Research That Resonates
Engineering team seeks patent for lab equipment
KENNESAW, Ga. (Oct 23, 2018) — Looking to replace expensive lab equipment used by engineering students, a team of Kennesaw State University researchers have developed a series of take-home educational devices that can be made for as little as $30 using 3D printing technology.
Currently, mechanical engineering students taking required courses in dynamics, vibrations and controls must share lab equipment that is often too heavy to move and costly to replace when damaged. Since January, a team of students led by Ayse Tekes, an assistant professor in the Southern Polytechnic College of Engineering and Engineering Technology, has been testing concepts that could be used to demonstrate vibrations and control theories while remaining portable and cost-effective. In late September, the Kennesaw State University Research and Service Foundation (KSURSF) filed a provisional patent application for the team’s design, which they hope to make commercially available to educators.
“The current equipment typically costs thousands and thousands of dollars, but we realized it doesn’t have to be that complex or expensive to be effective,” said Zachery Marr, one of the student researchers. “We also only have one of each piece of equipment, which is the biggest limitation to me. We wanted to give everyone the chance to use it hands-on individually.”
The idea to create low-cost lab equipment was formed a few years ago when Tekes attended IEEE American Control Conference and learned of the demand for take-home educational kits. After Tekes enlisted the help of three students and received a series of grants from Kennesaw State’s Office of Research, the team immediately began the design phase of the project. Early designs were made of wood blocks with spring steels acting as the vibrating apparatus, but the students had difficulty attaching the springs to the wood. Additionally, the springs would deform over time and render the device useless. Seeking alternatives, the team turned to 3D printing and used thin, flexible strips of plastic to replace the springs.
“The reason I focused on 3D printing is, I can easily replace broken pieces right here in my lab,” Tekes said. “On the larger, more expensive pieces of equipment, I would have to order replacement parts that could take weeks to arrive and cost hundreds of dollars. Our filament costs us $10 and can print nearly 100 individual pieces.”
In April, her students finalized a prototype – an interlocking, 3D-printed block of plastic that can easily be broken down for transportation – and presented their findings at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers 2018 Dynamic Systems and Control Conference.
Studying vibrations and dynamics is required of all students who pursue mechanical engineering degrees at Kennesaw State, and testing theories in a lab setting is critical to having students understand their real-world applications, Tekes said.
“When engineers design systems, we have concerns,” she explained. “The material we use should not undergo deformation and should avoid resonance. Testing and using experimental data is vital to this process. With the 3D printed lab equipment, students will understand how to collect data from a system and how to apply force. We’re showing them on a very simple design, but it’s actually the same process for very complex systems.”
Michael Weitzel, who along with classmates Marr and Julia Ortiz co-authored a paper on the research, said by manufacturing more pieces of lab equipment, professors should be able to add more content to courses.
“When I took the Vibrations and Control Lab course, I would be there for two or three hours waiting for my turn to use the equipment,” he said. “I saw this as a chance for the labs to not only go faster, but to be more complex and to add more experimentation.”
– Travis Highfield
Photos by David Caselli
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 35,000 students. With 13 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status, and one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.