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Durham and Brunel engineering undergraduates emerge stars of the 2018 Design Challenge

Institution News Team

Design Challenge 2018
Design Challenge 2018

Congratulation to the Student teams of Durham University and Brunel University London, champions of the Design Challenge 2018.

An estimated 2000 engineering undergraduates from across UK take part annually in the Design Challenge, a competition that provides a taste of the ‘real world’ of engineering.

Competing teams of up to five engineering students must design, build, test and present a mechanical device based on a set technical specification.

The Challenge is open to either first year or second year students, differentiated by the level of technical complexity. All teams are also required to produce and present a technical poster, make a presentation and subject their device to a Design Excellence scrutiny as part of the competition.

Five UK regions, (Northeastern, Northwestern, Greater London, Midland and Wessex) had 25 leading universities participate in the Challenge this year at university level, progressing into regionals in the Spring, culminating at the UK National Final on Friday, 5 October 2018. The following universities were represented at the event:

  • Durham University
  • University of Salford
  • Bournemouth University
  • Coventry University
  • University of East London
  • Brunel University London (2nd year event)
  • Manchester Metropolitan University  (2nd year event).

Affirming the practical experiences that the Challenge provides, Sam Whelan, Team Leader of Durham’s 1st year team said,

“I would say the most important lessons were that a better or more high tech design was no substitute for testing and practice.

The experience was truly valuable. We have become better engineers by learning to work to deadlines. The presentation and poster competition made us more ready for the corporate world.”

Sam also commented on his experience of working within the team,
“Managing the team proved an additional challenge for our team which had four spoken languages among the five members. I can say that the challenge was wholeheartedly worth it.”

In supporting academia the Challenge is well received by universities,
“For me, the Design Challenge provides an essential and stimulating professional-level engineering project through which students can benchmark themselves against not only other universities but, most importantly, the expectations of industry,”  remarked Professor Mark Atherton, Brunel University London.

Explaining the rationale of the student challenge portfolio that the Institution runs, Education Projects Manager, Sandra Balthazaar, said,  

“Engineers will be called upon to address the complex societal challenges of the future by building a new generation of machines, materials, and systems. We are consistently rethinking ways in which we can support the academic and skills development of young undergraduates: challenging them to be more creative, bolder and better prepared for the world of work.”

This year’s event featured devices built and powered to climb up autonomously inside a pipe carrying an increasing load. The leader board of winners was as follows:

1st year winners:

  • National Champions: Durham University (Northeastern Region)
  • Runners-up: University of Salford (Northwestern Region)
  • 3rd Place: Coventry University (Midland Region)
  • Poster competition: Coventry University (Midlands Region)
  • Presentation competition: Coventry University (Midlands Region)
  • Design excellence: University of East London (GLR).
2nd year winners:
  • National Champions: Brunel University London (GLR)
  • Runners-up:  Manchester Metropolitan University (Northwest Region)
  • Poster competition: Manchester Metropolitan University (Northwest Region)
  • Presentation competition: Manchester Metropolitan University (Northwest Region)
  • Design excellence: Manchester Metropolitan University (Northwest Region).

Dr Jenifer Baxter, a Challenge judge and Head of Engineering at the Institution, elaborated,
“The Design Challenge final is always an exciting day at IMechE HQ. It is an opportunity for 1st and 2nd year students to show off their design skills and innovative ideas. This year we saw a very successful scissor design that moved up and down the tube in under four seconds, a design with caterpillar treads that worked on a timer to successfully stop at the correct point and also a very exciting design propelled using canisters of carbon dioxide. We hope these experiences fuel their passion for engineering as they go into the workplace.”

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers continues to work closely with education and skills training by way of the Student Challenge portfolio and looks forward to another year of success in the 2019 Design Challenge which is now open for registrations. For details email  or visit


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