Seniors Shine at Engineering Design Day

From left: Daniel Medrano, Madison Elizabeth Cooper, Jarod C. Weber, Dani McEachern and Gabriella Romano celebrate winning the Raytheon Award for Best Overall Design at the College of Engineering's 2018 Design Day.

From left: Daniel Medrano, Madison Elizabeth Cooper, Jarod C. Weber, Dani McEachern and Gabriella Romano celebrate winning the Raytheon Award for Best Overall Design at the College of Engineering's 2018 Design Day.

Hot dogs, laser beams and drone-based technologies abounded at the University of Arizona College of Engineering's 2018 Engineering Design Day. But at the end of the day, it was a device to help people stand on their own two feet that came out on top.

Team 17079 received the first place Raytheon Award for Best Overall Design for its project, "Laser-Guided Ankle Positioning for Total Ankle Arthroplasty."

The procedure for total ankle arthroplasty, or ankle replacement, usually involves fixing metal to a patient's ankle and shin to ensure the ankle is properly aligned with the hip. The team's less invasive system eliminates the need for a second site of trauma by using a laser to line up the ankle and hip instead.

"This could open doorways to rethink the way we do orthopedic surgery," said mechanical engineering team member Daniel Medrano.

The team faced plenty of challenges. Dr. Daniel Latt of the UA College of Medicine – Tucson agreed to do two mock surgeries using the team's device, but identifying and using an orthopedic surgeon's spare time wasn't easy. Neither was keeping track of the changes to 13 separate custom-made pieces. Team member Gabriella Romano's house was even robbed, with one of the team's brand-new prototypes among the stolen items. Despite challenge after challenge, the team was proud to say the final product exceeded expectations.

"I loved it," said biomedical engineering senior Dani McEachern. "I couldn't have asked for a better project."

With $35,000 in cash prizes awarded, nearly 600 participating senior engineering students and more than 120 industry judges — many of them UA alumni — the college and the Engineering Design Program couldn't have asked for a better day, either. The event showcases the yearlong capstone design work of UA engineering seniors and has been held since 2001. 

"This is the best day of the year," said Larry Head, acting dean of the College of Engineering. "Not only are we excited to welcome back dozens of loyal sponsors to support student projects, but this year we have 19 new sponsors at the biggest Engineering Design Day in UA history."

Going Above and Beyond

Many design teams were so dedicated to their projects that they chose to exceed the project requirements set out by their sponsors.

Team 17037 created a system to test landing-gear bearings created by sponsor company RBC Sargent Aerospace and Defense. The turnkey system won an honorable mention for the Frank Broyles Engineering Ethics Award, and RBC Sargent will use the system at its Tucson location as an example to other shops on how to test bearings.

The team's attention to detail also earned it the Technical Documentation Consultants of Arizona Award for Best Design Documentation. The team's table was covered in sleek binders: a proposal, a concept of operations, a system requirements document, a final report, a maintenance requirements report and a technical data package with stats for the device's approximately 200 parts — including 23 that the team members made themselves.

"To go from a paragraph of requirements to this, we've been working nonstop the entire semester," said systems engineering senior Christopher Zurita.

Team 17051 was tasked with creating a proof-of-concept for a digital distress-signaling system using all open-source software, which could be used by the U.S. Coast Guard. Sponsor General Dynamics plans to take the system to the Coast Guard to demonstrate the potential cost savings in using nonproprietary software. The team also won the Microsoft Award for Best System Software Design.

Team 17063, which took second prize for the Frank Broyles Engineering Ethics Award, developed an improved system for Apex Microtechnology to guard against IP theft. Using the company's current method of covering its open-frame circuit boards in an opaque epoxy, the team was able to reduce the time it takes to apply the epoxy to each circuit board from two minutes to 10 seconds. It demonstrated the device using hot dogs as circuit boards and ketchup as epoxy and served up 10-second snacks at Design Day.

Ready for the Workforce

UA alumnus Scott Rowland, a mechanical engineering manager at Orbital ATK, was both a project sponsor and judge at Design Day. Spending a year with engineering seniors acts as an effective interview process, he said, noting his disappointment that some of the students he was working with already had post-graduation jobs lined up before he could hire them himself.

"It really speaks well of the market and the program here that all these students are finding jobs," he said. "I think the curriculum at UA is superior."

Laura Barajas, a member of a Honeywell-sponsored team that designed a dust filtration system for air bearings, agreed the lessons she had learned through working on the project were invaluable.

"It definitely helped us prepare for the workforce — our communication skills, our presentation skills, our technical skills and the terminology we learned along the way," said the materials science and engineering senior. "The whole process of senior design looks like a little mirror of the process in industry."

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The Honeywell Award for Team Leadership went to Austin Ziska and Erica Rao. Rao's team created a piece of equipment that sponsor Southwest Gas will use to remove gas from the ground after a leak, and also received second prize in the Bly Family Award for Innovation in Energy Production, Supply or Use. The company plans to test the device on a real gas leak soon.

"Today has been my favorite part of the Engineering Design Program," said Rao, a mechanical engineering senior. "Being able to stand up and say, 'This is what we accomplished. This is what we did.' And knowing how happy the sponsor is with our product is so gratifying."

Nitin Patel, a UA alumnus and instrumentation supervisor at Caterpillar, said he loves the interdisciplinary nature of his alma mater's design program because it allows students with different areas of expertise to team up to solve problems.

"We've had UA senior design students do projects for our facility in the past that we've gone on to hire, and I've always been very impressed with their quality and their work ethic," Patel said. "For this project, I wanted five or six of the best engineers I could get — I didn't care what their backgrounds were. Being an engineer means you're working outside the box all the time."

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