Trial by fire: Trine team excels in Cast in Steel competition

May 23, 2024

Cast in Steel
The Trine University Cast in Steel team with judges at the competition on April 22: from left, Trine students Josiah Guerra, Grant Whitham and Jonathan Stockwell; judges David Baker and Ben Abbott from Forged in Fire; Darryl Webber, Ph.D., faculty advisor; judges Andrew Pristach and Phillip Harrison; and students Dane Robertson and Reed Ellis.
MILWAUKEE, Wis. — It broke into a door and split a two-by-four, allowing a team of Trine University mechanical engineers to break into the top rankings of a national competition.

The Trine senior design team placed third for “Best design and process” at the Cast in Steel competition, held April 22 at the Milwaukee School of Engineering.

For the 2024 version, teams were tasked with using modern metalcasting tools to design and produce a functioning Halligan bar, used by firefighters to, among other things, gain access to building spaces and vehicles.

The competition, sponsored by the Steel Founders’ Society of America and now in its sixth year, is inspired by the History Channel series “Forged in Fire.” That show challenges smiths to forge bladed weapons.

Two of the “Forged in Fire” judges, Ben Abbott and David Baker, served as judges for the Cast in Steel competition.

Help from Angola Fire Department

The Trine team was made up of Grant Whitham of La Fontaine, Indiana, Josiah Guerra of Warsaw, Indiana, Brennen McNeil of Camden, Michigan, Dane Robertson of Louisville, Kentucky, Hayden Smith of Noblesville, Indiana, Reed Ellis of Alexandria, Indiana, and Jonathan Stockwell of Dowagiac, Michigan.

They started their design process by examining commercially available Halligan bars recommended by the Angola Fire Department. The department also provided resources on how to properly use a Halligan bar and features that make a bar good or bad.

“From this, we were able to determine what features to include on our design and in what orientation,” said Whitham. “We then altered the design slightly to make it castable with the green sand process and without the use of cores. We then used finite element analysis (FEA) to size our design and confirm that it was safe.”

Unlike most of the other teams in the competition, the Trine group cast their design in the university’s Foundry Lab instead of using an outside company.

“Working on the project at every step was challenging. It was also very fun,” Whitham said. “It is nice to see what works and what does not in person.”

“Our biggest challenge was overcoming porosity and surface finish. Not only is steel a difficult metal to work with, but the tool’s geometry and the casting process are also not great for resolving these issues.”

Tests passed

At the competition, each bar was tested in areas such as prying, punching, twisting and striking.

Whitham said the Trine bar had no trouble during the first round of testing, which consisted of opening an outward-facing door and splitting a two-by-four.

However, the Trine bar did not advance to the second round, most likely because it was heavier and thicker than much of its competition, Whitham said.

“My advice would be to cast early and often with as close an alloy to the real thing as you can get,” he said. “I feel as though we spent a considerable amount of time casting in aluminum and zinc and did not take into consideration the shrinkage rate of steel.”

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