Monday, January 6, 2014

It's All in the Design for UNO Engineers

Parviz Rastgoufard, Entergy Endowed Chair for Power Systems Engineering at the University of New Orleans College of Engineering, has a vision: A state-of-the-art program in which undergraduate engineering students shepherd their own designs from project to product and serve as a vital part of the city economy.

"The big picture is: We're going to improve the economy, we're going to keep the brains here, we're going to encourage faculty to come here and work with us, we're going to encourage angel investors and we're going to use it as a recruiting tool," said Rastgoufard at a recent symposium.

Reversing the brain drain in New Orleans is critical to the city and state, the engineering professor said. By partnering with local engineering firms and energy leaders to create new and needed technology, the University is not only training tomorrow's workforce and helping steer students to high-paying excellent jobs. The University is also opening a window to high-level research and development opportunities in which undergraduate and graduate students create products that can be patented and help propel technology.

At a recent forum hosted by Entergy Services Inc., four teams of UNO engineering students dressed in professional attire unveiled senior design projects before their peers and a jury of engineering leaders from leading New Orleans engineering firms and the local energy giant. They delivered information on proof of concept, an economic analysis, technical documents and data and a marketing plan in bite-size chunks to judges while fielding hard-hitting questions on viability, marketability and testing of their constructions.

The year-long senior design program has been a core part of the engineering curriculum for many years, said Assistant Dean of Engineering Kim Jovanovich. Since arriving on campus in 2007, Rastgoufard has worked to advance the program into a bonafide product pipeline by adding "entrepreneurship" and "undergraduate research" to the traditional design with the potential of generating graduate research projects worthy of state and federal grants managed by the University's Office of Research and Sponsored Development.

"When I see the students' projects almost converted to products, that's a very good feeling," Rastgoufard said of the senior design projects unveiled Dec. 6. "With a little push, each of projects is going to be a product...We've got four groups of graduates that are very close to producing a product out of their own companies."

From Project to Product

Witness the Ars Electrica's dPMU Distribution Phasor Measurement Unit created by five seniors, three of whom work or have worked for Entergy as interns in a UNO-Entergy Cooperative. The cooperative forged in 2009 has allowed several dozen UNO students to work at the electric utility company headquartered in New Orleans.

On the job, students have an opportunity to see needs of the company and others like it, said undergraduate student Jason Van Huss, 30, of Metairie, who graduated Dec. 20 with a degree in electrical engineering.

"It not only gives our students the experience but what Entergy gets is they test the students while they're in co-op and then they hire them," said Rastgoufard. "Normally it takes six months to train a new employee. That's six months' salary. So they save on that and they save on hiring the right person while the student feels out the company as well. It's a very beneficial relationship for students, industry, and the university."

Van Huss and his peers — Sean Duvernay, 23, of Harvey; Rania Haddad, 23, of Lebanon; Andrew Brignac, 22, of Norco and Luis Mayora, 22, of New Orleans — created the dPMU, a device that collects data on the utility system and measures characteristics along the power system.

The equipment will help Entergy to monitor voltages and settings and let Entergy leaders know in advance about the likelihood of an anticipated brown-out or blackout, for example. The dPMU will also help Entergy leaders assess whether energy is being distributed properly or evenly at various substations around the city – and signal any aberrations.

"It's a digital record of electrical voltage and current," said Mayora. "What you'll get out of it is the magnitude and phase shift."

Currently, Entergy uses PMUs, or phasor measurement units, which collect data on the utility system within its service territory, Rastgoufard said. UNO graduate and undergraduate students previously spent three years analyzing data collected by transmission PMUs located at various substations in the Entergy power system.

Whereas the large-scale PMUs currently used by Entergy require space, hardware, customized panels and infrastructure costing as much as $60,000, the dPMU created by UNO students performs the same functions, operates wirelessly, could be made for approximately $1,500 and sold for approximately $3,000 apiece, Van Huss said during his presentation.

Entergy currently has 60 PMUs operating along 15,000 miles of energy lines. A switch could lead to enormous savings.

Rastgoufard gave an analogy: People with heart problems who want to monitor their health install an instrument to gather 24 hours' worth of data for review and analysis. The dPMU digital recorder created at UNO collects 6,000 samples per second of voltage and current and then performs calculations, determining system health and communicating the information to electric utility personnel via wireless technology.

The newer technology will also help improve development of the SmartGrid, a new meter designed to give individual users and homeowners more data about the energy they are using, VanHuss said.

The new wireless dPMUs can also timestamp data, allowing engineers to assess data at stations miles apart and collect and aggregate up to a year's worth of data.

Instilling Entrepreneurship

Rastgoufard displayed photos of a QuadCopter that was developed last year by UNO Engineering students — and looks very similar to the Amazon drone now appearing in the news.

"A lot of the work that Parviz and the instructors try to encourage is really high tech and ambitious," said Chris Adams, a 2010 UNO Engineering graduate who now works fulltime at Entergy as a power engineer.

Adams participated in the UNO-Entergy Cooperative and his senior design project in 2010 involved developing equipment that recognizes fingerprints, he said.

Jacob Borison, 23, of St. Bernard Parish; Patrick Campbell, 32, of Slidell; Joseph Welch, 29, of Modesto, Calif. and Michael Kenney, 21, of St. Bernard working as a company called SKIT Inc. developed the Kitchen Cloud.

"What we developed is a platform for digital-based kitchen inventory management," said Borison. "Last semester when we were talking about this, we felt like the kitchen needed some help in the inventory department....We thought it would be cool to bring the kitchen into modern times."

The digital kitchen manager can be operated via Smart phone or any other internet-connected device, runs off a server, database and UNO-designed software and communicates with Kitchen Cloud software. Users can sync the device with their kitchen inventories; assess whether they have ingredients required by a recipe; weigh ingredients; add inventory; manage their shopping lists; link to social media accounts and share recipe recommendations; find nearby stores carrying needed ingredients, sync with Google and other online databases and more.

The 2½ inch-high sleek and compact design can fit anywhere in the kitchen, Borison said. The team believes they have a large market in school cafeterias, which feed 35,000 public school students in St. Tammany Parish and 900,000 students in New York.

Creating Creators

A third senior design team said that 3-D printing will reshape the world in the next three years.

"Instead of waiting for someone to create a product for you, you can create your own," said Haytham Hamad, 29, of Jerusalem. "We all need to think creative about giving people the tools to be the makers of things."

Hamad, together with Diaal Dean Joudeh, 22, of Palestine and New Orleans and Ahmed El Kenawi, 22, of Egypt used a hot print plate, extruder and nozzle to create an environmentally 3-D printer capable of printing life-size objects as big as two feet from plastic filaments.

The limit of 3-D printing lies in the user's imagination, said Hamad. A printer fashioned from a used shipping container can print legal-sized materials to build buildings and houses.

His team created a 3-D printer from five motors, an Arduino processor, ramps and stepper motors. The team estimated in their economic analysis that the printer targeted at hobbyists and home consumers, could be produced at a fixed cost of $2,700. They used it to replicate two-inch plastic soldiers and detailed figurines of the Eiffel Tower.

They would need to sell approximately 15 printers before they began turning a profit, the team said. The sale of 50 3-D printers could yield more than $26,000. The low manufacturing cost, along with their printer's unique shape and opportunities for plastic recycling, creates a niche for them in the market, the team believes.

Rising Spirits, Rising Success

Engineering student Donald Leonard has worked on the UNO blimp for the last year with friends and classmates Darryl Alexis, 26, of Pascagoula, Miss.; Derek Doredant, 24 of Metairie; Dustin Duhe, 23, of Westwego and Ray Fellows, 33, of Terrytown, he said. The project was an inherited design conceived and created by previous classes. They approached their work with an eye toward continuous improvement.

"We noticed when we received the blimp that the wiring in the gondola needed some improvement," said engineering student Donald Leonard. "We drew a wiring diagram of the gondola's first configuration, removed and replaced all wiring, connected wires and soldered them to avoid accidental disconnection during flight."

Once the engineers developed their prototype, they spent months testing sensors, motors and radio controls, said Leonard. They captured technical readings of the blimp's performance at each iteration, hoping to pass the information along to future generations with an eye toward continuous improvement.

"There are other RC blimps on the market but none that have the ease of use which we have created," said Leonard, who said the blimp bearing the Privateers logo could be used for advertising purposes. "We tried to have some fun doing this as well."

The 12-foot aerial indoor remote-controlled advertising blimp, which has received nearly $1,900 in investments, over several years could one day include a gyroscope and camera capable of shooting footage.


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