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Coal Handling Virtual Design Review

Covid-19 threw a wrench in our plans for the final design review for students engaged in our Zoo Train Challenge.  MSOE had planned to play host for the session, but as schools and universities first closed and then moved on-line we adjusted as well.

As schools reopened for distance learning, five teams were able to continue work on the challenge to redesign the process used to store and load coal for the Zoo’s steam locomotives. In most cases, they were forced to do so without the resources and physical prototypes they had started to produce. On Wednesday, four teams were able to join a review session on Zoom where they presented their ideas to and took questions from a review panel representing the advisory team for the project. That group included industry professionals from We Energies, Kumatsu, County Materials, as well as faculty and staff from MSOE and UWM’s College of Engineering & Applied Science.

While the virtual format was less than ideal, two things stood out across the presentations. All of the teams were able to leverage feedback and ideas from the conceptual design review UWM hosted in December to improve not just their designs, but their ability to talk through and communicate their design decisions.  When asked by panelists about where they saw value in the experience, students consistently mentioned both the experience of figuring out how to work effectively as a team, and the opportunity to leverage and learn from outside experts.

Congratulations are due to all of the teams involved in the project. Thanks are also due to their teachers. Nothing interesting happens in a classroom without a teacher willing to say yes.  Their willingness to involve their students in an open ended project, coordinate student participation in project events, and help their colleagues at other schools with ideas on how to manage project teams is the key ingredient in efforts like this.

Zoo Train Schools and Teachers

  • Elmbrook Launch – Ryan Osterberg
  • Golda Meir – Tina Gleason
  • Menomonee Falls – Robert Regent-Smith
  • New Berlin Eisenhower – Devin McKinnon
  • New Berlin West – Bill Trudell
  • Pathways High School – Angelique Byrne/Chris Kjaer
  • St. Joan Antida – Cynthia McLinn/Melissa Peppler
  • St. Thomas More – Emily Pirkl
  • Wauwatosa East – Julibeth Favour
  • West Allis Dottke – Bernie McCarthy

Zoo Train Challenge – Conceptual Design Review

Teams participating in our challenge to design a replacement for the wooden water tower that services the Zoo’s steam locomotives presented their concepts at MSOE on Monday.  We have more than 65 students involved, representing ten teams from six high schools.  Given the number of students involved, we ran parallel sessions for the reviews, with each team presenting before a panel that included civil engineers from Excel and MSOE, experts in railroad history from The Center for Railway Photography & Art and the Coalition for Sustainable Rail (our partner in this effort), and the staff which maintain and operate the Zoo’s train.

We asked teams to cover, not only their designs, but how they organized their efforts, alternatives they considered, and where they need additional help.  Students from Elmbrook’s media program stepped up to record all of the presentations for students and teachers to review.

After a short break for lunch we pulled everyone back together for a recap session with all of the reviewers.  That provided an opportunity for the panelists to summarize what they saw in their session within a few broad themes.  One of the most interesting things for us was to see the different ways schools with larger groups organized their teams– by functional area of the tower, expertise of the team, member, or into smaller teams who would each produce a design concept.  We used the recap session to engage students and teachers in a discussion of how that worked and what it felt like over the course of the semester.

We’re pulling the teachers together next week for a debrief to guide adjustments we’ll want to make as we go into the detailed design phase next semester. That work will begin and end with visits to UWM– first, for a chance to play in UWM’s structures lab, and, on May 2nd, for the detailed design review where the review panelists will select an approach to be fabricated and installed.

We are very grateful to MSOE for hosting the event and working with us to get everything in place.  They provided a beautiful setting with the 4th floor conference area inside the Grohmann Tower.

The Journal Sentinel was also on hand to cover the event. You can find their write up here.

MSOE Hosts Workshop for Zoo Train Challenge

MSOE played host to students participating in our Zoo Train Challenge for a workshop on structural considerations for water towers.  To accommodate all of the teams in a format that allowed students a chance to discuss design concerns, MSOE ran sessions on Thursday and Friday this week.  MSOE faculty provided a quick overview of several factors the students ought to consider. Following the presentation, MSOE engineering students joined the faculty in responding to student questions.