Montana State University student, Chad Lucas spent a recent Saturday installing a machine that he and his teammates designed for Wheat Montana’s flour-processing facility in Three Forks.
The machine, which included electronically activated suction cups, replaced a hand-operated device the company previously used to feed plastic bags into an apparatus for filling the bags with flour and sealing them for shipment to stores.
Lucas’s team met with Wheat Montana staff and toured the facility earlier this year. After that, it was up to the students to come up with an improved design. “It was nice to see it up and working,” said Lucas, a senior from Michigan who is majoring in mechanical engineering.
His team was among a dozen who displayed their creations at the biannual Engineering Design Fair. As a requirement to earning most degrees in MSU’s College of Engineering, seniors complete “capstone” projects in which they work in teams to find solutions to real-world engineering challenges, many of which are proffered by industry sponsors.
Electrical engineering major Jessica Kimmel of Missoula helped tackle a challenge posed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico. Her team designed a shoebox-sized device for testing how temperature affects special ceramic materials used in electrical transmission lines. The device will be used at the lab as part of a larger research project, she said.
Kimmel’s teammate, Shane Gill, who plans to work for Bozeman-based Quantel Laser upon graduating, said she liked working on a real project that she knew would be applied.
Connor Fitzgerald, a mechanical engineering major from Virginia, helped design a modification to R.L. Winston Rod Company’s process for fabricating fly rods at its Twin Bridges facility.
“I’m more into composite materials than I’m into fishing,” he said with a chuckle. As part of the project, he got to see the company’s entire manufacturing process, which he considers a valuable experience in itself.
After working with MSU engineering students, some sponsors come back for more. This was the second time Wheat Montana sponsored a capstone - last year they asked the students to design equipment for handling the bread-baking pans.
“That one worked great,” said Wayne Fuller, a Wheat Montana maintenance engineer.
“I hope they keep doing it,” he said of the senior design program. “It’s been good for us.”