Outside the Classroom: Engineering Cornerstones Provide Real-World Experience
By the end of four years of classes, labs, and lectures at the Shiley School of Engineering, most engineering students have spent countless hours learning skills to one day apply them to real problems.
However, engineering students report that they have spent little or no time in the classroom applying their knowledge to real-world problems, and should acquire much of it through internships and work experience.
To give Shiley students a taste of the work of a true engineer, the school of engineering asked all seniors to complete a capstone project, each consisting of a group of students partnering with an organization to solve an engineering problem or work on a real project. .
The Beacon spoke with three different review groups to discuss the challenges, rewards, and lessons learned over the year-long projects.
Columbia Slough Bridge Replacement
While most engineering synthesis groups have been hard at work on their projects throughout the year, one group in particular wondered if legal issues were going to completely derail their project.
The task seemed simple at first: Civil engineering major Grace Wallace, along with her peers Hallie Turk, Misael Madrigal and Matthew Aguayo, worked with the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) to redesign the Columbia Slough Bridge in Portland, a bridge built almost 100 years ago.
According to Wallace, this was ODOT’s first year partnering with UP, meaning the team had little sense of direction during the fall semester.
“Early on, we were like ‘we don’t really understand’, and so our industry adviser was like, ‘here’s the basics of bridge design, why don’t you get started on this? ‘” Wallace mentioned. “So we started designing the bridge, yes, but we didn’t really know how to do it.”
For the duration of the fall session, the majority of the work consisted of evaluating the different materials to be used for the new bridge, in particular between wood, concrete and steel. Additionally, the group decided whether the bridge should have a pedestrian lane, a bike lane, or none.
However, it was only a matter of time before ODOT realized that the contact between the students and the state had some problems: mainly, that they were treating the students like professional engineers.
“[ODOT] wrote the contract as if we were going to work for them as contractors, which is incorrect,” Wallace said. “We’re students, we don’t even have a license, so legally, even if they treated us like that, we wouldn’t provide them with anything that could be substantial.”
Fortunately, the group’s industry advisor, an ODOT employee who was not officially authorized to work with the team, volunteered her time to work with the group to ensure that they would meet their requirements for base.
With the spring semester approaching, the group resumed work to produce a 30% design of the new bridge, which involves general design and basic specifications.
The team used engineering codes specified for concrete and water to design the pillars and beams to support the bridge, as well as AutoCAD to design the road and the entire bridge.
For Wallace, the whole process was arduous, and having little guidance presented an unexpected challenge.
“There had to be a way to give us more structure so we didn’t feel so lost,” she said. “It really felt like we were baby birds that had just been thrown out of the nest.”
Even with legal issues and constant confusion, there is a silver lining. According to Wallace, the lessons she learned about group work and communication will help her enter the world of engineering after graduation.
“We finally found our footing, right after the lawyers got involved, but we got our groove on and it felt like a well-oiled machine, we got to know each other really well as a team,” Wallace said. .
OHSU Prosthetic Helping Hands Project
Most groups are made up of just a few students, but this unique project required an eight-person team of interdisciplinary engineering majors, all working toward one goal: to partner with Oregon Health and Sciences University to produce a functional prosthetic hand prototype.
Principal engineers Justin Cao, Alex Junkins, John Haas, Michael Baltero, Alex Trippel, Riley Dehmer, Emily Vo, and Adrian Muth worked with OHSU on making a prosthetic hand for children with birth defects of the limbs, who do not have fully developed upper limbs. .
For such a detailed project, even a year isn’t enough: This year’s cornerstone is Shiley’s third cornerstone group in three years working on this ongoing project, and likely won’t be the last.
“Previous teams have done a lot of work so far, and they had a prototype that they gave us,” said Dehmer, a mechanical engineering student. “They had a really hard time doing it, so what we’ve done is we’ve improved it, developed it and brought it closer to its goal of being what it’s meant to be.”
This task required unique skills in the various sectors of the group, which included computer science, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering.
The prosthesis uses a Myo Gesture Control armband and camera for sensing, which control motors for each point of movement, which then send pulses through electrical wiring leading to each fingertip for precise movements.
Some of the issues the team has been working on are introducing a camera to fine-tune hand movement and adding springs to soften the finger grip.
According to Dehmer, having the opportunity to build something was one of the best parts of this project, something he didn’t get a lot of opportunities to do at UP.
“It covers a lot of things, like 3D printing and mechanical parts and all these different computer and electrical components – it’s all really hard work and we’re all learning new things, it’s really fun,” Dehmer said.
Along with that, the implications of this project extend far beyond a classroom. According to the 2020 summary report, existing prostheses with equivalent movement capabilities can cost patients up to $20,000, while this hand would cost less than $500.
“The whole point of this is to make it cheap and reprintable, because if you were born without a hand as a kid, your arm will change in size for a good number of years,” Dehmer said. “This process can be very expensive for people who have to buy a whole new prosthesis every couple of years or so.”
With such a large team, communication was vital, and one of the most rewarding things for Dehmer was seeing everyone work so hard to achieve this goal together.
“There have been some of these big pushes where teammates go way over the top and out of the way to do a huge thing, which I’ve never seen any other group do before in my life,” he said. he declares.
Now, weeks away from graduation, the work has proven fruitful and the team are happy with their progress.
“Prostheses are expensive, and ours aren’t, and if that can become a reality, we can save a lot of people a lot of money,” Dehmer said.
Electric mobility device for children with disabilities
For electrical engineering major John Costales, the best part of the capstone project was seeing his work go to a cause he believed in.
Costales, along with fellow electrical engineering majors Danny Magruder and Anna-Malia Santos, have teamed up with Go Baby Go, an organization that provides modified toy cars to physically handicapped children – an inexpensive alternative to the electric wheelchair.
Over the year, the team worked with a toy bumper car to improve its mobility, which involved completely disassembling the car and reverse engineering it to better understand each part and the electrical system.
According to Costales, the two biggest issues the group tackled were combining the two controllers into a single controller for all movement and adding a tray to support the weight of the system.
For the tests with the car, the group used dumbbells as substitutes for a child’s weight, until their design became easily manageable for a wide range of weights.
While most of the design work was done in the fall semester, things got more rigorous in the spring, which involved working on testing and security protocols.
“There are a lot of safety protocols that we need to check, like an emergency stop switch so the parent of the child can turn off the device at any time,” Costales said. “Right now we’re in the final stages of testing the car, which involves the battery and seeing the car run with a lowered battery.”
Throughout the year, the project has been an inspiration to Costales, who feels it aligns with his personal values, something he didn’t experience in college.
According to Go Baby Go, there are no commercially available devices that allow young children with disabilities to carry themselves independently, and these inexpensive alternatives can help support the growth of these children by the time they are old enough for a baby. electric wheelchair.
“It’s really exhausting, but it’s also very exciting to finish this project and see it all fall into place,” Costales said. “Just looking back at where we started, we didn’t know anything about this device, and now we know enough to modify this car to accommodate the kids who are going to use this device.”
All capstone projects from the Shiley School of Engineering will participate in the Shiley Showcase on Friday, April 22 from 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Shiley Hall.
Carlos Fuentes is the editor of The Beacon. He can be reached at [email protected].