Montana State University

MSU's spring Engineering Design Fair to be held April 29

April 27, 2010 -- Melynda Harrison, MSU News Service

Tony Fisher, Aaron Straub, Elliott Goetsch and Lance Lee stand in front of the d-ring bender they designed and built. Their project will be one of many shown at the spring Engineering Design Fair on April 29. (MSU photo by Kelly Gorham)   High-Res Available

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Bending a solid rod of metal is more complicated than it seems. Just ask the four mechanical engineering technology (MET) seniors at Montana State University who have spent the last two semesters designing and building a machine to bend 1 1/4 inch diameter steel for their capstone project.

Aaron Straub of Baker, Tony Fisher of Bozeman, Lance Lee of Malta and Elliott Goetsch of Bozeman were tasked with creating a full scale prototype of a machine that bends two-foot long steel rods into d-rings. The d-rings are used to secure up to 500-ton trailer loads.

The d-ring bender is one of 60 projects that will be on display from noon -5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 29, at MSU's spring Engineering Design Fair. The annual fair, in the Strand Union Building, showcases design projects by undergraduates from throughout the College of Engineering.

The fair is about showing off more than just engineering and science skills. Many student projects, such as the d-ring bender, involve working with outside sponsors or companies that gave them design specifications that had to be met, making the projects more like working in the real world.

TowHaul, a Belgrade company that designs and manufactures off road trailers to haul mining equipment at open pit mines, sponsored the d-ring bender project.

"As an MET graduate from MSU, I know they always need quality projects for their students to work on," said Emily Davis, Production Engineer / Production Coordinator at TowHaul. "The students get a real world project and we get free engineering work on something that we might not get to due to other pressing needs at the company."

TowHaul currently bends d-rings by hand and wants to automate the process.

"This project gave us the freedom to solve a problem and go from concept to machine," said Goetsch.

The students spent fall semester designing the d-ring bender and spring semester building it.

"We would stay in the design lab until two in the morning working on the design," recalled Straub. "We got used to living on two or three hours of sleep."

"There were 98 individual components that we had to fabricate ourselves," said Lee. "We had to use everything we have learned in our education, not just one part of it."

According to Kevin Cook, assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, the project was a little more complicated than most other capstone projects.

"From the size of it, to integrating all the components plus more than 100 pieces of hydraulics, it was an intensive project," Cook said.

Joining the d-ring bender is a project in conjunction with Bozeman Deaconess Hospital to decrease the time a patient spends in outpatient services. Another project uses industrial engineering tools to study how to make small-scale, value-added agriculture at Amaltheia Organic Dairy economically feasible. Groups of students designed a casting mold for submarine trim, a device to compress aluminum chips into a mass for transportation to a recycling facility and a system to detect avalanches on a remote Alaskan railroad line using microwave technology.

Kevin Helsley from Billings, Jeff Price from Billings and Todd Buerkle from Big Timber are working on a project with NASA to make computer systems tolerant to radiation. When a computer goes into space and loses the protection of Earth's magnetic field, radiation can damage the computer.

The electrical engineering seniors worked on part of a larger project to design a spatial sensor that tells the microprocessors in the computer where the radiation is hitting. A computer shows where the radiation is striking in real time and the affected microprocessors can then shut down and bring a spare online.

"NASA and space exploration have always been really interesting to me," Buerkle said. "This is a really applicable way to be involved."

NASA is so interested in this project that Andrew Keys, project manager of the Advanced Avionics and Processor Systems project, and his team will be coming to the design fair to watch the students' demonstration.

All of the capstone projects meet graduation requirements and are intended to give students real-life experience working in teams, meeting deadlines and staying on budget. The projects also show them the difference between designing something and building it.

The fair features senior design projects from both the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department and the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department.

The fair, which is open to the public, will include poster displays and equipment exhibits, product prototypes, new technologies, unique solutions to challenging problems and multidisciplinary design projects. Student design teams will be on hand to explain their projects and answer questions.

Elizabeth Brock at 406-994-1564 or