Kent Tusc engineering students shine with new mobile power trailer

Kent Tusc engineering students shine with new mobile power trailer

Image Credit: Submitted

Engineering students participating in the semester-long engineering technology project taught by Dave Schlosser at the Kent State University at Tuscarawas campus recently produced a mobile power supply trailer.

The solar-powered unit can be deployed by emergency management agencies in disaster areas where power has been knocked out, allowing disaster response teams to charge radio batteries, laptops, power tools and other important devices.

Schlosser said the unit also could be used in the latter stages of a disaster when residents return home as a source of power or to charge batteries and cell phones.

Seth Gill served as the lead mechanical engineer on the 11-student team. “Basically, it is a trailer that can be hauled either by a truck or even an all-terrain vehicle like a side-by-side or a four-wheeler,” Gill said. “It has two large solar panels that can be deployed to soak up energy from the sun and use it to power other devices.”

The capstone project brought together students in the electrical and mechanical engineering programs. After brainstorming, they decided to move forward with the unit in response to the increasing frequency of severe and ravaging storms.

The students chose the project and worked in cross-functional teams to move from concept to completion.

“We were thinking of things we could design that emergency services would be able to implement in disaster-stricken areas to help lighten their load or maybe help people that were affected by it,” Gill said. “We definitely wanted to go renewable, but it does have a gas-powered generator to supplement it if during heavy use or at night.”

As part of their grade for the class, the team had to give a presentation of the equipment to not only instructors, but also to representatives of the many local corporate sponsors and the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. ABET accredits post-secondary engineering programs, assuring they meet quality standards established by the engineering profession.

Real-world challenges

While building the mobile power supply unit, students face real-world challenges. They have a real deadline. They must stick to a budget. They must be innovative and use readily available materials, and this year they also faced a supply-chain issue.

“We ordered the aluminum tubing we needed for the frame very early in the project,” Gill said. We didn’t receive it until maybe two months away from our deadline, and without having the frame built, you can’t do much of anything.”

Gill said he and Mark Contini, the project manager, were still finishing up part of the unit the morning of the presentation. “I don’t know if any of us were really sure that we would get it done on time. It was pretty close.”

As an adult student, Contini had the most experience with the 3-D modeling software used to design the unit. “I was pretty much in charge of the modeling, and we went through a number of versions,” he said. “There was a lot of trial and error and a lot of changes over the course of the project. The batteries changed. The panels changed. Pretty much everything about the electrical side changed at some point throughout the process.”

The mobile power supply trailer almost saw real-world usage after a massive storm knocked out power in Gnadenhutten, but by the time the students could send the unit, power had been restored.

“If it had gotten there two days earlier, I’m sure it would have gotten a lot of use,” Contini said.

Major sponsors of the project were Tusco Display, ST Engineering Kidron Body Division and Paradise Energy Solutions. Additional companies sponsoring or contributing to the project include Crane Composites, H.B. Fuller, Eberhard Manufacturing, Industrial Hardware and Specialties, Firovac Power Systems, Brock Group, Rural King, NAPA, Synergy Signs, Gravity Mechanicals, and Bunker Hill Fabrication.

Special assistance also came from Maria Feik at Kent State Tuscarawas, who produced graphics and decals for the trailer, and Paul Dykshoorn, academic program director of engineering technology at Kent State Tuscarawas.