It was an opportunity to put their technical skills and classroom instruction to the ultimate test.
Before earning their associate degrees at Wiregrass Georgia Technical College, Benjamin Sandusky, Joseph Gaudette, Parker Metcalf, and Ryu Sindberg were required to complete a capstone course.
“The capstone is the last class in the degree program,” says Joshua Whittington, assistant dean of Technical and Instructional Programs. “It represents the culmination of skills and technical abilities students receive through course instruction.”
Enrolled in Wiregrass Tech’s academically rigorous mechatronics and engineering program, as part of the capstone course, the students designed and constructed an industrial product that meets today’s stringent manufacturing standards.
While recruiting Wiregrass Tech students for mechatronic jobs, Dennis Taylor, operations manager at Blue Triton, formerly Nestlé Water, became interested in the capstone project.
He wanted to use the skills and ingenuity of Wiregrass Tech students to improve Blue Triton’s mechanical training program.
“The capstone course brings everything the students have learned together in one project,” says Taylor. “At the plant level, I had noticed we had some gaps in competency within our blow mold systems, and I thought this would be a good project.”
After presenting his idea and other suggestions, the students began brainstorming and eventually developed a blow mold training device.
An essential part of Blue Triton’s manufacturing process, blow molding involves heating plastics to a melting point and then putting the cavity into a mold. Then, compressed air inflates the molten plastic like a balloon for the bottle to get the proper shape.
Taylor says that the blow mold process typically involves 24 to 30 different stations. Quickly identifying and fixing mechanical problems is crucial in preventing production delays.
The training device provides a safe and hands-on training experience. Also used for troubleshooting, the device can identify potential problems like stuck valves, low air pressure, shorts, low voltage, program errors, maintenance needs, and lack of specific conditions.
“A new employee can learn and practice on the simulator before ever touching the real equipment,” Whittington says. “It can also help existing employees that need to sharpen their skills.
Allowing the students to work directly with a local industry was essential to the project’s overall success.
“This was the largest capstone project pursued by Wiregrass mechatronic and engineering students,” Whittington says. “Along with the technical skills, the students learned to work as a team and designate responsibilities, and overcome obstacles.”
During the multi-step process, the students created the idea, designed the device, developed a budget and list of required materials, constructed the device, and performed the final testing.
“The students were able to successfully build what I consider the nation’s first blow simulator,” Taylor says. “They met all the criteria set at the beginning. They did a phenomenal job, and the final result was beyond my expectations.”
Wiregrass Tech’s mission is to prepare students for the workforce through hands-on experience.
“This was such an exciting project for our students to be part of, and we are very proud of the ingenuity and skills they put into this simulator for Blue Triton,” says Wiregrass President DeAnnia Clements. “Wiregrass is about workforce development, and this is an excellent example of how our instructors work with local industry in educating our students and meeting industry needs.”
A high-demand career, mechatronics is a multidisciplinary field of engineering that includes mechanical engineering, robotics, electronics, computer engineering, telecommunications engineering, systems engineering, and control engineering.