Projects ranging from a fully sustainable water park to trash compactors turned recycling sorting machines were on display during the College of Engineering and Computing’s Mechanical Engineering Capstone Showcase.
The capstone design program is a required senior-level course that aims to solve real-world challenges for businesses. More than 30 groups of seniors displayed projects culminating in months of hard work with companies like Fluor, Boeing, the South Carolina Department of Transportation, Berkshire Hathaway (formerly Dominion) Energy and others.
“I’m really proud of the students,” said Andrew Sabalowsky, an instructor and capstone coordinator in mechanical engineering. “In my opinion, this is the ultimate story of perseverance. The students have gone from traditional to online learning and still produced some amazing work.”
Two of the teams worked with local energy company ARD (SC) Inc. on sustainability projects for Aqua City, a proposed green energy water park in Blythewood, SC. The first team created a closed loop hydroelectric system, while the other focused on harnessing the kinetic power from those systems for possible resale to the community and to power the park.
“It has been very challenging, but it has been very rewarding,” said Darren Joy, a member of the first Aqua City team. “We learned a lot of things, and we had to use a lot of fluid dynamics to pull everything together. We put into practice all of the theoretical things that you go over in class.”
The team’s sponsor and CEO of ARD (SC) Inc., Tony Ard, said he was very pleased with the projects’ results. He added that their findings saved him hundreds of thousands of dollars in research costs.
“It is refreshing to see a group of young people that have their feet rooted in the traditional aspect of engineering, but their minds are still innovative,” he said. “It gives me hope for the future of what we can do as a company here in South Carolina.”
Ard said he plans on sponsoring other projects in the future and hopes to incorporate graduate students as researcher for new projects.
While the Aqua City teams focused on problems for industry partners, other projects hoped to find solutions for clients closer to campus.
One group worked with the University of South Carolina Facilities Department to help automate the school’s recycling sorting process. Currently, workers must rip open recycling bags and sort the materials manually. The team was able to create a modified trash compactor that used metal claws to rip open the bags and dump the contents onto a conveyor belt.
“It is kind of like a pride thing,” said Akash Bojappa, a mechanical engineering senior on the team. “We got to see our results right away because we live so close to where they do their work. We also know there is a direct impact for students and the people that are working there.”