The University of Texas at Dallas

Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science


UTDesign Team Raises the Bar, Constructs Top-Notch Prototype for Sponsor Emerson

UTDesign Team Raises the Bar, Constructs Top-Notch Prototype for Sponsor Emerson

Coporate Members

From left: Corporate mentors Ryan Sheppard, Tim Hawkins and Tim Dwyer from Emerson Automation Solutions worked with the UTDesign Wolfflow team including Shay Goldberg, Andrew Da Costa, Brittany Crow, Nawal Ulhaq, Sabrina Ahmed and Sumayah Alhaddad.

In spring 2019, one UTDesign team stood out for the complexity and exceptionally high quality of their product, as well as the way they banded together to tackle the project.

“I saw the transformation of a team that knew zero and by the end were experts,” said Dr. Robert Hart, clinical associate professor of mechanical engineering at The University of Texas at Dallas. “The craftsmanship and professional quality were all done with excellence.”

UTDesign is a signature senior capstone program offered through the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science. In addition to providing a dedicated makerspace for the senior students, the program recruits corporate sponsors to submit projects and provide corporate mentorship.

The team included lead Andrew Da Costa, Sumayah Alhaddad, Brittany Crow, Sabrina Ahmed, Nawal Ulhaq and Shay Goldberg, all mechanical engineering students. Working with their sponsor, Emerson Automation Solutions based in McKinney, their assignment was to create an automated testing device for one of Emerson’s key products, gas pressure regulators. For the team which dubbed themselves “Wolfflow”, the project had a higher than usual budget — nearly $50,000 – and high expectations. The students upgraded and modernized a device that “looked like it came out of the 1950s,” according to Hart.

“We created an automated pressure regulator testing system,” Da Costa said. “It’s a novel device to test gas pressure regulators at predefined pressures – a highly technical project.”

Coporate Members

The Wolfflow team created an automated gas pressure regulator testing system to modernize a device used for many years.

Gaining a New Perspective

One of the key benefits to the corporate sponsor is the students’ fresh, unbiased perspective. Corporate mentor Tim Hawkins from Emerson especially wanted a new look at a dated device.

“We give a series of design requirements, but leave it as open-ended as possible,” Hawkins said. “With the Wolfflow project, they were designing a replacement for a device that has been in service for many years. If I take one of my engineers who has used an old device for years and ask him or her to redesign it, the new one is likely going to come out looking very similar to the one it’s replacing.”

According to Hart, a full team of students can handle more complex projects than a typical internship would allow.

“The company gets a whole team — six people with six skillsets,” Hart said. “Students get an extended job interview. The company gets to see how students perform in many situations.”

Achieving High Expectations

The project’s objectives included designing a structure which could withstand significant force while automating the testing system.

“The stakes were high,” Da Costa said. “We had a much larger budget than many teams. We knew this could be a huge success or a huge failure.”

The project’s complexity was particularly intriguing to Alhaddad.

“I was assigned the ‘flow’ part — the instrumentation,” Alhaddad said. “We achieved all tests determined by Emerson, including creating a system that could withstand 600 pounds per square inch of pressure and a flow of 5,000 standard cubic feet per hour. I did two months of research to understand the huge differences between types of valves.”

Additionally, the team had to construct the prototype, which required many hours working together in the machine shop and the UTDesign Studio.

“I walked into the machine shop, and some people did a double-take,” Alhaddad said. “I’m five feet tall, and I was in there cutting metal. The other teams were actually really encouraging, though — we had attention in a good way. It wasn’t easy, but we had to build it.”

Win-Win Benefits

Emerson has sponsored several UTDesign teams since 2013. In part because of previous successes, they were able to make a considerable investment in the Wolfflow project. The team delivered with a unique solution, at about $10,000 under budget.

“We’ve been very impressed with the deliverables from the vast majority of the projects we sponsored,” Hawkins said. “That makes it much easier to justify increased spending. My goal is to take the prototype the team created and refine it to roll out to global production.”

The students in turn will reap significant benefits. After graduation, Emerson hired Da Costa to continue developing the device, an ultimate victory for the program.

“In an internship, you rarely have control over the complete solution,” Da Costa said. “Many engineering students don’t have as much ownership as we were given through UTDesign.”

Though not all team members will continue working with pressure regulators, the project revealed new opportunities. Alhaddad is seeking similar roles where she can use her problem solving and research skills.

“I enjoyed working with the client,” Alhaddad said. “I may see if I can find a position where I can work face to face, really understanding the problem and what the client wants.”