Four years ago, a truck manufacturer in Portland approached the George Fox University engineering department with a substantial challenge: Design a turntable that could withstand 16,000 pounds of semi truck, manipulate the angle of rotation of the vehicle, and fit within the confines of a relatively small wind tunnel.
Four engineering students – under the tutelage of professors Bob Harder and Gary Spivey – were assigned the task as they embarked on the 2010-11 academic year. Plans were drawn up and submitted. Tests were conducted. Revisions were made. Finally, by spring, the completed project was presented to the company for approval. About $140,000 was spent to get it manufactured and installed – and by February of 2012, the new table was fully operational.
“When you love what you do, it’s not drudgery or work. That’s the road I’m on.”
For 2011 George Fox graduates Ruben Lucescu and Alex Bush, that undertaking – their senior design project, conducted with fellow students Dustin Ward and Kindra Herrera – ultimately opened the door to their first jobs as engineers. Today, Lucescu and Bush are employed by the very same trucking company, Daimler Trucks North America, that they assisted as students.
And in the case of Lucescu, a product validation engineer in Daimler’s aerodynamics division, his daily job requires he use the technology the students designed – a sleek two-plate yaw table that supports the front and rear axles independently and effortlessly rotates the entire vehicle. It saves Daimler thousands of dollars annually – an amount Lucescu won’t venture to guess.
“Let’s just say it was worth $140,000 for the company to install it, so that tells you something,” he says. “It really reduced our test time in the wind tunnel, allowing us to do much more testing in a day. Something that used to take us four hours takes us one hour. Previously, the company had to maneuver the truck manually for the tests, which took a lot of time. Now we can easily adjust the yaw angles eight or nine times a day with the push of some buttons. It’s much more efficient.”
Lucescu spends most of his days putting trucks through the trials of the tunnel, testing them for drag with and without mirrors, with certain modifications to the body and without. All along, he alters the angles at which the wind hits the vehicles and records the data on how the truck responds to those adjustments. Each mirror he tests, for instance, has a numerical value that quantifies how efficient it is aerodynamically.
“We came up with something that was going to be used by a real company in the industry as opposed to building something for a grade,” says Bush, now a design engineer at Daimler. “That’s one thing I appreciate about the engineering program at Fox – not only are you on a first-name basis with your professors, you’re doing hands-on projects that can have industry impact.”
As a company, Daimler is the biggest globally active manufacturer of trucks above six metric tons gross vehicle weight, developing and producing vehicles in a global network under the brands Mercedes-Benz, Freightliner, Western Star, Fuso and BharatBenz. Seeing those trucks on the road gives Lucescu a sense of accomplishment.
“It’s great to be driving along and seeing the trucks you’ve worked on,” he says. “You see them on the highway and it inspires a lot of confidence and pride. You feel good knowing you did something good for people and for your company.”
As for students about to embark on the world of work, he offers this advice: “Whatever you do, do it because that’s what you love and want to do. When you love what you do, it’s not drudgery or work. That’s the road I’m on.”