Capstone course creates culminating experience for senior engineering students.

June 21, 2012
Writer: Spencer Allen & Jessica McIntyre

Whether it is a crane lifting nine tons of steel, a conveyor belt propelling recycled goods to be sorted, or a scissor lift raising an actor six-feet in the air- these items have been created by engineers. No matter the size, complexity, or importance, professionals have designed many of the ordinary things around us. And because of a senior capstone course in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, students don't have to wait to graduate to participate in real-life projects.

"Students are given an idea and a customer at the beginning of the semester, and their assignment is to make that idea a reality," said Alan Dutson, associate dean of the College of Physical Sciences and Engineering. "It brings all previous knowledge into one culminating experience. Students are able to see their education come together in a very unique way that prepares them to be engineers."

With eight different projects, students spent last semester engineering a number of products that will be implemented in classrooms, companies, and construction sites from California to Indiana.

Recycling Conveyor Belt
Since the Recycling Center began operations in January 2011, it has collected more than 150 tons of recyclable goods. As bags of recycled material are brought in, they are quickly thrown on a table, ripped open, and manually separated into bins. Looking for greater efficiency, Dutson and his seniors were tasked to come up with a solution. Meeting the challenge, students built a conveyor belt that uses a funnel to drop recyclable material onto the belt, which then moves the goods down the line while student employees sort the recyclables. This addition has the potential to add more student jobs while significantly increasing the amount of goods recycled each day.

Cutting Shopping Time in Half
Beehive Clothing had an idea. What if there was a way to simplify the process of trying on clothes? After taking this concept to the Department of Mechanical Engineering, students created an innovative new tool. Using a metal device that adjusts to a person's height, consumers stand in front of a cord attached to a wall and then pull a digital string around their waists, hips, or arms, which then displays sizes of clothing needed on a digital screen. "Our hope is to have department stores place our project in dressing rooms so consumers can quickly learn their actual size," said Rueben Haupt, student group leader.

More Bang for your Buck
Engineering System Solutions and Dome Technologies, two companies based out of Idaho Falls, focus on constructing commercial buildings around the world. But both businesses were spending an increasing amount of money and time at construction sites. The two businesses asked the Department of Mechanical Engineering to create a crane prototype that could reach every interior surface of a building.

Because the two companies were both trying to find a more cost-effective way to build commercial buildings, two student groups designed separate cranes for the companies. "By helping these companies both of our groups are saving the two companies countless hours on the repositioning, which increases the safety of their crews and decreases the costs of construction," said Thomas Checketts, a senior studying mechanical engineering.

River Through the Romney
The Department of Geology found it near impossible to take students to local streams, allow them to observe river patterns, and then return to campus - all during a single class period. Still wanting students to observe stream functions, the department asked a team of student mechanical engineers to create a stream visualization table - an indoor river. A mechanical table is covered in sand and clay and water is released onto the table, which is then tilted to simulate different river patterns and movements. It also has the ability to film and photograph changes during the simulation.

Child-Resistant Pill Bottle
When Berry Plastics, located in Evansville, Ind., heard about the Department of Mechanical Engineering student projects from a BYU-Idaho alumnus, its request sounded simple. They needed to take their current pill packaging design and make it more child resistant and senior friendly - and that is what the team of student mechanical engineers did. Adam Beatty, project manager at Berry Plastics, observing the team's final produce shared, "What these students were able to achieve with their designs is incredible. Their concepts and ideas are right on cue with what we were looking for. Taking their ideas and combing them with some of our own thoughts will help us become a more versatile company. Our new design will not only increase safety for all users but it will make our products more marketable."

A Sticky Situation
As the group of student mechanical engineers don protective eyewear, they face their project - a tape dispenser. The Development Workshop in Idaho Falls employs people with disabilities to help them achieve economic and social independence. To help with efficiency and productivity, the BYU-Idaho students were asked to create an assistive device to help employees place non-slip pads on the bottom of tape dispensers that are manufactured at The Development Workshop and then sold in stores. The goal of the team is to save the company money; currently 30 percent of tape dispensers are discarded because of errors in non-slip pad placement.

Raising her from the Mist
A smoky haze drifts across the empty stage as the orchestra begins to play the overture. As if from nowhere, a voice begins to fill the theatre and the actress slowly rises from the smoke - or at least that is what is supposed to happen. The Department of Theatre and Dance built a scissor lift in a previous semester to raise and lower actors from below the stage, but there were complications in getting it to a desired height. The student mechanical engineering group made changes to make it more reliable. "It is exciting to see this project be completed by students; it is exactly what we needed," said Richard Clifford, chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance. "Having the scissor lift work without any hiccups will make our productions run smoothly."