Stevens Multi-Disciplinary Systems Design Project Saves Lives and Money for the Military


Seventeen students at Stevens Institute of Technology are participating in a multi-disciplinary design initiative, sponsored by the Department of Defense (DoD), that brings together the students' diverse skills to solve a real-world problem using systems engineering principles. This student team, one of fourteen in the nation producing innovative solutions for the DoD while simultaneously gaining systems engineering practice, is designing an efficient and sustainable Advanced Expeditionary Housing System (AEHS) for remote combat operations and disaster relief.

This project is supported by the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering through the Systems Engineering Research Center. Students on the team represent Civil Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Engineering Management, Mechanical Engineering, and the Product Architecture Engineering Master's program.

"We're able to bring together students from the different engineering disciplines, product architecture, systems engineering, and engineering management to work collaboratively on systems-based research projects," says John Nastasi, an Industry Professor in the School of Engineering and Science and one of the team's faculty advisors.

The project scope was defined in consultation with DoD stakeholders to be an expeditionary housing system for 100 persons that can be rapidly delivered and assembled in remote locations and to include technologies for shelter, energy, water, and waste. With ten to fifteen percent of Marine casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan associated with the resupply of fuel and water, developing a sustainable AEHS means a lot more than reducing carbon footprint: it can actually save lives.

The results of their work are an integrated vision for expeditionary housing.

By providing power distribution through a smart grid and utilizing both highly-efficient trigeneration and the ability to incorporate locally appropriate alternative power sources, the team's design boosts efficiency, decreases energy consumption, and makes the entire system more adaptable and resilient. A novel design for the tents reflects sunlight as well as provides insulation to trap conditioned air inside, putting a damper on HVAC needs, traditionally the biggest power drain on the base. Forward-operating soldiers on the proposed base can also enjoy their showers while minimizing water usage, thanks to a gray water recycling system.

Starting in Fall 2010, the AEHS design team began conducting research on current camp design, anticipated energy and water use on the base, and the latest green technologies. The design process was broken down into units, roughly distributed between engineering disciplines, such as power generation, power distribution, water and waste, tent design, and modeling and simulation for optimization. To analyze the system holistically, students had to consider not only the individual components and systems, but also the human behavior that affects fuel and water use to meet human needs as well as support morale on the base.

A dynamic simulation system designed by the students allows the team to monitor how even small changes in their proposed solution influence performance over time. Current modeling demonstrates fuel savings of 2/3 and water savings of 1/3 over the course of a typical six-month deployment. Besides a substantial cost savings for the military, AEHS places fewer convoys on treacherous roads.

For the undergraduates on the team, AEHS is their Senior Design Project, a capstone of the Stevens experience that requires students to call upon their broad-based engineering foundation to solve a real problem. Beyond creating a novel solution for the Department of Defense, this Senior Design project generates a unique learning opportunity.

"Stevens is able to use these design projects to act as a training vehicle for systems-oriented thinking," says Eirik Hole, Lecturer in the School of Systems and Enterprises.

Stevens is actively courting systems-based projects that give students the ability to analyze problems from the systems level and communicate with professionals from other fields, valued skills in a fast-paced, interconnected world.