Student-designed machine launches baseball at 104 mph
KOKOMO, Ind. — Who says learning can’t be fun? And maybe even pretty exciting? Just ask members of George Gaskill’s “Projects in Manufacturing” class at Ivy Tech Community College’s Kokomo Campus.
The class is an elective in Ivy Tech’s Industrial Technology program, designed to teach students various skills that will serve them well in manufacturing jobs – including team building, problem solving, decision making, and machine process development. It’s hands-on, practical, and challenging.
Students recently put the results of their first eight-week project on display – machines they had designed, assembled, and tested that would launch a baseball 100 feet. And launch those baseballs they did!
“Their creations had to include a mechanical, an electrical, and a hydraulic/ pneumatic element and exclude the use of flammable propellants,” said instructor Gaskill, himself a graduate of the GMI Engineering and Management Institute who retired after a 34-year career with Delphi Automotive Systems.
“The students are also required to provide the calculations used to determine how much force, pressure, and energy was needed to accomplish the objective,” he continued. “This provides students the opportunity to develop inter-personal skills and to collaborate with others in the design process.”
One team – with members Bob Sucharski, Danny Cole, Mason Groves, and Andrew Rider – really met the challenge. Their creation included an air compressor, several yards of 3-inch PVC tubing, a digital pressure gauge and a valve sealed with Vaseline. Clocked with a radar gun, the baseball fired from their “machine” reached a speed of 104 miles per hour on its way past the goal 100 feet away.
“We had a lot of fun,” Sucharski said. With fellow military veterans Cole and Groves and traditional-aged student Rider, Sucharski described the development of a real team, based on his 36 years in the Air Force. “We were curious about how fast we could make the ball go, what kind of air pressure the PVC pipe could handle. … We were able to show our instructor ‘engineering’ – the arm of the device could move 45 degrees, the mechanical; we used a digital sensor to track air pressure, the electrical; the air compressor, the pneumatics.”
The class demonstrates the approach to teaching employed by Gaskill, the veteran engineer/designer/instructor – providing a balanced mix of theory and lecture with real-world hands-on activities.
“As they complete these team assignments, all the students quickly discover that there are individual differences in skills, talents, and personalities,” Gaskill said. “After a few sessions, the students begin to settle down, drawing from each other’s strengths and supporting each other’s weaknesses.”
And after Project #1, Gaskill added, the students are re-shuffled into new teams for a second eight-week project devoted to developing a system to control the operation of an electric motor using a variable frequency drive and a programmable controller.
“George (Gaskill) is very good,” Sucharski said. “He’s very laid back, he analyzes before he talks, you can see his gears turning. It’s a good experience for me after years of working in emergency aircraft situations and having to just react.”