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Engineering students display senior projects
May 10, 1999

The Singapore Productivity and Standards Board has a production problem. They need an automated feed system for an industrial manufacturing process.

Sleeved connectors, used as caps for medical devices, need to be inserted into production pallets. Currently, the process is handled by workers, who insert them into pallets one by one and it's an expensive, time-consuming process.

Automating the process isn't easy, though. Because they are used in medical applications, the connectors must be handled in a sterile environment. Also, the connectors are irregularly shaped and they are made of a soft, pliable plastic called Hytrel. Those last two factors make it very difficult for any automated feed system to do what this one must do - pick out the connectors individually, orient them appropriately, and insert them into pallets at the rate of 80 to 100 parts per minute.

A challenging assignment, but not an impossible one. Ask Scott Harrison, Thomas Secondo and Farruqh Shahab. The three UConn mechanical engineering students, advised by faculty members Kazem Kazerounian and Marcelle Wood, had their project well underway by winter break. And last week they showed off their solution at the annual Department of Mechanical Engineering Senior Design Projects competition.

Harrison, Secondo and Shahab were among 31 students competing for $3,000 in cash prizes in one of UConn's oldest engineering design competitions. Their project was awarded first place, with a cash award of $1,500.

Second place went to Garret Fink, Jie Shen, and Han San Tan for Constant Tension Mechanism for Large Scale Plotters. Fink, Shen and Tan were advised by Nejat Olgac and sponsored by Gerber Technology.

The third place winners were Thinh Le, Erik Johnson, and Kimberly Durst, for their project, Specmate T F-Series Ladder Tray. Their advisors were Bi Zhang and Mathew Begley, their sponsor The Wiremold Co.

The prize funds are made available by the companies sponsoring the program. Each of the 11 projects worked on by teams of seniors, as well as one master's level project, has a sponsor.

In addition to the Singapore Productivity and Standards Board, Gerber and Wiremold, companies sponsoring this year's projects included Connecticut Innovations Inc., Cooper Instrument Corp., Hamilton Standard, Pratt & Whitney, Rogers Corp., Siemon Co., Tech-Xperts Inc., The Goss & DeLeeuw Machine Co., and Vascular Therapies, U.S. Surgical Corp.

The annual competition has a history stretching back more than 20 years. Since 1993, however, the Department of Mechanical Engineering has actively solicited major projects that require a full academic year to solve. Available projects are posted for seniors on the first day of classes in the fall. Before the first week is over, they have received their assignments.

Students work in teams of up to three, guided by a mentor from the sponsoring company and a faculty advisor. In general, they spend the fall analyzing the assignment. By Christmas break they should have whittled the potential answers down to two or three likely solutions.

The spring is spent building a prototype, testing it, redesigning it and creating a final design for presentation at the competition.

"The assignments are very challenging," says Marty Wood, associate head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. "We actively solicit assignments that address real needs for the sponsoring companies and afford the students opportunities to really put their education to work. Four patented products have come from this competition in the past six years and additional patents are likely from the projects completed this year."

"This project was a great learning opportunity," said Hope Harrelson who worked with Frank Teodosio and Dave Magee to design and develop a flow loop for a high speed combustion facility that will be used in the Engineering 2 Building next fall. "The project was perfect for me, because it had real applications for the kind of work I want to do in my career." Harrelson, who is graduating this month, has accepted a position with the Harry Grodsky Co., of Springfield, Mass., where she did an internship last summer.

Most of the participating seniors said the diversity of assignments allowed them to find a project that offered both interesting engineering challenges and opportunities to learn things they would be able to put to work when they graduated.

Michael Kiernan and Sean McCutchan teamed up to tackle a problem for Hamilton Standard. The company's ARINC 600 electronics unit links various environmental and mechanical devices to the flight computers on large commercial aircraft. The unit heats up during operation and is cooled by a forced air supply. Kiernan and McCutchan, who have both accepted jobs with Pratt & Whitney, discovered that redesign of the unit will make it possible to dramatically improve cooling efficiency.

"This was a challenging assignment," said Kiernan, "but it was very satisfying to find a solution that will help Hamilton improve this unit. We learned a lot that will help us on the job."

Judges for this year's competition were Tim Tylaska, of Tylaska Marine Hardware, Mystic; Jeff Cohen, of the United Technologies Research Center, East Hartford; and Michael Rochetti, an engineer in the UConn Facilities Department.

Jim Smith