Kathleen Flynn poses for a photo next to a giant LEGO person.
"This culminating project, and receiving the Systems Engineering master’s degree, fulfills a goal of mine that has been several years in the making and will open new doors for me in the professional world."

Though Kathleen Flynn didn’t build with LEGO frequently as a child, she discovered the creative possibilities in these bricks as an adult.

“Building with LEGO bricks is a popular hobby amongst friends and fellow engineers,” said Flynn, a systems engineer supporting the maritime division at Boeing. “I really enjoy the space-themed models, and have had fun constructing the Saturn V rocket, the International Space Station, the Apollo 11 Lunar Lander, and the Discovery space shuttle orbiter.”

She quickly discovered that locating specialized parts for sophisticated custom creations can be a challenge. For her capstone project, she designed a system to streamline the storing and packaging of specialized brick parts, allowing hobbyists to easily get the parts they need.

What problem were you trying to solve?
“Engineers are creators who apply scientific principles and practices to transform designs into reality. I’m fascinated by how a collection of these plastic bricks can be transformed into intricate structures, representing both real and imaginary systems. However, finding the exact parts for specialized designs can be challenging. Many designers create digital models before physically assembling them using plastic brick parts. By talking with local modeling club members and brick sellers and attending design expos, I discovered the lack of an efficient sorting and packaging system for custom bricks. Custom modelers need a specific sorting and packaging system that matches their digital model designs. This is important because the available model parts come in a range of sizes, shapes, and colors. Having a system that aligns these parts with their digital building instructions allows for a faster and more accurate assembly of custom models.”

What was your solution? How does it do the job better than systems already in use?
“The Quality Identification of Configurations is Key (Quick) Brick Sustainable Sorting System is a conceptual manufacturing system that could be deployed within a future factory environment. This system would be part of a production ecosystem that features advanced technologies and processes that characterize the Fourth Industrial Revolution (“Industry 4.0”).

My solution automates the efficient sorting of plastic bricks for packaging, maintaining high-quality configurations. It’s energy-efficient, employs reusable packaging, and streamlines physical model construction from digital designs.

Quick Brick would allow custom modelers to submit digital model files, which would then be translated into specific part groupings during manufacturing, enabling a well-organized assembly of the physical model based on a logical structure. The brick components will be efficiently organized into designated packages that correspond to the custom-assembly process.”

Tell us about how you approached this using systems engineering.
“The capstone project allowed for the practical application of systems engineering best practices. I used the skills and tools I acquired throughout the program curriculum to develop a conceptual design for a complex system. The use of a digital model-based tool enabled incremental development of requirements, and functional and logical architecture, resulting in the development of a system concept. Conducting a rigorous trade study, managing risk, developing a test plan, managing a schedule, and developing a formal system specification provided valuable hands-on opportunities to exercise and refine systems engineering skills. During the project’s lifecycle, I developed and refined project deliverables that mirror real-world content typically produced for industry and government projects. Managing system architecture within a model-based systems engineering (MBSE) environment allowed me to efficiently trace and analyze systems engineering data.”

Why is this work important? Do you see your system being implemented in real life?
“Through interviews, a survey provided to custom model builders, retail store visits, and discussions with the custom model building community, I learned that end users will be thrilled to receive sorted and packaged plastic bricks that enable more efficient custom model building. The time spent sorting bricks and finding specific bricks to complete a custom design is an unmet need. In addition, users are interested in a sorting and packaging solution that is more environmentally friendly than the solutions that currently exist. I believe that the Quick Brick system could be a valuable, innovative solution that will improve the experience of all stakeholders of the system, from the operators of the manufacturing solution to the end users who reap the benefits of having efficiently sorted plastic bricks to create custom model designs.”

Will you continue to work on this?
“I will carry lessons learned throughout the capstone project experience, and from the entire systems engineering master’s program, forward with me in the workplace. This culminating project, and receiving the Systems Engineering master’s degree, fulfills a goal of mine that has been several years in the making and will open new doors for me in the professional world. The Systems Engineering master’s capstone provided a real-world, practical application of the lessons learned throughout the Master of Science in Systems Engineering program, allowing for a greater understanding of systems engineering processes and best practices.”

Anything else we need to know?
“The project challenged me to think critically in an individually driven, rigorous academic setting that can be directly applied to systems engineering tasks in the workplace. It was a challenging conclusion of an educational journey during which I explored a breadth and depth of systems engineering concepts, allowing me to become a stronger and more knowledgeable systems engineer.”

Interested in learning more about JHU EP’s engineering master’s programs? Reach out to our admissions team today!