Celebrating inefficiency and complexity

We've all had days like this: It seems it takes 125 steps to do the simplest task. That's when the skills of an engineer most come into play. It is the engineer's task to take the complicated and make it simple. That's the lesson learned by engineering students at Purdue University — by doing the exact opposite.

05/01/2005


We've all had days like this: It seems it takes 125 steps to do the simplest task. That's when the skills of an engineer most come into play. It is the engineer's task to take the complicated and make it simple.

That's the lesson learned by engineering students at Purdue University — by doing the exact opposite.

For the third straight year, the school's Society of Professional Engineers won the National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. A team from Ferris State University came in second with a carnival-themed machine, and the University of Texas at Austin placed third.

The annual event turns Goldberg's cartoon concepts of creating machines that take simple tasks and making them complicated into an engineering exercise in excess. In the process, it taps into the skill of the students to reverse-engineer what they've been taught.

"We are all engineering and technology students, and this machine ties together everything we have learned in our classes," said co-captain Shawn Jordan, a graduate student in computer engineering from Fort Wayne, IN. "It serves as a giant interdisciplinary design project that everyone on the team brings a different background and perspective to."

This year's task was to change the batteries in a flashlight and then to turn it on. Contestants had to take at least 20 steps to complete the task and, oh yes, it had to work.

The Purdue team's effort took 125 steps, complete with a toy rocket launch and a meteor hitting a model of the Earth. In the end, the light from the flashlight shined back down on Earth.

If this sounds like a lark, there are serious engineering principles at work — and an acute understanding of the parallels with real-world issues. "You spend most of your time trying to get the last 1% of things to work," said senior Kevin Hollingsworth of Zionsville, IN. "Because the machines are built out of junk, they are inherently unreliable. The most important part of building a machine is making those last few pieces of junk reliable."





No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
2017 Lubrication Guide; Software tools; Microgrids and energy strategies; Use robots effectively
Prescriptive maintenance; Hannover Messe 2017 recap; Reduce welding errors
Safety standards and electrical test instruments; Product of the Year winners; Easy and safe electrical design
Infrastructure for natural gas expansion; Artificial lift methods; Disruptive technology and fugitive gas emissions
Mobility as the means to offshore innovation; Preventing another Deepwater Horizon; ROVs as subsea robots; SCADA and the radio spectrum
Future of oil and gas projects; Reservoir models; The importance of SCADA to oil and gas
Diagnostic functions for system safety; Specifying industrial enclosures; Effective decision support for a crisis
Transformers; Electrical system design; Selecting and sizing transformers; Grounded and ungrounded system design, Paralleling generator systems
Natural gas for tomorrow's fleets; Colleges and universities moving to CHP; Power and steam and frozen foods

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
The maintenance journey has been a long, slow trek for most manufacturers and has gone from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance.
Featured articles highlight technologies that enable the Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies to get data more easily to the user.
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me