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Charles Franz, Greg Method, and Keegan Wada, mechanical engineers from the Class of 2012, took second place in last spring’s ASME’s IShow, a competition celebrating innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit, with their novel braking device for long trains. To win top honors, they had to demonstrate not only their technical creativity, but also their business acumen as they presented their product before a panel of industry experts, innovators, and venture capitalists.
The team had developed their product as their Senior Design project and during the process started a company called Railwave Systems, LLC. Their Equalizing Distribution Device (EDD) is designed to mitigate in-train forces on long trains (100+ cars) with remote-controlled, removable valves that can be easily installed on any train’s brake pipe system, instantly upgrading the system. With seed money from their win, they are working on a prototype.
Along the way, they have been working with mechanical maintenance managers, engineering managers, locomotive engineers, and others from Union Pacific Railroad, Amtrak and the Richmond Terminal Railroad.
“Integrating the EDD into a modern locomotive is challenging, as is finding a railroad that will let us modify a multi-million dollar locomotive and take it out with a 100 car freight train,” said Franz, “but we have made great strides in the programming and trouble shooting of the wireless communication and we hope to have testing done by the end of the year.
“A project like this, or any senior design project for that matter, is indispensable for an engineering degree because it’s one of the only opportunities students have to actually go through the start to finish design process. There are so many fundamental engineering courses that focus on theory (and to some extent application), but not until you go through a design process can you think, ‘Oh what can we use to solve this…how about that fluid flow process we learned eons ago.…’ Long story short, it’s a perfect end to an engineering major to demonstrate how the real world works in the engineering process.”