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MIE Students Show off Intriguing Inventions on May Day

On May 1, 14 student teams of seniors from the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst demonstrated the prototypes of their useful, inventive, and brilliant designs for all to see. On display was a more powerful clutch for John Deere harvesters, a new and improved method for removing lead paint, a safer extension ladder, and everything else from space-age training shoes to a device that gives people in wheelchairs a much longer reach. The fascinating event took place in the ELab II Atrium on campus, as staged by the wunderkinds who will help design your future.

The event was the peak experience of a senior capstone course called “MIE 497: Senior Design Project,” taught by MIE Professor Sundar Krishnamurty. The course is considered “the culminating experience” of the education in the MIE department and demands that students use the knowledge and skills they have developed during their undergraduate education to design a utilitarian product, build a prototype, summarize the project with a poster, and finally make a verbal presentation to judges.

What kinds of inventions are we talking about? Well, for instance, one project might be described quite accurately as a real “clutch performance” since the goal was to design a new clutch that allows higher reaping capacity in John Deere combine harvesting tractors. The  “Innovative Clutch Design,” created by the team of Andrew Erwin, Keith MacWilliam, Frank May, and Rishi Singh, was sponsored by Altra Industrial Motion, a leading multinational designer, producer, and marketer of mechanical power transmission products.

“Since John Deere has increased the demand of their combine harvesters for faster harvesting, a resulting need for a clutch with a higher dynamic torque capacity has emerged,” as the project description reads. “Our group is working alongside Altra Industrial Motion, the company that produces the current clutches, to design a clutch that can meet John Deere’s higher torque capacity demand while maintaining other properties of the original clutch, such as the mounting pattern and package size.” 

The concept being employed by the “Innovative Clutch Design” team combines a disk clutch with a centrifugal clutch. When powered, the disk clutch will engage and, through the use of a latch mechanism, the centrifugal clutch will engage at a desired RPM.

Another practical and clever prototype, the “Autonomous Lead Paint Entrapment and Filtration System,” will increase the efficiency and safety of exterior lead paint removal by using an automatic water pump, impermeable plastic sheeting, and filtration design. This will have the effect of cutting the time, labor, and monetary cost of lead removal. The team is made up of Brian Griffin, Carlo Domaoan, Richard Lau, and Todd Robbins.

Not to be outdone, the “Universal Ladder Stabilizer” team of Kate Fay, Alistair Nicol, Andrew Shaw, and Cynthia Archambeau has designed and built the prototype for a ladder attachment to maximize safety for consumers. The design will focus on extension ladders used by professional workers, such as landscapers and construction workers, both indoors and outdoors. The attachment will also be compatible with a wide range of ladders and result in increased safety for consumers without the need to buy a new ladder or new attachment for each individual ladder.

Other fascinating-sounding inventions included an ergonomically advanced backpack named “The Hipster,” a continuous passive motion machine for hand rehabilitation, portable and customizable wall shelves, a wheelchair attachment to give its user extended reach, a groundbreaking design for strength-training footwear, and six more equally ingenious innovations. (May 2012)