A new project at Mid-Plains Community College could have an impact on farmers across the state.
Students in Jared Daily’s Introduction to Engineering Design class are designing a small soybean thresher for UNL’s West Central Research and Extension Center in North Platte.
“The machine the center has is huge,” said David Terry, a MPCC engineering student from Ogallala. “They only bring it out when they have large amounts of crops to process. They’ve been doing the small stuff by hand up to this point.”
Even if the thresher wasn’t too big, it’s outdated, according to Philip Pleiss, another engineering student from North Platte.
“It’s from the ’60s,” said Pleiss. “It works, but isn’t very efficient. It’s really important that the researchers get accurate test data. When they use the current thresher, it collects in bulk, and when there is bulk, there is data loss. If we can simplify one part of the process for them, then it’s a win.”
The class conducted a similar project last year by building a small corn thresher for the research center.
“We try to solve a design problem of some kind every year,” said Daily. “We also try to find projects that are as close to real-world engineering as possible.”
Students spent the first half of the fall semester attending classroom-style lectures, studying textbooks and working on small projects. During the second half of the semester, they had to apply the knowledge and skills they gained to actual engineering processes.
“We always spend a week or two determining the client’s problem,” said Daily. “We dissect everything down to the basics. The engineering process is much more involved and time consuming than most people realize. About 75 percent of it is spent doing research and digital design before anything is actually built.”
For Terry, who was unfamiliar with farm equipment, the project was a challenge.
“It took a lot of research,” said Terry. “I had to start from scratch learning about the internal workings of combines and lots of other things.”
Daily, however, was convinced the project was within the students’ capabilities.
He was right.
The students began prototyping and testing their designs earlier this month.
“I’ve tried to teach them the importance of prototyping because that’s something that’s often overlooked – even by professionals,” said Daily. “A lot of times people just want to jump right in and start building instead of taking the time to think a design through. The result is a design that is flawed.”
The project has also taught the students skills not commonly associated with engineering.
“They’ve learned about scheduling, organization, teamwork – also a little bit about economics since they have to make something economically sound as well as physically sound,” Daily said.
Student Jeffrey Capal, of North Platte, has found the whole process intriguing.
“It has been a lot of work, but it’s important,” said Capal. “Knowing how to use engineering design is useful no matter what profession you go into.”
The students will resume the project when they return from semester break. Their goal is to deliver their designs to the research center in the spring or summer.