Helping students put pneumatics theory into practice

“That’s great…in theory.”

We’ve all heard it – the insinuation that an idea is flawed because there doesn’t seem to be a real-life example of success.

Companies like Proportion-Air, which offer only a few product series that can be customized for a wide range of applications, are always looking for people who push the limits of what is possible. We specialize in manufacturing pneumatic components. We rely on our employees’ expertise to meet the demands of our customers’ most challenging pneumatic applications. Our future relies on personnel with strong pneumatics skills, so we look to our next generation of engineers to offer new and exciting solutions.
College exposes many engineering technology students to basic fluid power concepts. However, there has been a disconnect in the way schools deliver fluid power curricula, specifically pneumatics. Concepts often are taught from a high-level perspective, not demonstrated in practical ways. In collaboration with Purdue University, we decided to let the students take the reins to help design a curriculum that is relevant to them. The goal: provide experience with practical applications so they learn how to solve problems in pneumatics.

First steps

In the spring of 2017, Proportion-Air staff worked with Purdue University’s Dr. Jose Garcia, an assistant professor in engineering technology, to create a new experience for an existing lab. The lab familiarized students with electro-pneumatic pressure regulators (EPRs). It was one of several in MET 230, an introductory fluid power course.

While student feedback was positive for the re-designed lab, it seemed like a better way to engage them must exist. That’s where the capstone idea came in: Why not have a team of students design a modular lab and curriculum with our help?

Put Pneumatics Theory into Practice
Quentin speaking with Dr. Garcia.

How a capstone project works

Many students in the Purdue Polytechnic Instituteformerly the Purdue College of Technology – must complete a capstone project to graduate. Capstones are year-long projects that tackle real-world challenges identified by a sponsoring company. Students choose a capstone they are interested in from a catalog. We described our project as an extension of the spring 2017 course re-design. It should go beyond showing control with EPRs and explore how electronics, actuators and sensors can help achieve closed-loop control.

To accomplish this, students are tasked with designing and building an educational package, including a curriculum. The project was limited to a four-student team, two studying electrical engineering technology and two studying mechanical engineering technology or manufacturing engineering technology. You’ll meet the students in future posts.

After they signed up for the project, each student took a role: team leader, budget manager, project manager and secretary. They began laying out the timeline, identifying several milestones, known as “gates,” to organize the process. The team completed the first gate in late September. It included creating a problem statement and a matrix outlining the team’s expected needs.

The team meets weekly with our staff, either online or in person, to discuss progress and ask questions.

Put Pneumatics Theory into Practice
The student team visited our facility in September to discuss the project.

What’s next

The student team and a member of our staff head to Florida this weekend to visit company president and founder Dan Cook at his workshop. They’ll work with him to develop ideas for different labs to include in their curriculum.

Gate 2 is due at the end of October. The students will propose designs and develop a matrix for grading which is strongest.  Keep following for updates on the project and get to know the students involved.