Monthly Archives: June 2020

Using online meeting software and materials found around the house, and with a whole lot of determination and discipline, seniors overcame challenges associated with the pandemic to succeed with their capstone designs and prototypes.

After months of working on their capstone projects, University of Arizona engineering seniors were faced with a campus closure, shipping delays and other coronavirus-related restrictions that made it difficult, if not impossible, to complete their projects as planned. Nevertheless, in a testament to the resiliency and adaptability that comes with an engineering education, 85% of teams met their original objectives. Others, who couldn’t finish as planned, found success in different ways.

Because of shipping delays students on Team 19024 didn’t quite complete their project, a capacitive volume sensing system for Roche Diagnostics, as scheduled. But the students pivoted swiftly to having virtual meetings with their sponsors and performing thorough testing from home. Their efforts won them two awards at Design Day: the Raytheon Missile Systems Award for Best Overall Design and the Rincon Research Award for Best Presentation.

“While the changes to the structure of the course in the end of the spring semester brought many challenges, I felt that as a team, we adjusted as well as could have been expected,” said biomedical engineering team member Alana Gonzales, who is going on to pursue a PhD in biomedical engineering at Duke University.

Team 19075 created a non-destructive field robotic biomass 3D scanner, which won the Roche Tissue Diagnostics Award for Most Innovative Engineering Design. The device was designed to measure the biomass, or weight of plant material, in vegetation – an important process for analyzing plant health and predicting crop yields. Members agreed that the project taught them important lessons about starting work early, being flexible and communicating consistently.

“We were able to overcome many problems throughout the duration of this project, several of which involved software debugging, errors in purchased parts and complications in machining the frame,” said Alanna Zubler, a biosystems engineering student on the team. “One challenge in defining the application of our system required us to completely revise our entire design within the span of one week.”

Team 19037 created a test fixture for LCD light guide plates for sponsor Honeywell. Light guide plates are a part of LCD screens and provide a uniform illumination to the panel, ensuring there are no overly light or dark spots on the screen. The team created the plates, and, when they left for spring break, the mainframe of the text fixture was cut and ready to be assembled.

“Due to the COVID-19 situation and most machine shops being inaccessible to the team, we were unable to weld the LED support frame to the text fixture as originally intended,” said mechanical engineering major CJ Espiritu. “To account for the lack of welding materials, I was able to attach the LED support frame using spare nuts, bolts and ankle brackets I had around my house.”

In place of presenting their projects at a traditional Design Day, students uploaded video project presentations . One sentiment was echoed over and over again, including by biomedical engineering major Bridget Slomka:

“While all of these factors have been challenging, our team has pulled it together and grown to be better engineers.”

In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, a team of university students worked with Viasat engineers to create a product that could be life-changing for people living off-the-grid.

The solar-powered Wi-Fi hotspot they designed may be used to help deliver Viasat’s Community Internet, connecting people to the internet in off-the-grid locations.

To date, Viasat has used traditional power sources to set up its Community Internet sites.

Glass Knife Maker
Glass Knife Maker
RMC Boeckeler is enlisting Wildcat Engineers to improve the design of the company's glass knife maker.

This year, Interdisciplinary Capstone is welcoming new sponsor RMC Boeckeler, a local manufacturer of sample preparation equipment for nanoscale research.

RMC Boeckeler has been located in Tucson since it began in 1942 as Boeckeler Instruments Company. When current CEO Peter Strucks acquired the company in 2019, he made it a point to work more closely with the University of Arizona.

Originally from Holland, Strucks has a background in management consulting. When he came to the United States, he worked with hedge funds in New York, looking for potential acquisitions in the analytical instrument industry. When he came across RMC Boeckeler, it didn’t fit the acquiring company’s size requirements. So he decided to acquire it himself.

“The rest is history,” he said.

RMC Boeckeler makes ultramicrotomes, an instrument which is used to slice tissue samples or other material in very thin slices — about 30 mm — so they can be analyzed by electron microscopes. It’s one of only two companies in the world that manufacture the devices. Both RMC Boeckeler and its competitor, Leica, also sell glass knife maker machines, which produce ultra-thin blades for the ultramicrotomes. These offer a much cheaper alternative to diamond knives, at a cost of only a few dollars compared with $5,000-6,000.

While touring the University of Sydney in 2019, Strucks asked a professor if the university had one of Boeckeler’s glass knife makers.

“I have one, but our students prefer the one from Leica,” he said. “Yours is better, but theirs is more user friendly.”

That confirmed the observations Strucks had made so far, that while Boeckeler’s GKMT2 Glass Knife Maker had excellent precision and other capabilities, the look and feel could use some improvement.

“Some of our projects, though they are quite mechanically sound, look old and tired. But they still sell,” he said. “So we imagine, ‘What if we make it look better?’ We can do a lot more. I’ve got to bring sexy back.”

Around the same time, he attended a meeting for the Arizona Tech Council and came across a booth for the UA Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering.

“I was thinking, ‘I know I need to get involved with the university,’” he said. “I’ve got a company here which makes a unique product. We’re one of two companies in the world that makes this. And the university has interesting, skilled people, young people, with smart ideas who are right here on the forefront with the latest technology and who have gotten a good education.”

He decided to sponsor two projects through the Interdisciplinary Capstone Program: one for students to develop a more user-friendly version of the glass knife maker, and another to develop a motorized stage similar to what Leica, already offers.

In the meantime, he hired his first intern, Leonardo Rivera, who just finished his initial year in the college and is deciding between a major in chemical and mechanical engineering. Strucks said Rivera has been an asset to the RMC Boeckeler team so far.

“Once these students graduate, they’re potential candidates for me to hire,” Strucks said. “I want to try to get first pick. While we may be a small company, we are growing, and we offer something the larger engineering companies don’t offer: the chance to see a product through from initial stages of development to market launch.”

Brittany Villegas
Brittany Villegas, who earned her associate’s degree in computer-aided design at Pima Community College in December 2019, worked with a team of UA engineering seniors on a capstone project. The team won the $1,000 Technical Documentation Consultants of Arizona Award for Best Design Documentation at Craig M. Berge Engineering Design Day.

A pilot partnership with a local community college armed senior design teams with extra expertise and provided opportunities to non-UA students.

Team 19028 won the $1,000 Technical Documentation Consultants of Arizona Award for Best Design Documentation at the Craig M. Berge Engineering Design Day this year. However, one member of that team was not actually a University of Arizona student.

Almost a year earlier, when Pima Community College announced that the school was launching a partnership with the UA College of Engineering, Brittany Villegas was instantly interested. The prospect of working with a team of student engineers on a project sounded like a great opportunity to Villegas, who was working on an associate’s degree in computer-aided design at PCC. At the Interdisciplinary Capstone Program’s open house event, she was particularly enthusiastic about the biomedical projects sponsored by Roche Tissue Diagnostics.

“I was interested in working for a company like Roche because I want to be somewhere where I know I’m making a difference,” said Villegas, who received her degree from PCC in December 2019.

Roche tasked Villegas and her team with creating a slide randomizer for pathologists. As part of their training, pathologists must perform a test to demonstrate their ability to accurately evaluate stained glass microscope slides. However, setting up the exam involves a series of manual steps, and the company wanted to streamline the process.

“This was my first time actually collaborating with engineers,” said Villegas, who brought the team’s ideas to life through 3D models and blueprints. “I got to see more specifically the way they conduct documentation, and say, ‘Okay, this is the expectation of me. This is the way I should do documentation to be able to help the team best.’”

College mentor Steve Larimore said Villegas’ drawings and solid models were among the best he’s seen in the Interdisciplinary Capstone course. Elizabeth Seader, an engineering management major on the same team, said that Villegas provided valuable help by creating designs in CAD and SolidWorks. They weren’t the only ones who were impressed. Roche offered Villegas an internship in manufacturing operations, but unfortunately had to cancel summer internships due to COVID-19.

“Regardless, being able to put this on my resume shows that I already have a little bit of experience working with a collaborative team and presenting what I can do with a project,” she said. “The whole experience to me was just amazing. The classes were really fascinating, and I want to be able to continue so I can understand more.”

Villegas hopes to attend the UA to study mechanical engineering, possibly with a double major or minor in electrical and computer engineering.

Beyond Theoretical

Craig Wadlington is another PCC student who joined a senior design team this year. Like Villegas, he earned his associate’s — in electro-mechanical design — in December 2019, but he stayed on the project for an extra semester. His team, sponsored by Caterpillar, created a device to measure the flatness of slew rings in hydraulic mining shovels with high speed and accuracy.

Wadlington currently works at local fabrication facility CAID Industries, which partners with engineering companies like Raytheon and Boeing. He said being in Interdisciplinary Capstone taught him more about the different disciplines available within the field, such as systems and industrial engineering. The project also lined up well with his own capstone course at PCC. He could apply what he was learning at UA to his PCC project, and vice versa.

“It’s so beneficial to learn about engineering and actually make something,” he said. “The biggest thing for me was that my designs and drawing had to be real, because they were actually getting made. Everything I’d designed at Pima before was just theoretical. This really pushes you into the real world.”