Different generations will have much different answers to these questions: “Who’s heard of a Tile? Do you have one? Doesn’t it help you in your everyday life?”
For some of us, yes, tile serves as a viable alternative to carpeting on the floor, but you do need more than one.
OK, laugh all you want, youngsters. You know that Tile is a company that produces minuscule electronic tracking devices to help folks find items they’ve misplaced, with car keys and cell phones serving as probably the most common use.
A group of Upper St. Clair High School students – including Colleen Cassady, who posed the Tile questions – came up with the idea of combining the technology of the device with that of three-dimensional printing to come up with a solution for a real-world issue confronting a local business.
Students in Upper St. Clair’s STEAM innovation and consulting course, taught by Fred Peskorski, joined their Peters Township High School counterparts studying applied engineering to work with Oakdale-based EAFab Corp. in a series of problem-solving exercises, culminating with presentations delivered Jan. 7 at Waynesburg University’s Southpointe Center.
EAFab owners Pedro and Claudia Quiroga, who have been collaborating with students for five years, were in attendance to hear the presentations and offer feedback.
“We’re always amazed as to the ideas that the kids bring to the table,” Pedro said.
Colleen’s group, for example, worked on developing a system for quality-control checks on the minimum internal diameter of welded pipes, addressing concerns expressed by an actual customer of EAFab, which engineers, fabricates, installs and services parts and equipment for the steel industry.
After investigating the pros and cons of numerous ideas – “why it failed,” they noted several times in their presentation – the students came up with the solution of a small 3-D-printed ball to pass through pipes by water propulsion, with a tracking device aboard.
“Instead of just using the regular shell of a circle, we decided to put holes in it and grooves for the Tile to fit inside,” team member Evan Wyke explained. “We’re going to be using it as a sail, per se. The flaps of it are going to be sticking out, and the water is going to be able to catch the sides of it. And it’s going to propel it through the pipes.”
The Quirogas were sufficiently impressed.
“This is what engineering’s all about, right here,” Pedro said. “This is where you go through different options, hit wall, hit wall, hit wall until you start thinking outside the box.”
Students at both high schools worked on other projects to address some brainpower-worthy EAFab issues:
- Using software to build an assembly of parts that develop a sidewall panel from a given set of parameters
- Developing an inventory system for materials and parts used by fabricators in the welding bays
- Designing a manipulator that allows for the expedited welding of sidewall panels, some of which weigh up to three tons
- Developing a system for better organization and safety at fabricators’ stations in welding bays
- Developing a system to expedite spreadsheet tasks using Excel and SQL software
“We give them the problems,” Pedro Quiroga said. “They come to our office at least three or four times in groups, and we meet with them at their schools at least two times.”
From there, students work on developing viable solutions through plenty of rounds of trial and error, which he considers to be an especially valuable learning experience.
“Many of these kids, I’m pretty sure that they are going to be able to succeed in life if they continue with this type of diligence,” he said. “They give me hope. These kids are on the right track, and they continue to amaze me every single time.”
The Quirogas have participated in the STEAM innovation and consulting course – Pedro believes it should be a requirement for 11th-graders – since its launch in 2014 as a partnership between Upper St. Clair and South Fayette high schools, Pittsburgh’s LUMA Institute, All Clad Metalcrafters LLC of Cecil Township and EAFab. The program has since grown to include Bethel Park and Peters Township high schools, along with O.Z. Enterprises and NiSource Inc.
This is the second year for Peters’ participation, with four teams of students working with EAFab in 2018-19.
“They can actually work on something, as opposed to just turning in an assignment for a grade,” applied engineering teacher Christopher Allen said. “They have to explain what they did. They have to build it. They have to explain what they did wrong and keep on going.”