Research gives mechanical engineering students a taste of real world design and manufacturing
Sherif El-Gizawy has been a mechanical engineer and professor for more than 30 years, and for the past 23 of them he has taught and conducted research in his area of expertise — design and manufacturing — at the University of Missouri.
Much of the research that he and his students have tackled has been conducted in partnership with private industry. El-Gizawy’s research focuses on developing mechanistic-based models. These models are used to make essential predictions of quality and damage management in materials that, during fabrication, are subjected to severe process environment due to thermal and mechanical loading. His work characteristically has a strong experimental component, but leads to predictions that are essential to process and product design methodologies.
“One of our strengths is the team approach because that is how the students will work in industry,” El-Gizawy said. “That is also why companies such as Boeing, Honeywell, Hubbell, 3M, Schneider Electric, Stratasys, I Tech D& M and others keep coming back.
“They have performance issues with product or manufacturing system design that need to be addressed and we have the knowledge and manpower to find solutions. We decided from the very beginning that we would be partners and they welcomed this idea.”
El-Gizawy’s industry-university partnerships include a 20-year affiliation with The Boeing Company, an international leader in the fields of aerospace, commercial and military aircraft engineering.
“I enjoy working with Sherif and Boeing has funded his work for a number of years,” said Gregg Bogucki a 1976 graduate of Mizzou Engineering now working at Boeing Research & Technology, the company’s advanced, central research, technology and innovation organization. “The students also are a pleasure to work with.”
El-Gizawy and his student research teams have successfully worked through a variety of challenges posed by Boeing, and as different as each may be, their approach is basically the same.
“We do functional decompositions,” El-Gizawy said. “We identify all sub-systems and what their different functions are. It makes us identify the key factors that affect the design.
“We use modern design tools such as quality function deployment (QFD) that incorporates the voice of the customer — Boeing and their supply chain — into the design process.”
Currently, two fuel system projects for Boeing are being investigated for performance optimization by MU research teams. In addition, a third ongoing Boeing project focuses on materials, processing and structure system design for durability and cost, a project that parallels El-Gizawy’s personal research area.
The Boeing project involves design and optimization of digitally manufactured aerospace components, through a process known as rapid manufacturing that utilizes fused deposition modeling (FDM), though El-Gizawy’s student researchers also are looking at additional applications as part of their mentor’s personal research.
All research teams meet with Dr. El-Gizawy on a weekly basis to report on progress and exchange ideas.
“I learn with my students,” El-Gizawy said.
“We have very good students at MU, and that has encouraged me to stay here. I don’t believe I could find better students anywhere.”
Industry capstone projects
As team leader of a research group working on one of the fuel system projects, Zane Smith said for the first few weeks he worked closely with Boeing as he and fellow seniors Jacob Atchley, Jordan Harsell and Timothy Kemp decided how to approach construction of a model.
“Building the tank ourselves was a big deal. It was hands-on manufacturing. I’d never even had any experience with power tools,” said Smith.
The research team was in frequent contact with Boeing through Web conferences to give updates on their work and to have their questions answered, which Smith said was very helpful as well as an eye-opening view into the real world of industry.
Consultations with Mizzou Engineering technicians Rex Gish and Rich Oberto were also invaluable in the process. Both Smith and El-Gizawy praised the techs’ involvement in this project and others.
“Unlike a regular class, you get to see your design come to life. When we actually got it to run, it was like Christmas,” said Smith.
The project is set to continue for two more semesters with another research team. Smith, who has accepted a fulltime job with 3M, has agreed to get the next group of students started.
“I’m really interested in seeing the outcome,” he said.
Michael Heins, a senior in mechanical engineering, has been working in El-Gizawy’s lab as an honors research assistant since last fall. He and the team, working on the second Boeing fuel system project, made their presentation to the Industry Advisory Council (IAC) of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at semester’s end. The work will continue even as he is off to the University of Arizona this fall to study law. He has wanted to be a lawyer since he was in sixth grade and aims to work in the area of intellectual property, but said that a career in engineering as a fallback is a very good thing.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with Dr. El-Gizawy. He is not as interested in the highly theoretical concepts. He understands the real world applications and working with companies,” said Heins. “He understands what they want.”
Domenic Marcello, a fuel thermal systems engineer with Boeing who is working with the capstone groups on both of the company’s projects, said that it was his first time interfacing with students and that it has been a good experience.
“It’s been a pretty good set-up. It was a learning experience for me, different from my daily routine, but it worked out really well,” he said. “We had good milestones and it was good for the students.”
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With the standard manufacturing method of injection molding, companies must spend up to $100,000 for a mold when they need new parts. These are molds that can’t be produced overnight.
“With the new methods we are testing, no special tools are needed to produce parts. We are working to develop the process and redesign the product to match the process,” El-Gizawy said.
The process he refers to is known as fused deposition modeling (FDM). It is a new materials processing technique that makes use of information technology and layered manufacturing (LM) methods. FDM is suitable for rapid manufacturing of functional products required for small production volume where tooling costs must be kept at a minimum level. Aerospace companies like Boeing, and biomedical industries are potential users of the developed technology. El-Gizawy’s research is exploring the possibilities of the latter application.
In May, El-Gizawy gave a presentation on his FDM research at the The Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering (SAMPE) International Conference and Exhibition held in Seattle, Washington.
“FDM of functional products makes it necessary for the selected process to deliver parts with the needed geometrical and physical specifications that will satisfy function requirements,” El-Gizawy said.
“As the tolerances on the variation of part size, shape, and integrity become tighter for FDM-built products, the need for prior determination of process-induced properties and microstructure is felt even more in the industry,” he added.
El-Gizawy’s lab is developing reliable product and process design models for FDM technology and evaluating the functionality of rapid manufactured products for strength and stiffness under different service conditions. Two mechanical engineering graduate students, Brian Graybill and Joe Cardona, and mechanical engineering senior Clayton Zak, have worked as a team with El-Gizawy to model and optimize the FDM process.
“We are attempting to understand and optimize FDM so that it can be used for rapid manufacturing of functional products,” Graybill surmised.
Currently, the process of selective laser sintering (SLS) is used, in which a powder is bound in a cross section each time the laser traces over it. But, Graybill said, there are difficulties with SLS. The optics are complicated and fabrication time is increased because the product cools slowly.
“With FDM,” Graybill said, “the build material can be a liquid so the process is easier and material selection is broader. We are doing modeling and testing of materials and results are coming in quickly.”
“We are looking at the end result — whether the process can be used in real parts and how they would behave in real conditions, characterizing it with a finite element analysis to see if the parts will fail,” said Zak.
Graybill likened the process to detective work. “You can ask all the questions in the world but what’s important is asking the right questions,” he said.
“It’s tested as a bulk material,” said Cardona. “We attach a strain gauge to samples and run a tensile test until it fails. It measures strain, force and displacement. Using Excel, I can take the data and extract material properties for analytical modeling.”
The research group also has scanned the material under an electron microscope to determine the material’s porosity.
“It’s nice to see results after all of our testing. It helps that it actually worked,” said Zak of the team’s success.
Currently the technology and materials are expensive, but if only a small number of parts are necessary and they could be manufactured overnight with FDM, in the long run, the process would save time and money.
“If the process were to become robust enough you could do a CT scan of a hip and build a replacement specifically for that person,” said Graybill, referencing research being conducted by El-Gizawy.
“You could do things like build a single part for damaged vehicle like a military humvee and repair it immediately”, he added.
“I can foresee the future of this process, and it’s something like Star Trek,” said Cardona. “You have one of these machines and you need something — say a shovel — and you push a button and come back in a short time and you have a shovel.
“I like the idea of getting to work on something new and that the work will contribute to society in a positive manner,” Cardona added. “The sky is the limit with this technology.”
“Research like this is what excites students,” El-Gizawy said of the work being conducted in his lab.
“I love teaching. It is a rewarding profession,” he reflected. “My grandfather was a teacher. My mother was a teacher. If you need to learn something well, teach it.”
Editor’s note: Graybill and Cardona completed their master’s degrees in May. The former is weighing his options and the later is exploring the job market. Zak is headed to law school with an interest in patent law.