Senior Design Launch: Design Solutions for Eaton Aerospace

Like most academic enterprises at the College of Engineering, the Senior Design experience is meant to give students a taste for on-the-job engineering. The three-term sequence challenges students to form working teams, identify a problem and devise a solution. Projects can vary from exploring new ways to create biofuels to advancements in robotics or designing emergency centers that help storm-ravaged community recover more quickly.

Illustration of a crucial valve in fluid debris monitoring systems.
The team is exploring a better way to manufacture a crucial valve in Eaton’s fluid debris monitoring systems without damaging the delicate materials.

Team M3N — made up of mechanical engineering and mechanics majors Mayank Gulati, Maggie Mulhern, Michael Wiest and Nitish Gupta  — are working with Eaton Aerospace, LLC, an electro-mechanical manufacturing plant, located in Glenolden, Pennsylvania.

Eaton has been a regular partner with Drexel, employing some 30 manufacturing engineering co-ops and a dozen or so co-ops in other departments, including quality engineering, design engineering and supply chain over the last decade. In the last six years, at least seven senior design projects have partnered with Eaton, and the company employs at least four Drexel graduates. Team M3N's goal is to solve one of Eaton's biggest manufacturing problems for their Senior Design project.

“One of Eaton’s products is the Chip Detector system, which utilizes a plug magnet and metal, self-closing valve to detect wear in the form of metallic debris within gear boxes and other oil environments,” Mulhern, who completed a co-op with the company, explains. “In the assembly of the self-closing valve, a spring and cap must be inserted, compressed, and encased within the valve’s external housing. The process is inconsistent, because it involves many custom parts and delicate material and relies on operator skill.”

Using the current process, Eaton loses an average of 155 valves per year, wasting nearly $8,000 and a week of employee time each year. The team settled on the goal of analyze and design a better process for assembling this crucial part.

“In a lot of ways, what you get out of senior design depends entirely on what you put into it.” 
Maggie Mulhern

Though M3N has only been formally working together on the project since the fall term, they knew that a successful senior design project required a well-prepared team.

“We’ve known each other since freshman year, when we were all in the same dorm,” Gulati says. “Because we all have the same major, we’ve worked together before and knew we would get along, so we started exploring the idea of forming a team in the second half of junior year. We also knew that we were interested in having a relationship with an existing company, treating them as a client, instead of a more generalized approach, so we started looking for a client early on.”

The team spent the first term researching the problem and dreaming up a number of solutions. One idea – a die press that can crimp the cap onto the valve housing without exerting so much force that it warps the housing material – stood out as the most likely solution.

“The press can be set to exert a certain amount of pressure, which eliminates the possibility of operator error,” Wiest says.

With their potential solution selected, M3N is now working on the design of their tooling and documenting their process, keeping track of the math and the design functions that work so that Eaton can apply it to their other manufacturing lines. They are also testing their design in ABAQUS to be sure that the pressure exerted by their potential press won’t warp the materials they use to create the valve. To learn the methods for this kind of testing, the team took an intensive two-week finite element analysis bootcamp, which taught them how to predict how the valve would react to outside forces.

“In a lot of ways, what you get out of senior design depends entirely on what you put into it,” Mulhern says. “Drexel wants you to do whatever helps you better prepare for whatever it is you want to do with your career. We’re grateful to have formed this team and taken on this project, because we know that working together in this particular way will help us achieve our goals.”