UTPA graduate takes second place at national design competition
Posted: 12/02/1998
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A graduate of the mechanical engineering program at The University of Texas-Pan American took second place in a national design competition in Anaheim, Calif., last month for work he did while a student.

Gerardo Arriaga of McAllen, now resident product engineer for TRW-Vehicle Safety Systems Inc. in Reynosa, won a second place award and a $750 prize at the Student Manufacturing Design Competition sponsored by the ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineering) Manufacturing Engineering Division.

"This was a project he did for TRW while working as an intern there," said Dr. Subhash Bose, professor of manufacturing engineering and one of Arriaga's faculty advisors on the project.

Arriaga completed the project as an assignment in a senior design class with the assistance of Edgar Hinojosa, a manufacturing engineering student who is now employed as a quality engineer at TRW in Reynosa. Advisors for the project, titled "Design of Control Pawl to Actuate Web Sensitivity Mechanism for a Seat Belt Retractor Assembly," were Bose and Dr. Robert Freeman, associate professor of mechanical engineering.

"TRW makes seat belt retractor components for Ford, Chrysler and GM," Bose explained. "Inside the retractor is a mechanism that automatically locks if you're in a crash. In that mechanism are two parts, one plastic and one zinc metal part.

"Gerardo came up with an idea to eliminate the zinc part and make it part of the plastic design itself. It would have the same action but without the zinc component, reducing the cost for the company and at the same time having the same effectiveness as the part they already have."

Universities throughout the country nominate senior design projects for the competition. Six are selected, and the designers make a presentation on their projects for a panel of judges. Only the top two designs receive awards, Bose said.

Arriaga's design was second only to a project submitted by a team of 27 students from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, one of two presented by the school. Other presentations were by students from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which also had two projects, and one from the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Bose pointed out that the winning RPI project team - which made a flashlight for a keychain - had funding from Energizer.

"Gerardo didn't have any funding for this," he said. "He developed his idea for the project, did the calculations and showed that the concept he came up with would work, and did drawings and sketches."

He said TRW is working on implementing Arriaga's design, preparing to make a mold to produce the part.

Edward Rodriguez, a 1996 graduate of the UTPA mechanical engineering program now working at United Technologies in Brownsville, won first place in the award competition last year.

Bose emphasized the impressive showing of UT Pan American engineering students against the top schools in the country.

"It really shows the quality of our (engineering) program and the students we produce here," he said.