UTPA students perform well at American Society of Mechanical Engineers competition
Posted: 04/30/2008
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In the face of recent dusty winds, there are many South Texans who'd like to find a way to have their dirty windows cleaned automatically. When given this challenge, a team of mechanical engineering students at The University of Texas-Pan American wiped up with a second place finish for its design of an automated window washing robot at the 2008 American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) district conference held April 17-19.

UTPA students Wasiela Salinas, Juan Carlos Garcia and Joe Villanueva (team captain) went to work in September 2007 as part of their Senior Design Project to meet ASME's competition task to design, build and demonstrate a robot which would wash a residential double-hung sash window autonomously, that is, without human intervention. Rules for the competition, held at the ASME Southwest and Rocky Mountain District E Region Conference at Louisiana Tech University, allowed only the physical placement of the robot on the lowest window pane and turning it on or under remote control of an operator inside of the building. UTPA's team was one of 16 from 10 schools that competed.

Pictured with its award-winning automated window washing robot that placed second at the 2008 American Society of Mechanical Engineers recent district conference are left to right robot design team members Juan Carlos Garcia, Wasiela Salinas, faculty advisor Dr. Horacio Vasquez, and team captain Joe Villanueva.
Faculty adviser Dr. Horacio Vasquez, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, said he met with team members weekly during last fall and this spring's semesters to work on the challenging project.

"The project presented had so many restrictions and rules, progress was slow most of the time but persistent work and experimentation allowed the students to develop a first prototype in the fall and continue to improve it until the April competition," he said. "They named their machine 'UTPA WinRobo.'"

The machine had to clean marks made with a dry erase marker around the window with low and top panes. The mass of the device could not be more than 1,000 grams and it could not be more than 24V of battery voltage and required rechargeable batteries. The robot had five minutes to clean the window, starting at the lower-left hand corner of the window and ending at the same spot.

Villanueva, who will work for Dallas-based Webber Aircraft, Ltd. after he graduates in May, said he was proud of his team's second place win and credited faculty support, extensive planning and team work for their accomplishment. He added that participation in student competitions makes a big difference in the way students are able to apply their acquired knowledge.

"I cannot think of anything that could have better prepared me for the real world. These competitions provide opportunities like working on a team and enhancing your communication, presentational and management skills. Being able to utilize your skills and knowledge during a real-life situation prepares students for both higher level courses and industry," he said.

Pictured is UTPA senior Michael Ramirez who was awarded first place technical and third place overall in the Old Guard Oral Presentation competition at the recent American Society of Mechanical Engineers district conference at Louisiana Tech University.
In addition to UTPA's team showing, UTPA student Michael Ramirez garnered a first place technical and third place overall in the Old Guard Oral Presentations at the Conference. He was among eight competitors and presented on the topic of "Multi-Level Nano Spinner," which described a new apparatus and method UTPA is researching to create nanotechnology materials.

Ramirez, also a senior, said he was grateful to the mechanical engineering faculty for the opportunity to present and to be an integral part of the research team that is working on cutting-edge technology that might revolutionize the production of nanofibers.

"The faculty provides every student critical tools for success. I began my engineering career almost 11 years ago and took a hiatus to pursue teaching. Now I'm back and more confident than ever because of the commitment the department has to our success. I hope that my achievement as well as the design team's incredible finish only helps to confirm that UTPA's mechanical engineering program can rival most any other," he said.

The district convention competitions included participants from universities such as Baylor, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, and Letourneau in Longview, Texas, which placed first in the design competition. Vasquez said participation in organizations such as ASME, which provides many student development and leadership opportunities through design and competition sponsorship, has a great positive impact on student success.

"It prepares them to represent our school while competing with other schools to show not only the knowledge they acquire at UTPA but also how ingenious they could be to solve problems. Besides working in teams, they acquire management skills to deal with budget, time and design constraints. They also get to meet lots of people during the conferences and are able to compare their designs and share ideas," Vasquez said.

For more information on the UTPA Mechanical Engineering Program, call 956/381-2394 or go to their Web site at http://mece/