Inside USD

Engineering Problem-Solving Projects

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A remote-control inspection device designed to quickly and efficiently navigate during an emergency. A vehicle that serves a critically purpose for agricultural needs and transportation of supplies for people who live in one of the poorest areas in Tijuana. Examining the system in place for in-demand interpreters to effectively help patients at Rady Children’s Hospital.

While they’re different projects, there’s also a commonality: they require problem solvers. Thankfully, each of those above and many more like it were on display as University of San Diego seniors presented their capstone design projects in electrical, mechanical and industrial and systems engineering last Friday in Loma Hall.

“We had a lot of fun doing this and I thought we worked really well as a team,” said Blake Olario, who, along with mechanical engineering classmates (pictured below at right) Ben Brantley, Nabil Jamali and John Nute, built the Remote Inspection Device that not only served as a capstone project but also triumphed at a recent competition.

The four students won the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ Western Regional Design Contest April 27 in Long Beach and qualified for the national competition in November in San Diego. The challenge was to design and build a remote-controlled vehicle able to navigate obstacles, read sensors and activate switches in a course through live video feeds. The USD team beat out 10 other schools with a well-executed run in 1 minute, 18 seconds. The runners-up took more than three minutes.

“The retrieval mechanism was a big part of it,” Olario said. “A lot of the teams we went up against had trouble with their device picking up the sensors or keeping the sensor once it was picked it up. We were also surprised at how ours was a lot faster than others’.”

While the basic utility vehicle built by mechanical engineering students (pictured, at top) Luke Daenitz, Ian Mahoney, Emilio Mejia, Nachapal Methakul, Bryon Riemhofer and Andrew Wood will only go up to 20 miles per hour, the end result will do wonders for people living in La Morita, one of many neighborhoods in eastern Tijuana.

The three-wheel vehicle, which can hold up to 460 pounds and has room for one driver, figures to get plenty of usage following a formal presentation May 20 at the La Morita Mission.

Although the idea to do the project initially came after seeing a website for building these types of vehicles, it was Wood, who’d been on a few of University Ministry’s one-day service and immersion trips to Tijuana, that sought to have the finished project go back to the community.

“We weren’t making this for ourselves,” Wood said. “We were looking for somewhere nearby where the vehicle could really make an impact in the community. We talked to University Ministry about it and they were on board with our idea.”

This group, too, credited teamwork as an essential element to completing the project. It was never more evident than when upon starting the engine for the first time a few days earlier, a major flaw was discovered. The six students pulled together and stayed up until 1:30 a.m. Friday to fix it and have it ready for display and to test drive in the parking lot. Each team member drove a short lap and had big smiles on their faces upon their return.

“Our pride set in when (the flaw) happened. We worked on it together,” Wood said. “We didn’t want to let each other or the people (in La Morita) down.”

Ali Ambrosio, Travis Jackson (pictured at left, with Dr. Bradley Chase) and Alvaro Nemi (not pictured), a group of Industrial and Systems engineers, had others on their minds, too, when they examined Rady Children’s Hospital and the effectiveness of in-demand interpreters by way of wait times and cost for patients.

Using the Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control (DMAIC) method, the students used observations, time studies, data analysis and staff interviews to first identify the existing operational issues and suggestions to improve it. They looked at various factors using ISIS and EPIC systems.

“This was a valuable experience for me and for our group,” Ambrosio said. “It’s a great real-world problem to look at, to take a look at different systems and all of the processes you go through, too.”

Senior engineering capstones are decided upon in September — some projects are requested and sponsored by companies as testing or improvement ideas and some are student originals.

There were five electrical engineering projects that ranged from a portable automatic emergency alert system to help people monitor their health and another to better manage a person’s stress levels (pictured, right), to a climate change analysis system and how weather changes can affect signals between dishes and satellites.

Eight mechanical engineering projects included a CNC Surfboard Shaper, an Open-Source 3-D Printer, a dual-fuel diesel engine and ViaSat automatic satellite acquisition system.

A second Rady Children’s Hospital project, looking at referral and authorization process reconstruction and optimization, and one that examined sources of reducing waste and standardizing at UPS stores throughout San Diego were the ISYE projects. An ISYE upper-division course also showcased the class’ engineering design for sustainability projects, each of which had to incorporate 12 green engineering principles.

Friday’s event marked both the end and a beginning. Seniors, upon completing their capstone project, have now cleared the biggest hurdle toward completion of their dual B.S./B.A. degree graduation requirements. And, starting this fall, the popular open house and project exhibit program will be done under the auspices of USD’s newest school, the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering.

“We’re leaving a standard for future projects,” said Daenitz about being a proud member of the basic utility vehicle team.

If it’s a standard that’s been set, there’s only one way for creative USD engineering students and the program to go — forward.

— Ryan T. Blystone

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