College innovation makes Kewpee manager’s heart go flippity-flop

Last updated: April 30. 2014 8:03PM - 5443 Views
By William Laney wlaney@civitasmedia.com

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LIMA — The same quality beef will be used for that classic Lima hamburger, but now the patty processing and cutting is 21st century.

Three fourth-year mechanical engineering students at Ohio Northern University helped Kewpee general manager Scott Shutt to replace a half-century-old machine with a state-of-the-art system.

After nearly six months in design and almost two months in fabrication, students Austin Conley, Andrea Masters and Lauren Poll and Shutt unveiled the new system Wednesday at Kewpee East on Bellefontaine Avenue.

“They took something that was state of the art in the 1950s and brought it to the 21st century,” Shutt said of the machine which shapes ground meat into square patties, places a sheet of waxed paper on the bottom and then cuts and stacks them. “They did a remarkable job of first understanding how the equipment worked and then they had to re-imagine using digital controllers. Now we have a product that with a little more fine-tuning will be the way we will be pattying the meat in the foreseeable future.”

The machine, housed in a stainless steel cooler, can produce between 2,000 and 3,000 one-fifth pound beef patties in approximately two hours.

The actual creation of the new machine started in September. Shutt, who had earlier attended an annual ONU College of Engineering open house, approached their assistant professor of mechanical engineering Dr. David Mikesell. Shutt, who struggled finding parts or making parts for the 60-year-old machine, wanted the college students to incorporate new technologies and digital controllers “so we could move into the future.”

Mikesell, who assigns students to solving real-world problems as part of their year-long senior project, challenged Conley, Masters and Poll to help Shutt.

“I was fortunate to have great students to work on this project,” Mikesell said. “It turned out to be a good experience for the students as well as beneficial to him (Shutt).”

The students seized on the opportunity.

“It took a lot of brainstorming sessions to decide how to fix it and we came up with three initial ideas but none of them were that feasible,” said Poll, who plans to work at Swagelok in Cleveland after graduation this May.

“We then sat down and had a discussion with our adviser, Mr. Mikesell, and we talked about either keeping the same basic concept or starting from scratch,” said Masters, who is going to work with American Electric Power in Columbus starting this summer. “We wanted to work on it a little more so we ended staying with the same motion and process that they have and just switching out the cams with pneumatic air cylinders.”

Conley explained they also replaced the safety mechanism with an inductive proximity switch, which can detect metal to enable operation. In developing their prototype, they used wood blocks and cardboard as the product. They started on the building the prototype in early February and finished it in late March. They typically spent about 25 years a week as group on the project.

They recently tested the actual machine and had to work on a few technological glitches for Wednesday’s test run.

Through the process, the mechanical engineering students learned real-world applications and more about pneumatic systems “proved awesome.”

“I never worked with a customer, meeting a customer’s requirements and creating a product they liked,” Conley said. “That was very challenging.”

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