Project Profile

Goals of the project

The mission of the Learning Factory is to help bring the real-world into the classroom by providing engineering students with practical hands-on experience through industry-sponsored and client-based capstone design projects. The Learning Factory coordinates about 200 projects involving more than 800 engineering students at Penn State University Park. The Bernard M. Gordon Learning Factory facility is entirely dedicated to student use. This state-of-the-art facility supports the capstone design program in the College of Engineering. The 6,500 sq. ft. facility sees continuous usage throughout the year by more than 1,000 students that take courses ranging from Introduction to Engineering Design (freshmen) to Capstone Design (senior) and anything in between that requires access to hands-on manufacturing facilities and space.

Nature of the Collaboration

The Learning Factory team collaborates with faculty in 13 departments in the College of Engineering (COE) and College of Earth & Mineral Science on coordination of our multidisciplinary capstone design projects and associated curricular issues. We work with the COE marketing staff to publicize the efforts and accomplishments of the Learning Factory. We also collaborate with many industry representatives in developing project ideas and in mentoring capstone teams. Finally, the Learning Factory Industry Advisory Board advises the Director on program goals and activities, and assists in recruiting new project sponsors.


As part of the capstone design experience, students learn design skills including concept generation and selection, modeling, analysis, and project management, as well as prototyping and fabrication skills such as machining, welding, and 3D printing.


The Learning Factory facility is equipped with workbenches, hand tools, power tools, machining equipment (lathes and mills), a water jet cutter, six 3D printers ranging from Objet 260 Connex to Makerbots, sheet metal forming, and other assembly tools. Software includes SolidWorks, MasterCam, and MS Project.


The Learning Factory was established in 1995 through a grant from ARPA/NSF. The program began as a collaboration between 3 departments: EE, IE, & ME, and has grown to include 13 departments today.  


During the first year of operation, the Learning Factory offered 6 capstone design projects. This number has grown to the record-high 127 projects being completed this spring semester. We have been recognized for our outstanding achievements in Engineering Education, e.g.:

  • After just 3 years of operation, the Learning Factory received Boeing Outstanding Educator Award
  • In 2006 the Learning Factory was awarded the National Academy of Engineering’s Bernard M. Gordon Prize for “Innovations in Engineering Education”.
  • In a recent study published by the Royal Academy & MIT, the Learning Factory was one of 6 programs worldwide recognized for achieving excellence in Engineering Education.

Challenges encountered

A current challenge is recruiting the large number of projects required for our increasing student enrollment. One way we are addressing this challenge is by working with our Industry Advisory Board to promote the Learning Factory and provide information to prospective project sponsors on how to become involved in the program.

Major outcomes

Over the past 20 years, more than 8,000 Penn State Engineering students have participated in Learning Factory capstone design projects.  

Innovations, impact and successes

The success of the Learning Factory is due to the effective collaboration among faculty, students, and industry. Beyond the accolades we have received over the years, the program serves as a model for similar programs at other universities. The multidisciplinary nature of our capstone design teams is cited by our industry sponsors as a major benefit to working with Penn State.