UD mechanical engineering students win national design competition
UD award winners, from left, Brad Miller, Chris Uthgenannt, Raquel Ciappi, and Stephen Petfield.
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10 a.m., Sept. 23, 2009----A team of mechanical engineering students from the University of Delaware, all members of the class of 2009, recently placed second in a national competition for their design of a new protective curtain system for agricultural disc mowers. Case New Holland America (CNH) was the industrial sponsor and customer for the senior design project.

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The team included Bradley Miller and Stephen Petfield, both participants in UD's Honors Program, as well as Raquel Ciappi and Christopher Uthgenannt. The students documented their work in a paper and presented it at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers 2009 International Design Engineering Technical Conference, held in San Diego, Calif., from Aug. 30 to Sept. 2. The paper has been published in the conference proceedings.

“The competition was a good way for us to represent the engineering college at UD while also having the opportunity to meet students and professionals from all over the country in the mechanical engineering field,” says Ciappi, who is currently working for Survice, a government contractor in Aberdeen, Md.

“The entire process was a learning experience for all of us,” says Uthgenannt, now with Boeing's Manufacturing, Research and Development Group. “I personally learned a lot while drafting and finalizing my first technical paper, which reflected months of work conducted by me and my fellow teammates.”

For their project, the students were presented with a problem -- the “curtain” on CNH's disc mower, designed to protect the operator and bystanders from objects thrown out as the high-speed discs turn, had a tendency to push down on the crops as the machine traversed the field, leaving uncut material. To alleviate this problem, some customers had to begun to use the mower with the hood and curtain in the upright position, thereby negating the safety features of the device. As described in the paper, the students designed a new mounting system to solve the problem and produced a full-scale prototype.

“This group was one of the best senior design teams I've ever worked with,” says their adviser, James Glancey, associate professor in the departments of bioresources engineering and mechanical engineering at UD. “The work they did was among the most thorough I've seen from a student team -- they really deserve this national recognition.”

“Like other University of Delaware ME senior design teams we've supported in the past, this group thoroughly analyzed the problem and met the challenges it posed with enthusiasm in developing a working solution,” says CNH's Kevin Smith.

Another UD student project received honorable mention, or fourth place, in the competition. Kristen Domboski documented the work of her senior design team, which also included Andrea Liem, Raymond McCauley, and Mike Morton, in a paper and presented it at the conference.

Domboski's paper described work carried out for Survice to improve the company's vector metrology bar, which provides 3-D modeling of defects in composite aircraft structures. Michael Keefe, associate professor of mechanical engineering, served as adviser to the Survice project.

With financial support provided by the Department of Mechanical Engineering, all five of the students attended the conference with Glancey.

The four members of the CNH team, which tied for second place with a group from Carnegie-Mellon University, will share the $2,500 prize, while Domboski will receive a $500 award for fourth place.

“I'm delighted that our students did so well at this national competition,” says Anette Karlsson, chairperson of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. “They got great experience in the process of writing refereed conference papers and presenting their work at the meeting.”

“It was an honor just for them to be invited to present at the conference,” she adds. “Their papers were selected on the basis of a competitive process.”

And the new mower design? “While the students' results haven't been introduced on any current products, we're using what we learned from their work to help in future mower designs,” Smith says.

Article by Diane Kukich