Pokagon prototype to be displayed at Trine expo

ANGOLA — The 15th annual Engineering Design Expo at Trine University will not only offer the chance to view capstone projects by senior engineering majors, it will give a glimpse at what could be the next generation of a beloved local attraction.

The Allen School of Engineering and Technology will host the expo, which is free and open to the public, from 1-3 p.m. Friday, May 5. Forty-one senior design projects will be on display throughout the hallways of Fawick Hall and the Jim and Joan Bock Center for Innovation and Biomedical Engineering.

Mechanical engineering majors Blake Balka of LaGrange, Bradley Cooper of New Haven and Evan Poole of New Palestine will display a prototype toboggan they designed and have tested on the quarter-mile run at Pokagon State Park. Besides weighing 15-20 pounds less than the existing toboggans and featuring a safety rail with hand grips inside to lessen the chance of injuries to hands or fingers, the new design features removable wheels, which would allow the run to be operated year-round.

The team also designed improvements to the track itself. An extra step has been installed to the loading table for next season to make it easier for passengers to mount the sled, and the group has designed and tested an angled braking lane to bring sleds to a stop at the end of the run.

Ted Bohman, Pokagon State Park manager, said the braking lane and toboggan prototype will undergo further field testing over the summer.

“If we can fine-tune this, it will be a huge hit,” Bohman said.

The project came about from a conversation between Bohman and Jason Blume, executive director of Innovation One at Trine. Bohman told Blume the park was wanting to decrease the weight of the sleds, and the idea grew from there.

Pokagon previously partnered with a group of Trine students who developed a machine in 2015 to shave ice on the toboggan run. Besides refinements to the sled design, future projects may include making the run tower more accessible to those with disabilities, or devising a lift system to haul the toboggans from the bottom of the run to the top.

“The partnership between the university and the park is excellent,” said Bohman. “As more people become involved in these projects, there are great possibilities.”

The Trine group chose the project from a list given to seniors by the Wade Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering; students also may submit their own ideas for approval.

“I grew up using the toboggan run,” said Poole. “I was excited to get to make an improvement to it.”

The next-generation sled is designed for two passengers in the summer, with wheels removed and joined to another sled to make a four-passenger sled for winter. The sled’s aluminum construction accounts for the lighter weight.

“We looked at several different design options and a variety of materials,” said Cooper.

Besides five-inch side rails with handholds inside to protect hands and fingers, the prototype features ergonomic improvements that Poole said make it “more comfortable for riders to follow the safety procedures.”

The team tested the ice version of the sled the last week the run was open this past winter, with the prototype hitting 35 mph on ice that had frosted over, making it less than ideal for speed. The wheeled, two-person version clocked at 39 mph in testing.

The team said the assistance of Joe Thompson, aerospace and mechanical engineering technician, and Pavan Karra, Ph.D., faculty sponsor, was critical in the project.

“Without Dr. Karra we would be nowhere,” said Balka. “He helped us tremendously with calculations, verifying our work and making suggestions.”

Senior engineering students work in teams each year to produce a design project using their knowledge in a specific area, such as biomedical, bioprocess, chemical, civil, computer, electrical, environmental or mechanical engineering or design engineering technology. These projects are presented at the expo.

In addition to the prototype sled, other innovative projects scheduled to be on display are a clip children can use to create blanket forts, a digital Rubik’s Cube, a process to create ethanol from waste paper, and a low-cost centrifuge and microscope, each made using paper.

“The Engineering Design Expo gives the Trine community and the general public the opportunity to see how Trine engineering students have applied what they have learned at Trine to real-world projects,” said Timothy Tyler, Ph.D., dean of the Allen School of Engineering and Technology.

Besides Pokagon, industrial partners for the expo are: AccuTemp Products Inc.; Best One Tire; Burr Oak Tools; Cass County Parks and Recreation Department; Conduit Space Recovery Systems; David Corcoran; DENSO Foundation; Foundry Educational Foundation; Freeman Manufacturing; HandHeld Medical Technologies, LLC; Holland Custom Signs; Indiana Marine Products; Innovation One; Kraft Fluid Systems; LHP Engineering Solutions; Douglas McGregor; Metal Technologies Inc.; Michigan Pattern; Parker Hannifin; Rolls Royce Corporation; S & T Auto Body; Sherwin Williams; Timken; and World Class Prototyping.

Photo: From left, Trine University senior mechanical engineering majors Evan Poole, Bradley Cooper and Blake Balka display the prototype toboggan they developed for Pokagon State Park as part of their senior design project. At right is Pavan Karra, Ph.D., faculty sponsor for the project.