Wednesday 7th May 2008 by C. Freeman
An automatic cat feeder inspired Brooke Weston students to come up with an ingenious solution to a genuine industry problem. The students, working as part of the Engineering Education scheme were given the dilemma by local employers, Corus. The team liaised with Corus engineers to come up with a design that was functional and effective. They recently presented their ideas and prototype to teams of experts at a regional Engineering Education day.
The team comprised Year 12 students Emily Davis, Charlie Mawby, Matthew Prested and Alastair Thorpe, and they each spent about 100 hours on the project after College. Teachers Mr Barrett and Mrs Dean were on hand to give advice, along with Mr Steve Goode, Corus's engineering manager and Orlagh Costello, an engineer at the plant.
The students had to design an automatic system for taking chemical samples from separate tanks without mixing up the liquids or stopping the production of the cold drawn tubes. At present the production line has to halt each time samples are taken. This is a potentially hazardous operation which involves a worker going into an enclosed space to manually gather chemical samples (including acid) from nine separate tanks.
The students had to brainstorm solutions to this situation before settling on one design to refine and develop. Emily suddenly hit on using principles found in automatic cat feeders to come up with a workable solution. The team used a three day residential at the University of Northampton to get to grips with their design, building a prototype cardboard model before the real version, made of acrylic, a mouse mat and plastic tubing was constructed for the presentation day. The team used the new laser cutting machine in the DT department to precision cut the components and produced the finished version; a portable, self-contained unit which fulfils all the design criteria.
Team leader, Charlie Mawby said: 'The design is based on atmospheric pressure where the chemicals get sucked in and stay in the beakers. It can be carried and transported easily with no spillage. There's a lot of electronics involved and a lot of mechanical engineering in there as well.'
At the Engineering Education Celebration and Assessment Day held at RAF Honington in Suffolk recently, the team, along with those from 24 other schools and colleges, displayed details of the projects and gave a 15 minute formal presentation to a panel of engineering experts. Each student team were supported by different companies and had to work on projects ranging from developing safer routes to designing flood barriers and to make quality improvements at King's Lynn power station.
The teams were given feedback and advice on their projects by industry professionals. The Engineering Education scheme was piloted in 1984 and has since become a nationwide scheme which 'sets out to offer a real engineering experience to high calibre Year 12 students, who have the potential to study engineering at university in the hope that they will seriously consider a career in this vital area.'
Teacher Mr Barrett said: 'The technical and financial support that we get from Corus is fantastic and they really provide back-up and valuable advice for our students. The final design is an elegant solution to a difficult problem and who would have thought that a cat-feeder would be their inspiration? It's fabulous.'