Jeffrey Catchmark 2016-08-24 04:11:27
When Penn State’s ABE department introduced its new senior Capstone design experience in fall of 2015, I had no idea it would make such an impact so soon. The new Capstone program is a team-based engineering design experience in which most projects are sponsored by external organizations, such as companies or local communities. However, in spring 2015, Dennis Murphy, Nationwide Insurance Professor of Agricultural Safety and Health, and Davis Hill, Senior Extension Associate for Agricultural Safety and Health, sponsored a project to create a portable grain bin facility to train workers and emergency response personnel on the dangers of grain bin entrapment and how to rescue entrapped workers. The challenge to create a suitable entrapment simulator was met by five senior biological engineering undergraduate students: Ean Julius (team leader), Daniel Lutz, Rachel Sacchetti, Samantha Goldberg, and Jordan Fair. They enrolled in a series of two design courses that make up the Capstone experience taught by Megan Marshall and me. In the first course, we teach the students how to manage a design project, including how to become a high-performance team, establish design specifications, develop and select preliminary design options, and consider safety and ethical issues in their design. In the second course, the students do the detailed design, testing, and an economic analysis. I am amazed by the project diversity, which engages over 40 students per semester. Projects range from ag machinery to food and bioprocessing to natural resources engineering, so that the Capstone experience can be customized based on student specialization. For example, many of the natural resources projects were sponsored by local communities seeking creative solutions to stormwater management challenges. Students analyzed stormwater flow rates, generated AutoCAD design drawings, and tested their designs using simulation software. In contrast, projects like the grain bin entrapment simulator required students to construct the final design and test the device. I mentored the grain bin safety design team, and they were unique from the beginning. First, team leader Ean Julius, who worked to get the project off the ground in the summer of 2015, proposed including the project in the Capstone course. He connected with Davis Hill, who became the technical sponsor for the project, and Len Lobaugh, owner of TAM Systems, who was a financial sponsor. The grain bin safety design team also engaged Brock, GSI Group, and Sudenga Industries. In total, the sponsors donated approximately $15,000 in funds and materials used to construct the simulator. After more than a semester of work, the team constructed a working mobile grain bin that allowed eight people to watch a rescue demonstration. According to Julius, “This project taught me valuable lessons about working in a team and building off each other’s strengths to develop an extremely useful final project. There were also practical lessons as well about the building process and communicating with industry sponsors—very useful for transitioning from college to industry.” Goldberg echoed those thoughts: “I think the most valuable lesson was working in a team in which everyone had different skill sets. The most challenging aspect was fully understanding the task at hand. Being from Long Island, New York, grain bin safety was not a familiar issue for me.” She agreed that the most rewarding aspect is making an impact: “It is amazing to think it took us two semesters to build something, and Penn State is already using it to potentially save lives.” “On average, about 30 grain entrapments occur each year across the U.S., many resulting in death. The simulator is a hands-on tool that illustrates what it’s like to become entrapped and not be able to escape without assistance. Our hope is that staying out of the bin―or at least wearing a harness attached to a lifeline and having a second person watching―will become standard practice. It will help improve farm safety and emergency response training.” ―Davis Hill Senior Extension Associate
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