Senior Engineering Students Showcase Design Projects: Take First and Fourth Place Honors at Regional Competition - Spring 2001 Ivy Leaf Magazine

Ivy Leaf - Spring 2001

Senior Engineering Students Showcase Design Projects

Take First and Fourth Place Honors at Regional Competition

The remote-controlled fishing rod designed especially for use by paraplegics, a Battlebots robot, and a working prototype of a magnetically-levitated train were just a few of the innovative projects that senior engineering students from Penn State Altoona's Bachelor of Science in Electro-Mechanical Engineering Technology program unveiled and demonstrated at their end-of-year exposition this spring.

The students worked in small groups since late fall semester to design and build the projects.

One of the two teams that developed the remote-controlled fishing rod placed first in competition among other top engineering schools at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Regional Student Conference in New York earlier this month, with the other Penn State Altoona team placing fourth. The winning team will now represent the 44 student sections in ASME Region III in the national design competition at the ASME World Congress in New York City in November 2001.

The design competition involved a remote controlled fishing rod that could be used by physically challenged individuals to make accurate casts with only sip-and-puff control. Seven student teams from the eight mid-Atlantic states in ASME Region III competed, including top engineering schools such as Lehigh, Villanova, Rowan, SUNY Utica and Penn State University Park. The winning Penn State Altoona team, consisting of seniors Andrew Lenig and Douglas Hines, successfully made six accurate casts to targets at three different distances in a six-minute time period to best tough challengers from much larger schools. A second Penn State Altoona team comprised of seniors Dana Fickes and John Ciora, also placed well, coming in fourth. 

The two teams said they spent approximately 35 hours per week working on the project, for the last 15 weeks of the semester.

"During the first couple of weeks, we brainstormed and started building a test model," said Hines. "It worked well enough that we used it as our design. We learned, however, that it's important to conduct a lot of research before actually constructing the design."

The teams also found the design phase to be harder than the actual construction of the project.

"You can have something that looks like it will work on paper, but when you go to manufacture it, you see it won't work," Ciora said.

And while the two teams had very contrasting ideas, they both helped each other as the design and manufacturing phases progressed.

"The teams got help from each other and from our faculty members, and it was interesting to watch how the groups approached their projects," said Dr. Andrew Vavreck, assistant professor of engineering and the ASME student section faculty advisor. "Everyone tried to pull together and help the two teams as much as they could, to prepare them for competition."

The students continued to work on their respective projects until 3 a.m. the day before they left for competition, and found that even then, they wished they had more time.

"No matter how much they prepared, there is always panic at the end," Vavreck said. "The more time they spent initially in the planning process, the better off they were in the final stages of the project."

The teams also used Microsoft Project planning software to track their progress and to help keep on track, which they found helpful.

"It helped to give us a more realistic time frame," Fickes noted.

When the competition finally arrived, the teams had 30 minutes to set up their project and prepare it for operation. The winning team took approximately ten minutes to set up, while Fickes and Ciora took a bit longer to set up their apparatus.

"We took 25 minutes to set up, and at the last minute, we ended up stripping our gear box but we reassembled it and got it to work," Fickes said. "However, it wasn't working exactly the way it should. We learned that you can have problems up until the very end and obstacles to conquer."

Lenig said his team had a relatively quick set up time because they kept the project simple.

"Our assembly was reliable and easy to set up, which made for less complications and lessened the chance for anything to break."

He noted, however, that just about every school in the competition had something break down during the assembly portion.

"It's always best to go into this type of competition expecting things to fail, and planning ahead in case they do."

The student teams were advised by Vavreck and Bruce Muller, instructor of engineering.