Student project no flash in the pan
By Roger Steinbrock
Students in Greg Spaulding's senior design class put their knowledge to the test to create improvements to an automated process at Tony's Pizza Service, saving the Salina company the expense of replacing crushed pizza pans.
The mechanical engineering technology students at Kansas State University at Salina were challenged to figure out how to keep a pizza-dough press from crushing misaligned pans and stopping the automated system.
Spaulding, assistant professor of mechanical engineering technology, said the students thought it was going to be an easy project.
"They quickly came up with the idea of optic sensors as the solution to the problem," Spaulding said.
The sensors would be mounted near the press and would stop the press if the pan was misaligned on the conveyor system. Spaulding said the students' idea was quickly dismissed by Tony's because it wouldn't work with the system in place.
"The students learned how things work in industry," Spaulding said. "Even though their first idea wasn't successful, they still learned from the experience. In fact, they probably learned even more because their first idea out of the box wasn't the solution."
After further exploration, the students decided on an assembly that was spring-loaded and would bolt to the side of the press. As the press pushed down, the spring-loaded mechanism would be able to indicate if a pan was aligned with the press. If not, it would trigger a sensor, stopping the press and saving the pan from being crushed.
"This project gave us two things," said Bill Nichols, a training manager at Tony's. "First, it gave us an opportunity to get a different perspective on a problem we've been facing for a while. It also gave us a chance to see the opportunities K-State can provide to us, while helping to educate students."
The assembly of the project cost approximately $3,000, and if the assembly is a success, Tony's could save a projected $107,000 yearly in replacing crushed pans.
Spaulding feels this project gave the students a very good idea of how business works.
"Students were able to take a lot away from this project," Spaulding said. "They saw how much it takes to get something changed in business. It dealt with educational learning, not just textbook stuff. They also saw how there are constraints to design."