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First Year Students Compete in Engineering Contest

First Year Students Compete in Engineering Contest

By Alli Bates ’16

For systems engineering students at Otterbein, hands-on experience starts with their first class. During fall semester, three teams of students faced off in a competition to build machines to automatically sort candy by color.

Although it was their first semester, Gary Maul, director of the systems engineering program, knew Otterbein’s students were up to the task.

“The term project was to design and build a machine for under $60 that would sort Nestle Sprees, a multi-colored hard candy, into separate bins by color at a rate of 25 in a minute and a half,” he said.

They had seven weeks to complete the project, which included designing electronic circuits, designing and printing parts on 3D printers, and developing and writing all the computer code to run the machines.

Two teams shared the top honor in the competition, with Jonathan Hinson, Elizabeth Ries and Justin Stoner on one team, and Andrew DeBacker, Miguel Pedrozo and Troy Phelps on another. Eight total teams participated in the challenge.

The project, part of their ENGR 1000: Fundamentals of Engineering course, required students to learn to prototype, fabricate, wire, program and debug their designs.

The students were taught Solid Works (a CAD package), had access to a dozen 3D printers to produce parts and learned some electronics so they could utilize small servo motors and a microprocessor controller to create and control the motion for their designs.

“This was a difficult project for a first term engineering student and these students performed at a very high level,” said Maul.

One of the most challenging parts of their design was the initial planning.  The team’s main goal of this project, along with sorting the candies quickly and with costs low, was keeping it simple. 

“We brainstormed many different ideas and kept the most efficient parts. Keeping the design simple would, in fact, keep the costs low, and it did help us sort our candies very quickly,” said Ries. “We had to sort 25 candies in a minute and a half, and with our design, our team was able to do it in a little over forty seconds. 

“The budget of $60 probably should have been a bigger problem than it turned out to be,” said Stoner. “My group used almost entirely the plastic from the 3-D printer in our design and the plastic Otterbein’s printers use right now is ABS plastic, which isn't that expensive per pound. Our group's design — with the plastic and other components — ended up costing around $51 total.”

Ries believes the most valuable thing that she learned from the project and class is that when on a team, it is extremely important to determine each member’s strongest skills.

“Once we knew those skills, we were able to assign certain tasks to the person most suited for the job and then let them run with the ideas that we had discussed earlier,” said Ries.

For their second semester project, the systems engineering students will be building new machines to accomplish a new task. By the end of their freshman year, they will already have built two machines.


Watch the winning machines in action in our YouTube video.

Learn more about the systems engineering program at Otterbein.