ENSC 405W and ENSC 440.

In terms of financing the project, the ESSS has a project fund to which you can apply (early in the first month of the semester), but the funding is limited (contact the ESSS as soon as possible about application deadlines as they typically fall in the first two weeks of classes). Andrew Rawicz administers the Wighton fund, so you should speak to him about the requirements for that. If your project is sponsored and financed by a company, you often end up surrendering much of the control over your project. If you fund the project yourself, then . . . . Well, that one's obvious. It is all a matter of trade-offs here.


The permission of the instructor, your employer, Co-op, and your team members is required if you hope to enroll in ENSC 405W while also on a local co-op semester. Please contact whitmore@sfu.ca ASAP if you intend to take 405W and also work on a co-op simultaneously. Note that you cannot enroll in a co-op semester while taking ENSC 440.


Andrew and I wish you all the best as you work on your projects over the next two semesters, and we look forward to working with you.


As the fourth offering of the new project courses, your suggestions and feedback will be essential in helping us design the best courses possible.




Steve Whitmore & Andrew Rawicz

Authors: Steve Whitmore & Mike Sjoerdsma                         Website Designers: Claret Ramos & Jeff Priest                         Photos: Simon Fraser University                         Last Updated: September 28, 2019