Monthly Archives: August 2018

Grasshoppers are 12 times more efficient at converting grass to energy than cows, and could become a major source of protein for humans

Senior engineering students and representatives from local and international companies and departments across the University of Arizona met among greenhouses, grasshoppers and drone ground control systems at the UA Engineering Design Program’s annual open house on Aug. 23, 2018.

Students and sponsors were there for the same reason: to meet their match. While 463 College of Engineering seniors came armed with elevator pitches to impress potential mentors, the companies and organizations — sponsoring 85 projects among them — brought informational material and displays of past projects to attract the college’s top talent.

The Paragon 28-sponsored laser-guided system for ankle replacement surgery won the top prize at Engineering Design Day 2018.

Not Their First Rodeo

Many of the attendees at this year’s open house are returning to the program after commissioning projects in years past.

Paragon 28 sponsored a laser-guided system for ankle replacement surgery, which won the top prize at Engineering Design Day 2018 and left the company pleased as well. Company project engineer Frank Barmes said while he was representing at open house, other Paragon 28 employees were showing the apparatus to a surgeon.

This year, Paragon 28’s project — a device to prepare the ankle joint for ankle fusion surgery — attracted a long line of students.

“We are looking at implementing this project internally as soon as the students are done with it,” Barmes said. “The feasibility the students attained on last year’s project made it apparent to us that we should continue participating in the program.”

Johnny Lyons Baral, a senior applications engineer at Hexagon Mining and 2014 graduate of the UA Department of Mining and Geological Engineering, said Hexagon was happy to come back for its second year.

“We see the value in this for our company when we have projects that maybe we don’t have the time or resources for, but it’s something students can do for us,” he said. “It’s a good support for our company to try something out that we might not do otherwise.”

Staunch Engineering Design Day partner Honeywell is sponsoring a dozen projects for 2019.

Loyal partner Honeywell is sponsoring a dozen projects — an all-time high for any company in the program’s history. They range from a device that recycles exhaled carbon dioxide for spacecraft to a method for reducing leaks in gas turbines.

First Timers

Some project representatives — ranging from pharmaceutical and life sciences company Bayer, sponsoring a greenhouse smart watering system, to PayPal, sponsoring a one-click food bank — were dipping their toes into the waters of the Engineering Design Program for the first time.

Goggy Davidowitz, an associate professor of entomology at the UA, invited students to step inside a large mesh structure to hang out with some grasshoppers. Davidowitz is on a mission to make grasshoppers — which are 12 times more efficient at converting grass to energy than cows — a major source of protein for humans. When he approached biosystems engineering faculty about designing a grasshopper harvester to pull grasshoppers from farmers’ fields for processing into protein, they suggested the Engineering Design Program.

“The initial idea was to get investors and have them put in a million dollars, and hire engineers,” he said. “But this seemed like a lot more fun. We’re using student creativity and talent to try to develop it.”

Alumni Come Home

Some UA alumni who presented at Engineering Design Day themselves just a few years ago are now on the other side of the table, representing companies as sponsor mentors.

Mechanical engineer Timur Taljanovic completed his capstone design project in 2017 through Ventana Medical Systems, a business he’d always dreamed of working for. At this year’s open house, he represented Ventana, which is supporting three projects, as an employee. He remembers his time in the Engineering Design Program fondly.

“This is one of the most developmental things a student can ever do,” he said. “It’s the first time that you apply the theory that you’re learning to a real-world application.”

Brandon Hellman, a PhD student in optical sciences, is sponsoring a hyperspectral imaging smartphone attachment, which can be used to detect fake currency, spot photo fraud and investigate chemical composition.

“The goal is to show we can make a small attachment to detect stuff that was previously hard to detect,” said Hellman, who said his time as an undergraduate in the program in 2015 showed him what UA engineers were capable of. “Students put in a lot of time and effort — and were quite often able to produce amazing results.”

After meeting face-to-face, seniors and sponsoring organizations all ranked their preferences on who they want to work with, and an algorithm assigned groups of students to each project. Now, the teams begin work, to be showcased on April 29 at Engineering Design Day 2019.

Project Title: Active Drone DenialRaytheon logo

Team 17073 Members:
Zachary Wolfgang Becker, mechanical engineering
Jered Bischann, mechanical engineering
Jennifer Lynn Bundy, systems engineering
Mitch Cohen, mechanical engineering
Khas Ochir Sod Erdene, electrical and computer engineering
Bryan Serpa, electrical and computer engineering

Sponsor: Raytheon

Drones Descending, Patent Pending 

To keep drones out of the skies over certain areas, including sports arenas, concert venues and schools, some companies have developed technologies to create restricted air spaces.

One method for doing so is called radio frequency jamming, or RF jamming, i.e., sending out radio signals on the drone’s frequency and thereby disabling the connection with its remote control. This forces the drone to either drop from the sky or automatically return to its controller, depending on the drone model.

However, these systems can be expensive. In his research, University of Arizona mechanical engineering major Jered Bischann found that developing RF jammer projects can run companies anywhere between $2 million and $20 million.

Stepping Outside Comfort Zones to Create Drone Dead Zones

For their senior capstone project, Team 17073 developed an RF jamming solution for sponsor Raytheon that is simpler, cheaper and more cost-effective than other technologies on the market. To do it, they each had to take a step outside their comfort zones.

For example, RF jamming is a specialized field within electrical engineering that no one on the team was familiar with. Zachary Becker, a mechanical engineering major, stepped up to become the team’s RF jamming expert — an effort that earned him second prize for the II-VI Optical Systems Fish Out of Water Award at Engineering Design Day 2018.

Mitch Cohen, also a mechanical engineer, used his experience at a past internship to take charge of the project’s 3D printing and modeling.

“We were just a team that found our own roles that we were not only best at, but that we also enjoyed,” said Bischann, who took on management and communications responsibilities for the group.

A key element that made the project unique was the subsystem the team selected for their transmissions: a plain old Wi-Fi router, costing about $250. Many companies use special frequency generators, worth thousands of dollars, to fine-tune the frequencies their systems target. In their research, however, Team 17073 found that most commercially available drones operate on frequencies of 2.4 and 5.8 gigahertz — the same frequency Wi-Fi routers use.

Patent Pending With Help From TLA

As the project wrapped up, the team’s mentor, Bob Messenger, recommended they seek the intellectual property rights for their device, with the aim of forming a startup, selling the IP to another company, or simply gaining the experience of pursuing a patent.

The team confirmed that Raytheon didn’t want to claim the intellectual property and began working with the UA office that helps researchers commercialize their inventions, Tech Launch Arizona.

Bischann and his teammates continued to explore the business of engineering. For example, they learned that under U.S. law, a patent must be statutory — a type of invention that’s able to be patented — as well as new, useful and non-obvious.

They focused on the non-obvious aspect of their device by emphasizing their use of a Wi-Fi router. While the patent is still pending, Bischann said the entire process, from learning how to manage a budget to forming connections across industries, has been invaluable.

“The experience definitely helped me get a career job,” said Bischann, who moved to San Diego to work with Naval Air Command after graduation. “I was able to see the connection with the business side of engineering.”

Project Title: Piezoaccelerometer Temperature ChamberCaterpillar logo

Team 17010 Members:
Nicholas Anderson-Masters, electrical and computer engineering
Jacob Lanier, mechanical engineering
Amber Morgan, systems engineering
Carlos Munoz, mechanical engineering
Daniel M. Quinn, biosystems engineering
Jamie Roberson, mechanical engineering

Sponsor: Caterpillar

Team’s Chamber Helps Caterpillar Calibrate More Accurately 

Two women and four men, the members of Team 17010, stand in front of the poster that details their piezoaccelerometer temperature chamber.

When something goes wrong with a piezoaccelerometer, a device that measures acceleration in high temperatures, Caterpillar engineers use a machine called a shaker to calibrate it. The shaker vibrates the accelerometer at a known frequency, creating a data set to help identify the problem.

However, the shaker only works at room temperature. As a result, the data gleaned from the calibration can be unreliable, because the piezoaccelerometer isn’t being tested in the high-heat environment it’s meant to work in.

For their senior design project, Team 17010 created a testing chamber that allows for the best of both worlds: increasing the temperature around the piezoaccelerometer without overheating the shaker’s delicate electronics.

“We’ve never been able to apply heat and shake the piezoaccelerometer at the same time,” sponsor mentor Nitin Patel said. “Now, the piezoaccelerometer is at temperature, but the shaker is at room temperature, and everyone’s happy.”

Learning to Work Outside the Box

“Everyone” includes Patel, who graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2002. He said the collaborative format of the Engineering Design Program has come a long way since he was a senior.

“I like the interdisciplinary nature of the team project,” he said. “I wanted five or six of the best engineers I could get — I didn’t care what their backgrounds were. Being an engineer means you’re working outside the box all the time.”

Divide to Conquer

A close-up of Team 17010's piezoaccelerometer temperature chamber.

Patel enjoyed giving students a chance to build real-world engineering skills, such as teamwork, problem-solving and persistence.

At the start of the project, for example, the team brainstormed ideas for how to heat up the piezoaccelerometer, including a heat gun and an electric heater. They bought supplies to try the electric heater approach but ran into difficulties.

Patel suggested a technique he and his colleagues often take when they face a similar stalemate: Divide the team into two, so some engineers can keep working on the task at hand, and some can investigate other solutions. Half of Team 17010 returned to the heat gun idea and found it to be more effective, and the team used it in their final project.

“That’s the process that you go through as an engineer,” Patel said. “Not everything works the first time around.”

Because it’s a troubleshooting device, the temperature chamber isn’t something Caterpillar uses every day. But Patel said it’s what the company will turn to when they have a concern about how a piezoaccelerometer is working.

Caterpillar will also return to sponsor four news senior projects with the Engineering Design Program in the 2018-2019 academic year, and Patel plans to act as an Engineering Design Day judge as well as a sponsor.

Cliff Andressen stands with the members of teams 17007 and 17008 as they hold a giant check for

Project Title: Advanced Mining Machine ConceptCaterpillar logo

Team 17007 and 17008 Members:
Matthew Hilton, mechanical engineering
Nathaniel Matesich, mechanical engineering
Owen David Pierce, mechanical engineering
Gaurav Sathish, mechanical engineering
Don C. Uvindra Sirimanne, mechanical engineering
Brian C. Cebrynski, engineering management
Maximilian Garber, mechanical engineering
Dylan Arthur Guenther, mechanical engineering
Ivan Llancas, systems engineering
Duy Trong Van, mechanical engineering

Sponsor: Caterpillar

New Award Recognizes Projects with Outstanding Design Solutions

Cliff Andressen stands with the members of teams 17007 and 17008 as they hold a giant check for

Cliff Andressen earned a degree in physics from Loyola University and spent 45 years working as an engineer, 13 of those years at Raytheon. When he retired, he moved to Tucson, and he and his wife joined the UA College of Engineering’s da Vinci Circle.

When the pair saw some of the projects from the college’s annual Engineering Design Day on display at a da Vinci dinner, they decided to check out the next Design Day for themselves.

“I found it fascinating how good some of the projects are,” Andressen said. “I was just awed by the quality of work that UA students were doing.”

When he saw how excited the students were to win awards at Design Day, he decided it was a cause worth contributing to. He sponsored the Andressen Award for Design Above and Beyond, which recognizes projects that exceed requirements and produce results that could influence the development of other products, for the first time at the 2018 event.

“I really like the UA College of Engineering,” he said. “They’re teaching the kids to think, not just to turn the crank.”

Surface Mining System Designed to Impress

When he surveyed this year’s Engineering Design Day, he was immediately impressed by a rare project that involved two groups of seniors — teams 17007 and 17008. Their task: to design and build a small-scale prototype for a surface mining machine that could replace both the electric rope shovel and the hydraulic rope shovel.

“They came up with a totally new way of mining in terms of doing the digging,” Andressen said. “It wasn’t just a shovel with a bulldozer. It was a whole system that allows you to simultaneously extricate and haul off material.”

Finding Success by Joining Forces

Developing the design had its challenges. Project sponsor Caterpillar assigned 10 seniors to work on the project, giving them the option to either split into two teams or work together.

Initially working as two teams, the students realized halfway through the year that the scope of the project called for a combined effort. They took the two design concepts they had developed, performed trade studies to compare pros and cons, and let their sponsor choose between the designs when the results were too close to call.

“This project was largely a systems engineering project, so I, like the rest of the team, was taken out of my comfort zone a bit,” said team member Dylan Guenther, a mechanical engineer. “This has given me a more versatile set of experiences and skills than I would have had on a more formal project. I am certain that this experience will help me get a job and perform it well.”

Andressen, too, was impressed by the real-world experience all teams were receiving — and the valuable input and brainpower the sponsoring companies were gaining. Students were being challenged not just for the sake of a challenge, but because they were working on problems relevant to today’s world, he said.

Despite the all-nighters and unexpected twists and turns along the way, Guenther said he wouldn’t trade the experience. His favorite part was the camaraderie among his teammates that carried them through every trial.

“This was also the most surprising aspect of the project to me: the fact that you can strain so hard and exhaust yourself so much but really love every minute of it, just because of the people around you,” he said.