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Students engineer solution to construction challenge

The students from the Armstrong Hall renovation project with Joe Zanetti.

When an engineering building poses an engineering challenge, the solution isn’t far away. As renovations to Armstrong Hall were taking place, the building’s doors required the quick thinking of a few of the industry’s future members. That’s when a team of mechanical, civil, and biomedical engineering students broke out the heavy machinery.

The handles and locking mechanisms previously used on the doors left holes that needed to be covered to meet the fire safety code. Olivia Cleale ’20, Anna Cruz ’20, Alé Cruz ’21, Lauren DeSimone ’21, and Justina Walck ’21 met with TCNJ’s facilities department to look at a prototype solution and to determine what method for covering the holes would work best.

After settling on a design and the necessary materials, the students got to work with the aid of a 50,000 PSI waterjet, one of the many tools available in the machine shop, to cut out 250 steel plates that would solve the problem.

“The machine cuts through metals like butter,” says Alé Cruz, a mechanical engineering major. “Without the waterjet machine, the machining time would have tripled, and there would have been a lot more room for error.”

Using a two-dimensional drawing, the students set axis points, oriented the metal, sanded rough edges, and positioned the nozzle to ensure exact cuts — a critical component when your job relies on precision.

“The waterjet is a relatively new machine to the shop, but it is one of the most used pieces of equipment,” says DeSimone, a mechanical engineering major. “The student workers will use the waterjet every day, most often making parts for senior projects.”

The in-house design to bring 125 doors up to code resulted in a savings of roughly $5,000. These types of projects are opportunities for the students to showcase their abilities, according to Joe Zanetti, professional services specialist for the School of Engineering. “The students were able to do 95 percent of the work. They are more than capable of doing these types of projects for departments across the college.”

“As a student worker in the STEM building and machine shop, I have had some really cool and rewarding opportunities,” says Cleale. “I’ve learned how to properly use these tools and machines, which is an opportunity most civil engineers would not get. My time at TCNJ would be far different without the experience of working in the machine shop. I will take all that I have learned with me after graduation and in all my future endeavors.”

— David Pavlak