April 27, 2011

Imagine that a tiny hydraulic valve, no bigger than a children’s shoe box, malfunctions in a machine capable of producing 20-foot long rolls of toilet paper, 10 feet in diameter. This tiny piece of equipment can cost a factory as much as $10,000 per hour in troubleshooting costs.

One simple way to reduce these extraordinary costs is to educate the mill mechanics, who work daily on the machines, about the various ways that a piece of equipment can fail or malfunction. With this approach, the mechanics will be able to identify and solve the problem on site, providing better efficiency.

Senior Russell Garehan and his group have taken on the challenge of designing a hydraulics training rig for this very purpose. Sponsored by Georgia-Pacific, a major manufacturer and marketer of tissue, packaging, paper and pulp, the group’s mechanical engineering (ME) Capstone Design project is based on the three most problematic circuits of each machine at the company’s mill. For each circuit, the group will include failed components, such as worn or broken valves. The overall objective is to provide a hands-on training facility to teach the mill mechanics how to determine the cause of failure.

“This is the more complex goal,” said Garehan, a native of Slidell, La. “Getting the mechanics to troubleshoot and calibrate the circuits is not simple. Imagine you’ve got 20 critical components on a circuit, and they all have different ways of failing and making the circuit act in a slightly different way.”

One of the secondary objectives of the project is to familiarize the mill mechanics with the actual engineering symbols used on the valves. Because they are similar in shape and size, it’s often difficult to correctly match the appropriate valve with the proper machinery. The students will place the various components, primarily valves, on the front of the test rig and accompany each with large diagrams of the corresponding symbols.

“A lot of the valves they use look the same but act entirely different,” said Garehan. “There are schematics on the valve that tell you how the valve works, but that’s something a mill mechanic is rarely taught.”

The ME seniors are building the training simulator to comfortably accommodate three people (the mill mechanics) and a trainer/facilitator. The total dimensions of the project are impressive. The rig will have a footprint of about 5 by 10 feet and weigh about 2,000 lbs. team anticipates the rig will measure about 7 by 10 feet and weigh about 2,000 pounds.  

In addition to gaining valuable design and construction experience, the team hopes that their rig will benefit Georgia-Pacific. If their training simulator is successful, Georgia-Pacific’s mill mechanics will be more autonomous, which will save the company time and money.

Group members include the following senior, mechanical engineering students: Russell Garehan, Warren Bowling (Baton Rouge, La.), Devin Dannemiller (Louisville, Ky.) and Cole Doiron (Stephensville, La.).  

The Department of Mechanical Engineering (ME) will host the ME 4202 Capstone Design annual seminar presentation May 4-5 in the Frank Walk Design Presentation Room, 140 ELAB. ME undergraduates worked throughout two semesters on a design project of their choice. Projects are judged by a design panel consisting of local industry leaders and LSU faculty and alumni.

All ME faculty members, project sponsors, faculty advisors, alumni, graduate students, ME undergraduates and the general public are invited to this event each year. To obtain information for next year’s event, submit an area for research, or to become a judge or sponsor, please contact Larry Dufour at ldufour@lsu.edu or Dimitris Nikitopoulos at medimi@lsu.edu. 

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