Engineering students’ summer internship providing ‘practical, real-life’ experience

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Source: Alfred University

A group of five mechanical engineering students at Alfred University are spending the summer designing and constructing machines that will be used to study recycled plastic materials. The full-time internships are providing the students with a practical work experience they say will help open doors for future employment.

The student interns—Nathan Maze, Fynn Vossler, Joshua Briggs, Sean Du, and Tyler Kemmet—began work in May on a project to design and construct a machine that shreds waste plastic and another that extrudes the material for reuse. The students, who will work full-time throughout the summer, are being supervised by Jim Mighells, technician/machinist in Alfred University’s Student Engineering Project (STEP) Lab.

Mighells said the students have researched designs for the machinery, and will ultimately acquire the necessary parts and the materials needed to fabricate various components required to construct the shredder and extruder.

“The students are being exposed to all areas of design and production,” from the business side (developing a budget, completing requisition forms, corresponding with suppliers, making purchasing) to troubleshooting/problem solving, and quality control, to learning how to use specialized equipment and technology, such as computer-aided design software, Mighells explained. “It’s definitely a good learning experience for them. This provides students more opportunities for hands-on learning.”

The shredding machine will consists of a hopper, into which waste plastic material is fed. It is then drawn into a housing containing metal teeth which shred the plastic. The extruder is a device into which the shredded plastic is placed. The plastic is heated to a liquid and extruded into a die, transforming the plastic into a desired profile—pellets, tubes, piping, i.e.

John Simmins, executive director for the Alfred University Center for Advanced Ceramic Technology (CACT), which is supporting the internship program, explained that the extruded materials will be studied to determine the presence and effect of glass particulates on the plastics recycling waste stream.

“Initially, the plastic produced will be used to create test parts for looking at the properties of several types of recycled plastics with varying levels of glass contamination,” Simmins explained. Eventually, he added, the equipment could be used for any number of student projects that make use of recycled plastics, such as using recycled plastic to construct park benches, or fabricating parts for dune buggies built by the Saxon Racing Club.

“It is my hope that the equipment will be used for several years to serve as a continuous improvement project in the mechanical engineering department,” Simmins said. “For the next couple of years the summer students will analyze the efficacy of the equipment and make corrections and improvements.”

For the student interns, the project affords them the chance to gain comprehensive, hands-on experience that will help make them more attractive to potential employers.

“I’ve gotten to spend a lot of time learning how things work, instead of just accepting that they’ll work,” Kemmet, a senior from Gloversville, NY, commented. “I’m hoping this will help get my foot in the door for future employment. This will make my resume a little more decorated.”

Added Briggs, “This gives me the opportunity for more hands-on work, which is always good. It helps to be able to fine-tune skills you already have.” Briggs, from Cooperstown, NY, earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in May and is returning to Alfred University in the fall to pursue his MBA.

The students are utilizing computer-aided design (CAD) technology in designing the shredding and extruding machines. SOLIDWORKS CAD software is used for specifying the size of the components used to construct the devices. Most of the components will be fabricated using the KoikeJet E60 water jet machine located in the engineering lab in Seidlin Hall. The KoikeJet E60 uses computer numeric controlled (CNC) technology to cut raw material with precision. The interns use SOLIDWORKS software to draw the shredder and extruder components; the drawings are downloaded as computer files into the KoikeJet E60 software, which allows the machine to cut the raw materials to a specified size and shape.

In addition to fabricating parts using the water jet cutting device, students will also use machining equipment located in the STEP Lab. Some components, such as the motors that run the devices, will be purchased.

Students say learning SOLIDWORKS has been a significant benefit of the project, as knowledge and experience with CAD technology will be required in their professional careers.

“This has allowed me to get more experience in SOLIDWORKS. I feel like I’ve really started to learn my way around it,” said Vossler, a senior mechanical engineering/renewable energy engineering major from Livonia, NY. “I’m looking forward to adding ‘project experience’ to my resume. This is beneficial because it gives me the experience of working with different machinery and design equipment.”

“Definitely one of the biggest benefits is exposure to SOLIDWORKS,” said Du, a Yorktown, VA, mechanical engineering major who will earn his bachelor’s degree in August. He added that working with fellow interns as a team and developing time management skills are other benefits. “This will make my resume look a lot better, and gives me more experience in the engineering field.”

Maze, a senior mechanical engineering major from Dewittville, NY, said he has benefited from working with and learning the intricacies of equipment in the machine shop, which will enhance his problem-solving skills. “Being able to practice engineering thought and physical processes through this project has to be the greatest benefit.”

He said the internship has allowed him to developing skills in a variety of areas—computer-aided design, hands-on machinery and equipment use, welding, etc.—which he hopes will impress potential employers. “It will show that I have experience with a design-through-build project in which I am getting practice engineering my way through designing and changing designs, and putting my problem-solving skills to practice. It will show that I have already taken my first few steps into the engineering world,” he said.

Mighells and Simmins agree the internship provides the students a unique learning experience that will hopefully set their resumes apart from their peers.

“The point of this workforce development project is to provide local mechanical engineering students with valuable work experience they might not otherwise get due to the business climate in the region,” Simmins said. “The goal is to differentiate Alfred University’s student from students at other schools by providing them with practical, real-life work experience.”

“This gives (students) a better understanding of how things are put together and work. It’s much more beneficial if you can apply what you learn, rather than just knowing it in theory,” Mighells noted. “This will be great to have on their resumes, to show that they have this type of hands-on experience. It makes them more advanced and prepared, and opens their eyes to what they’re going to be exposed to” on the job.

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