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Computer Engineering Student Leverages Technology for Manufacturing Capstone Project

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BYU’s College of Engineering partners with sponsors to create Capstone projects for students to complete during their senior year. Terrance Smith, an undergraduate Computer Engineering student started working on a project with Northrop Grumman to explore the ins and outs of utilizing the PTC digital platform to understand maintenance and manufacturing operations.

"In particular, we are exploring smart manufacturing initiatives that relate to asset maintenance for Northrop Grumman and then implementing them in a mock factory," Smith said. "This is a part of an exploratory phase ... to implement smart manufacturing initiatives in their production facilities."

Smith said Northrop Grumman built the students a small unit, called a demonstrator, which is equivalent of a small factory in a box. It takes in raw material, processes it, and outputs the material that has been changed. After that a quality check is performed before it is sorted.

“Our work involves tracking real time operating conditions and total run times for individual components, analyzing that data in the cloud, generating alerts via email and online dashboards and finally building augmented reality work instructions/tools for technicians to better understand their equipment,” Smith said.

Smith is the only member of his team who is a Computer Engineering student. In September 2019, Smith’s work on the project began with him focusing on programming, industrial networking, sensor integration and augmented reality development.

The team coach, Dr. Yuri Hovanski, an Associate Professor of Manufacturing Engineering, helped to bring together an array of students with different skills like Smith’s to deliver the best prototype possible to Northrop Grumman.

"Having an ECEn student on the team raises the bar for performance of the entire team, as we are required from the sponsor to span traditional disciplinary boundaries," Hovanski said. "A team with members from each of the engineering departments greatly benefits from a diversity of approaches, expectations, strengths, and weaknesses."

Hovanski said Smith has an expertise in the area of programming, causing him to make a significant difference on the team.

"Terrance is a unique student, as he had opted to complete MFGEN minor along with his major in computer engineering," Hovanski said. "This multi-disciplinary focus as an undergraduate is rare but has paid large dvidends in helping him be able to pull together a team of students from various engineering backgrounds."

Smith got involved in the project by approaching Hovanski two years ago and has worked on the project since. “Dr. Hovanski is amazing at getting the right people together in the right place and time. He is great at project management,” Smith said. “He gets the resources in place for us to have a playground worth playing in.”

Hovanski has coached Capstone teams for three years and said that Capstone projects provide students with the ability to get the closest and most authentic look possible at the world of engineering in their undergraduate studies.

The purpose of Capstone was described by Smith as giving “engineering students a chance to … develop a transferrable and valuable product” by communicating with real companies and overcoming the challenges presented in a professional standard.

“Capstone has allowed me to interface with companies in a way that I didn’t expect happening in an undergraduate level. Most importantly, Capstone has helped in developing relationships with these companies.” Smith said. “We know who they are, they know who we are. It’s just an invaluable level of networking.”

The team contacts Northrop Grumman weekly with updates. They provided the factory for the students to experiment with, but it is up to the group to figure out how augmented reality, machine-to-machine connectivity, and cloud-based analytics can be used to assist maintenance technicians.

According to Smith, there is an industry-wide movement where manufacturers are learning to leverage technology between cloud-based platforms and machines and are then using that data to boost their own efficiency. Companies such as Northrop Grumman can test the waters of this research with students in a risk-free and safer way.

“NGC knows they will find value through industrial connectivity but didn’t know what that actually looked like. Our team came up with the idea to build a digital maintenance assistant that would help technicians understand their machinery better,” Smith said.