The engineering building at Northern Illinois University was a hive of activity and innovation on…
DeKalb, Ill. — It was all about affordability and making a difference for NIU’s graduating engineering students as they proved themselves during Spring 2018 Senior Design Day.
The 39 team projects presented ran the gamut. Students improved a company’s production time, potentially saving the company $100,000 a year. They designed a robotic saber-toothed tiger leg. And they worked to prevent drunk driving, assist people with disabilities and improve the environment, among numerous efforts.
The teams from the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology tackled real-world problems, many from local businesses and industries, came up with solutions and presented them with flair.
This was their time to show off what they’d learned.
“One of the great things about being an engineer is you get to hold something at the end of the day and say, ‘Look what I did,'” said Smith Mitchell of Wheaton, a mechanical engineering graduate.
What he–along with his teammates, Joshua Delamater of West Chicago, Wendell Yoder of St. Charles, Asvin Kumar of India and Kevin Glenn of Hanover Park–did was create a Solar Powered Logger and Autonomous Surveying Hybrid, or S.P.L.A.S.H.
The project, a drone retrofitted to propel through the water and record such aquatic data as invasive species, won first place in the Mechanical Engineering division. Created at a cost of about $2,400, compared to the $30,000 to $162,000 it costs to gather data with other systems, the hybrid truly did make a splash.
Impressive, but it was an Industrial and Systems Engineering project that took home the overall Award of Excellence, as well as first place in the Industrial and Systems Engineering category. Faculty representatives from each department chose the winning teams, while the Engineering and Technology Alumni Society chose the overall winner.
It might not have had the visual dazzle of other projects, but the Industrial and Systems Engineering’s winning Range II Changeover Optimization project stood out both at NIU and at Aurora Specialty Textiles Group, Inc., where it is expected to save the company at least $100,000 annually. The project increased production time and improved cleaning methods at the Yorkville-based textile finisher.
“I liked all the projects, but this one was special. They did a fantastic job,” said Purush Damodaran, chair of the Industrial and Systems Engineering Department, who advised the team along with Ehsan Asoudegi, assistant professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering.
The team–Alex Hurtado of Aurora, Anthony Skrapits of Manhattan, Ill., and Alison Ward of Bolingbrook–worked well with supervisors and employees to improve the changeover time in which machines are cleaned and prepared for the use of different inks and chemicals.
It’s rare for a company to implement a team’s solutions so quickly and see immediate savings.
“They not only made observations about the problem, they were able to go fix the problems within a semester’s time,” Damodaran said.
For those involved, Senior Design Day not only culminates months of hard work, it offers the chance to leave behind legacies.
That was the goal of Jayson Shiau of Naperville, Nick Norden of Elgin and Jonathan Beltran of St. Charles, the team behind a Machine Vision Eye Diagnostics project for the Electrical Engineering Department. The team’s software aimed to identify whether someone’s blood alcohol content was above the legal driving limit by capturing eye movements on a camera.
“We wanted our project to focus on something meaningful,” Norden said of his team’s software, created at a cost of less than $500.
“Insurance companies offer good driving discounts. We’d love to see this system in all cars as a safety measure. Before they start the car, they take the test.”
The team that took first place in the Engineering Technology category–Theresa Papantonatos of Janesville, Wis., Daniel Thiel Jr. of Downers Grove, and Matthew Progar of Oswego–aimed to help people with disabilities by exploring whether the computer hardware of Leap Motion and Eye Tracking could improve mobility. At a cost of $244, the team created small rovers.
Thiel Jr. wrote a program to move a rover solely through eye movement, while Papantonoatos took on a rover affixed with a claw controlled by hand movements. Progar, a mechanical engineering graduate, built the vehicles. Due to budget restraints, the team couldn’t attach the technology to a full-size wheelchair, but showed it could be done.
“In the future, you could take this and use it with a wheelchair so someone that couldn’t use their hands could just use their eyes,” Progar said.
The team was hopeful the technology could help give people with mobility issues more freedom.
“It feels good to actually have an objective to help someone in need,” Thiel Jr. said. “Going into engineering, at least myself, you go into it to develop things and make a difference.”
The first-place-winning Electrical Engineering team–Alex Underhill of Bolingbrook, Nick Kolker of Naperville, Brian Kostecka of Elmwood park, Zach Cipra of Downers Grove and Matt Allen of DeKalb–designed a hybrid game controller at a cost of $229.90.
The controllers can operate as both a computer mouse and a game controller, easily switching between roles. The win caught Underhill by surprise.
“From what I heard, the biggest factor was we had our controller there, and we were able to make it work,” he said.
Several teams took on environmental projects, such as the team behind an underwater vehicle designed as a safer and more effective way to explore bodies of water than human diving. Perhaps because of the effort, team member Joel Rushton of Palatine already had a job as a robotics engineer lined up upon graduating.
“I’m livin’ the dream,” he said.
Media Contact: Jami Kunzer
Northern Illinois University is a student-centered, nationally recognized public research university, with expertise that benefits its region and spans the globe in a wide variety of fields, including the sciences, humanities, arts, business, engineering, education, health and law. Through its main campus in DeKalb, Illinois, and education centers for students and working professionals in Chicago, Hoffman Estates, Naperville, Oregon and Rockford, NIU offers more than 100 courses of study while serving a diverse and international student body.