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Senior Design wraps it up.

Kansas State's BSE Senior Design class is a three-credit Capstone class offered annually during the fall semester. It's a required course that students must complete for their BS in biological systems engineering. Students who enroll in the course are in the last two semesters of their college career. Because of the single-semester format, a successful project will propose, at minimum, a design ready for construction. In an industrial setting, the project would be at the point where management could approve it for prototyping. To actually build their projects, students are encouraged to take an elective companion class, BSE Design Project, during the spring semester after Senior Design. In this second-semester class, students further develop their projects, build prototypes, and conduct testing. Project teams consist of three to five students, with a preferred team size of four.

The ideal design project will have a client who has a problem in need of a solution and will also have a high likelihood of being implemented should the proposed design be approved by the client. These two criteria increase the difficulty of the class and the quality of effort by the students. These two criteria also reinforce each other: the clients have tough problems that they're really concerned about; when the students see this concern, they're inspired to help by finding a workable solution.

A great example of an ideal project was completed during the 2015-2016 school year and competed for the AGCO National Design Competition this past summer. The team wanted to develop a device that would remove the net wrap from large round hay bales. Net wrap is the material used to hold most large round bales together. The current removal process involves manually cutting and removing the net wrap, a time-consuming task that exposes farmers to a number of hazards. The team proposed a mechanical device that would allow a farmer to remove the net wrap from bales without leaving the safety of the tractor seat. Before project approval, the students were asked to find a customer for the project. Through Kerri Ebert of the Kansas AgrAbility program, the team found a farmer with a handicap who would benefit from such a device. With the project idea and the customer in place, the team began work in August 2015.


As part of the project, the team conducted an extensive literature search, including popular press articles, technical papers, and design and safety standards related to large round bales. Additionally, because the team felt they had an original concept, they explored relevant patents. Finally, because the project's customer is disabled, the team spent a considerable amount of time interviewing and watching their customer work with round bales to understand the individual's needs and limitations.

Once the constraints and criteria necessary for the project were understood, the team developed the design by creating CAD models in PTC's Creo software. They built a number of different test stands to explore different wrap removal strategies. Based on the tests, the CAD models were refined. At the end of the first semester, the team proposed a design to the Kansas AgrAbility director and the client for approval to build a prototype. The project was approved for prototype development during the spring semester.

The team built several iterations of a working prototype. They located a local farmer who ground net-wrapped hay bales almost daily. Working with this farmer, they were able to repetitively test many different aspects of their design in a controlled environment. The prototype was built, tested, rebuilt, and retested multiple times over the spring semester. Consistent incremental improvements were made, and the design was completed over the summer, with the net wrap removal device delivered to the client in time for the fall feeding season.

"The BSE Senior Design Capstone project has been beneficial to the Kansas AgrAbility Project, helping to solve accessibility problems for Kansas AgrAbility farmers. First, the student teams bring a fresh perspective to solving problems on the farm. That fresh perspective, without preconceived notions of what won't work, has proven helpful for farmers, and in turn, the project introduces the students to real people, with real limitations. In that respect, the Capstone project humanizes the engineering process. An unexpected benefit has been the joy that farmers experience in working with college students. The farmers take their roles as mentors seriously, and they spend a lot of time walking the students through the details of their disability and farming practices while offering helpful guidance throughout the process. Connecting students with farmers has been excellent public relations for the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering. Kansas State University, and Kansas AgrAbility."

--Kerri Ebert

Kansas Agrability project coordinator

Edwin Brokesh, P.E.

Kansas State University Biological and Agricultural Engineering
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Author:Brokesh, Edwin
Publication:Resource: Engineering & Technology for a Sustainable World
Date:Sep 1, 2016
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