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3M Awards NDSU Engineering Students Top Prize in Disruptive Design Challenge

The NDSU team's winning design was a container in the shape of a truncated octahedron, covered in a colorful geometric pattern inspired by dazzle camouflage — with which it would stand out in any natural environment. | Images credit: RickAllenPhoto.com

A team of students from North Dakota State University took the top prize last week at 3M’s Disruptive Design Challenge in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The Disruptive Design Challenge was developed to expose and educate the next generation of innovative engineers of the various uses and design benefits of chemical bonding and adhesive solutions. While these practices are widely used in real-world applications, they are not frequently taught in the classrooms of engineering programs. 3M wants to help close this gap and provide future engineers with the skills and opportunities to make products and processes better by connecting science and technology to ideas. Chemical bonding and adhesive solutions can help solve many design challenges including strength, fit, flex, impact, aesthetics, noise, weight, speed and assembly. The Design Challenge was a hands-on, interactive opportunity for future engineers to put their skills and creativity to the test in a real-life simulation.

The Challenge Scenario

Every year, humanitarian emergencies caused by natural disasters, war and famine affect millions of civilians around the world. In these situations, distributing supplies via container-based airdrops are typically the only viable option due to the often-extreme conditions associated with the scenarios, such as high winds, altitudes, location and more. These much-needed relief supplies are often damaged during air drops or on impact, making this a less desirable and often uneconomical delivery method.

The containers carrying emergency and relief supplies are also not reusable — they are either destroyed from the impact of delivery, or the materials used to manufacture or design the container cannot be repurposed and contribute to waste. However, despite these challenges, airdrops are sometimes necessary due to a region’s infrastructure or the nature of the situation.

Students from four of the U.S.’ top engineering programs (Iowa State University, University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin-Madison and North Dakota State) accepted the challenge to design and build an emergency delivery container that disrupts current industry barriers associated with container-based air drops. Each team approached their build under the following hypothetical assumptions:

  • Supplies that would typically be delivered by trucks to warehouses and staging areas in anticipation of an emergency situation are not available
  • There has been no time to prepare and provide the supplies to the affected area, so the supplies must be dropped from an aircraft
  • There is a parachute failure and the contents must be delivered intact and still usable
  • The delivery container must be repurposed in a manner useful to the rescue/relief effort

The North Dakota State team — which consisted of Mechanical Engineering Majors Brendan Nelson, Braden Lach, Jonathan Carlson, Aaron Knudtson, Jay Goebel, Ninad Kashyap, Stacy Staab and Professor Ali Amiri; with the help of Mentor Kalc Vang, Team Leader of Structural Adhesives Product Engineering at 3M — won with a container in the shape of a truncated octahedron, covered in a colorful geometric pattern inspired by dazzle camouflage — with which it would stand out in any natural environment.

Other features of the winning design include:

  • The exterior has flashing lights to make it visible in poorly lit environments.
  • Many of the components used to construct the box were designed to be easily manufactured and replaced as needed.
  • Someone could pack and seal their constructed container in under 10 minutes.
  • The foam inside could be removed and reused to construct sleeping mats, pillows and seating cushions.
  • The payload has straps, so it can be turned into a backpack; and it is also waterproof, so it could be used as a water storage container.

Each member of the winning team took home a $1,500 prize, as well as invaluable learning to help fuel their careers as future engineers.

“These students represent the next generation of scientists and engineers who will make discoveries that improve lives by connecting science and technology to ideas,” said Shirin Saadat, IATD Technical Director at 3M. "Through their container design and construction, North Dakota State University illustrated the benefits associated with the use of 3M industrial adhesives and tapes and solved a sticky design problem with creativity."

While the containers were designed for a hypothetical scenario and will not be manufactured, 3M has worked closely with humanitarian aid organization Direct Relief to better understand some of the challenges with current air-drop delivery methods; Direct Relief participated as a judge in the event.


Launched in 2006, Sustainable Brands has become a global learning, collaboration, and commerce community of forward-thinking business and brand strategy, marketing, innovation and sustainability professionals who are leading the way to a better future. We recognize that brands today have… [Read more about Sustainable Brands]


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