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Trio competes at first international competition

Four men sit around a circular table with a laptop in the center. They are talking to each other.

From left, mechanical engineering senior Adam Byrnes, Grundfos chief business innovator and MU Engineering alumnus Steve Pierson, civil engineering senior Stephen Stepanovich and electrical engineering graduate student Daniel Nabelek discuss their presentation on the fourth day of the International Grundfos Challenge in Denmark. Photo courtesy of Grundfos Graduate Programme/Facebook

A team of three students from the University of Missouri College of Engineering was one of two American teams to be the first participants of the International Grundfos Challenge.

Electrical engineering graduate student Daniel Nabelek, mechanical engineering senior Adam Byrnes and civil engineering senior Stephen Stepanovich, made the 4,400-mile trip to Bjerringbro, Denmark for the international-level of a competition they won at the regional level last November.

The Grundfos Challenge pits the top two engineering and two business teams from three global regions to design a solution that addresses increasingly urgent global water challenges. Previously, only Danish universities participated in the challenge, which was expanded to include U.S. and Chinese universities. The teams competed internationally at Grundfos’ headquarters in Denmark.

MU mechanical engineering alumnus Steve Pierson is a chief business innovator for Grundfos and served as a liaison between the MU team and the company. In addition to the guidance provided at the regional competition, Pierson traveled to Denmark and gave his expertise to the team there.

“As a Grundfos employee and University of Missouri engineering alum, I am very proud of Daniel, Adam and Stephen’s accomplishments and tireless effort in the Global Grundfos Challenge competition in Bjerringbro,” Pierson said.

Participating business and engineering teams were given a hypothetical case study involving the “London Water Authority,” a fictional British water utility.  Over the course of five days, they were tasked to provide a solution to London’s aging water infrastructure and water shortage encompassing Grundfos’ key missions.

“We were playing the role of Grundfos employees giving a presentation to the ‘London Water Authority,’” Byrnes said.

Part of the takeaway from this case study, Pierson said, was to see how the processes learned during the challenged could be applied globally.

“This case study presented for the challenge is very similar to aging infrastructure issues facing older U.S. cities,” he said. “Infrastructure is vital not only for a vibrant economy, but also for maintaining and improving the standard of living in emerging as well as mature economies.”

The MU team designed a new smart-grid monitoring system that prioritized retrofits to London’s aging infrastructure, a real-life $10 billion problem currently faced in London, according to actual London utility company Thames Water.

“It was a system of sensors that collected data at strategic locations and stored it in a central server,” Byrnes said.

“We presented a roll-out plan where sensors were implanted into old hardware,” Nabelek added. “That separated our presentation from the others. We presented ideas of what you could do with the data analytics.”

Though the team did not place first, members said they still gained a lot from the environment of the competition — working against and alongside international universities, intricate yet integral coffee machines and brainstorming sessions over the company’s breakroom pool table. They said the work environment was a new, yet invigorating global experience for them.

“So much of the competition relied on the culture of the company,” Nabelek said.

“The highlight of the week was the international collaboration,” Byrnes said. “It would be cool to do a similar case study challenge among the departments at Mizzou.”

In the professional world, Pierson said the skills learned at the challenge are viable for the future.

“The world is much smaller today, and it is much more likely engineers and business professionals will collaborate with colleagues from other countries, disciplines and cultures on solutions which satisfy a particular geographic region’s need,” he said.

See highlights from MU Engineering’s team at the Grundfos Challenge.