Mechanical engineering majors overcome project challenges

By Damon Lowney
Daily Titan Asst. News Editor

Despite emerging challenges presented by budget cuts, Cal State Fullerton senior mechanical engineering majors presented designs for their senior projects Thursday morning.

The eight designs were presented by teams of various sizes and included a lift chair, a burr coffee grinder, a heat pipe heat sink for a computer CPU, a remote control trailer mover, a CVT transmission bicycle, an elevator monitor, a hand-powered spring winder and a FSAE (Formula Society of Automotive Engineers) race car.

The racecar's chassis design is almost finished, needing only extra reinforcement in the cockpit for dricer safety. The chassis design team hopes to finish building the chassis over winter break, said Hogarth. Photo courtesy of CSUF FSAE Team

The racecar's chassis design is almost finished, needing only extra reinforcement in the cockpit for dricer safety. The chassis design team hopes to finish building the chassis over winter break, said Hogarth. Photo courtesy of CSUF FSAE Team

Teams who have completed the design phase will start building their projects, some starting as early as winter break. Others will take more time to develop their designs.

Kyle Minamide is only a couple weeks into his lift chair design due to complications with his original project idea.

“I was coming up with an (automatic) quality control system,” to reduce human error and long-term costs for a company, Minamide said. He received permission to use the design for his senior project from his branch manager; but the corporate office, located elsewhere, wouldn’t approve of the status reports he was required to give to his professors.

He is now going to design a lift chair for his grandma, who recently had a stroke. It paralyzed the left side of her body and she has trouble getting out of her chair, Minamide said.

The design isn’t close to being completed, he but has researched existing lift chairs for ideas, he said. “The senior project is supposed to span two semesters,” so he said he will stick to a simple design to make up for lost time.

Minamide’s strategy to keep things simple may pay off for him because teams lose use of the machine shop for the build phase of the project, unless a well-qualified full time replacement can be found for the recently retired machine shop supervisor David Parsons.

“David Parsons, who was the machinist for many years, and I together re-equipped the machine shop a year and a half ago,” said Raman Unnikrishnan, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science. But then Parsons retired unexpectedly earlier this semester. “He couldn’t have chosen a worse time,” Unnikrishnan said.

There are many reasons why a new machine shop supervisor hasn’t been hired, Unnikrishnan said. Parsons retired when the college was reducing staff; there is a required 60-day wait period after a staff member retires before a replacement can be considered; and he was scheduled to teach this year before he had announced his retirement, Unnikrishnan said.

The shop is equipped with expensive brand new machines that faculty and students need to use for projects, but no one is an expert at using them, he said.

There is currently a temporary replacement professor teaching the machine shop class and a highly qualified student assistant helping out as well, but these are not ideal replacements, Unnikrishnan said. “Filling that position is my number one priority.”

The FSAE team, by far the largest with 24 members, has known about the machine shop situation the whole semester, so it has been designing its race car to use as many off the shelf parts as possible, said Fred Hogarth, FSAE team leader. “When it comes to machining parts, we’re out of luck,” he said.

If the team needs to machine a bespoke part for its car, it will have to outsource the work to a machine shop at a rate of $80 to $100 per hour, Hogarth said.

When asked if the team could fabricate any unique parts needed for the car in the CSUF machine shop, he answered, “We could do that no problem.”

The race car’s design is 90 percent to 95 percent done with a few safety adjustments required for the cockpit; in a rear-end crash simulation performed on a computer, Hogarth said the crumple zone would extend into the cockpit. Once the cockpit is bolstered for impact, “(The chassis engineers’) goal is to have the chassis done by the end of winter break,” he said.

Machining of the front hub to the FSAE racecar might have to be outsourced and completed at a machine shop for around $1,500 FSAE Team Leader Fred Hogarth said. Teams will have to resort to outsourcing if the CSUF machine shop can't be used. Photo courtesy of CSUF FSAE team

Machining of the front hub to the FSAE racecar might have to be outsourced and completed at a machine shop for around $1,500 FSAE Team Leader Fred Hogarth said. Teams will have to resort to outsourcing if the CSUF machine shop can't be used. Photo courtesy of CSUF FSAE team

Money is the main issue for the FSAE team. Hogarth said that the team raises funds by selling barbecue food on campus twice a week, obtaining money from Associated Students Inc. and walking in neighborhoods from door to door asking for donations.

A three-member team will be building a CVT (continuously variable transmission) bicycle, which also might require machine work. If the team determines a custom bicycle needs to be built for the project, it will most likely have to outsource the build, said team member Reyna Gutierrez.

“(The CVT bicycle) is like a derailleur bike with a belt,” said team member Vladimir Alvarado. “We saw (the CVT transmission) in a motorcycle and thought we could put it in a bicycle,” he said.

Instead of having separate gears and a chain like a multi-speed derailleur bicycle, the CVT bike will use a pulley to transmit force from the crank to the wheel. By using a CVT transmission, up shifts and down shifts will become virtually undetectable with none of the jerkiness associated with a traditional derailleur bicycle.

The team estimates the bicycle will cost no more than $700 to build, said Alejandro Moreno, the third team member.

Budget cuts might take away funding for their projects, but to an engineer, it’s just a new challenge.

About Damon Lowney