Problem Based Learning of Systems Engineering Using Additive
YM Tang1*, John PT Mo2
1Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong, China.
2School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia
*Corresponding author: Y.M. Tang (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Abstract – Systems engineering is an interdisciplinary engineering
field that focuses on designing and managing complex systems. Due
to the complexity of teaching interdisciplinary engineering concepts,
teaching Systems Engineering is difficult. Nowadays, problem-based
learning is widely applied in teaching science subject and has been
proved to make positive contribution to study science subjects. This
article proposes a problem-based learning approach for teaching
systems engineering through additive manufacturing process. In this
problem, students are required to create a hurdle robot to jump over
an obstacle. A robotic car was designed with existing CAD package
and a lab manual was designed to guide the students to create the
robotic car using 3D (three-dimensional) printers. The robotic car
was successfully built by the 3D printed and some standard
components. In the future, more works should be conducted to
evaluate the effectiveness of this project based learning approach for
additive manufacturing process.
Systems Engineering is an interdisciplinary approach and
means to enable the realization of successful systems. It focuses
on defining customer needs and required functionality early in
the development cycle, documenting requirements, then
proceeding with design synthesis and system validation while
considering the complete problem . However, teaching
Systems Engineering is difficult, due to the highly
conceptualized nature of the engineering process. In practice,
modelling is the first step of an integrated method and tools
approach to enable a decision making process . This process
is supported by ‘‘lessons learnt’’ combining with advances in
technologies and engineering development. This process has
been successful in specific engineering education domains such
as mechatronics, where the technical solution is generally well
defined and the decision on the system to be created can be
limited to a known range of system components .
Nowadays, 3D printing or additive manufacturing process
has been recognized as the fourth industrial revolution. The
additive manufacturing process allows intelligent factories
machines and products communicating with each other, driving
production cooperatively . The process produces 3D objects
directly from a digital model by the successive addition of
materials. This allows rapid development of products with low
materials consumption and low costs. Therefore, teaching and
learning of additive manufacturing process is becoming
Additive manufacturing process education primarily has
occurred at the level of higher education . Yet, few
educational institutions have developed or even have access to
books, instructional guides, and other educational materials
needed for courses and lab activities in additive manufacturing
. On the other hand, there is a number of technological
challenges to be overcome in making 3D printing truly
meaningful to undergraduate students .
Problem-based learning (PBL) is a team-based teaching
and learning approach that uses “real life” problems to help
students gain technical knowledge and develop important skill
sets in problem-solving, collaborative engagements, effective
communication and research. In PBL, rather than providing
students with theory and other material in a removed, abstract
manner, students are presented with an example of a real-life
situation and are expected to analyse and/or propose solutions or
courses of action which they can then optimise.
In this paper, we propose a problem based learning
approach to teach Systems Engineering through additive
manufacturing process. We have designed a project in which
students are required to create a hurdle robot that can jump over
an obstacle. A laboratory manual is also designed to guide the
students to create the robotic car using 3D printer. In the future,
analysis can be conducted to evaluate e students learning
We propose to develop a problem based learning approach
using additive manufacturing process to stimulate the concepts
and practices of Systems Engineering. Conceptually, the
problem is shown as a diagrammatic representation in Figure 1.
1000 300~340 1000
Figure 1: Diagrammatic conceptual representation of hurdle
There are many ways to achieve the outcome. Typically,
to develop the hurdle robot, the first step in Systems Engineering
approach is to develop the functional block diagram. Figure 2
shows an example of the functional block diagram that is
developed for the hurdle robot.
1. Travel 1000 mm,
jump up the platform,
and travel another 1000
mm, within one minute
Figure 2: Functional Block Diagram.
Interpretation of the functions specified in the functional
block diagram depends on the imagination and knowledge of the
students. It is normal that the students will search the Internet
to find any similar solutions.
To start with this learning process, the problem statement
is given to the students and explained in class. They are
required to build a hurdle robot to the specification described
above within 4 weeks’ time. The robot is controlled manually
and must stay at upright position at all times. Then, the
students will learn the additive manufacturing process by
following the instructions of the laboratory manual to create the
hurdle robot. The laboratory manual reveals the components
used to create the robotic car and describes the whole 3D
printing process. MakerWare is used to prepare 3D models and
the components are printed by MakerBot . Finally, the
students are required to assembly each standard and printed
components together. Standard components including wheels
and wheel shafts from Lego Mindstorms  are used.
The hurdle robot is created by 3D computer-aided design (CAD)
package CATIA . Figure 3 shows the assembly drawing of
the robot. The robot consists of two front wheels and rear wheels.
A motor is connected to the front wheels which used to drive the
movement of the robot. Another motor is connected to the “hand”
of the robot which is used to climb over the obstacle. Figure 4
shows the “integrated chassis” and incorporates some of the
standard components available from Lego.
Figure 3: Assembly drawing of the designed robot created by
Figure 4: The integrated chassis of the hurdle robot.
A laboratory manual is also designed to guide student to
create the robotic car components through a series of additive
manufacturing process. Once the hurdle robot “product” is
designed in the CAD, the students are instructed to import the
CAD file into the MarkerWare system, which is the control
system for the additive machine. Figure 5 shows the assembled
3D printed hurdle robot.
Figure 5: The assembled hurdle robot.
A problem based learning process has been developed
using additive manufacturing facility to stimulate the
imagination and innovation of the students. In this approach,
students are required to apply their innovative ideas and
knowledge to formulate a robot design solution. The designed
hurdle robot should able to jump over an obstacle within
specified requirements. A laboratory manual is designed to
guide the students to learn the additive manufacturing process
and create the hurdle robot. In the future, analysis can be
conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of this approach in the
learning of Systems Engineering.
We would like to acknowledge the Department of
Industrial and Systems Engineering, The Hong Kong
Polytechnic University and School of Aerospace, Mechanical
and Manufacturing Engineering, RMIT University for the
support in the attachment activity to setup this project.
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 MakerBot® Industries, LLC http://www.makerbot.com/
 Lego Mindstorms http://mindstorms.lego.com/
 Dassault Systèmes, CATIA