This past summer I was fortunate enough to land an internship at Bloom Energy with the Equipment and Infrastructure team. I was definitely not prepared for the amount of projects that I would be given or how much I would learn about working in industry. To respect the NDA I signed with Bloom Energy as an employee I have limited the content and will mostly describe the equipment design processes that I learned.
My main project at Bloom Energy was designing a safety fixture to help aide operators to safely replace a component important to the making of fuel cells. The main risk was a pinch and crush hazard that could occur while making the replacement if the operators were not careful.
With the help of my manager, Gordon, I came up with a concept and initial design for the fixture. I later led 3 different design reviews with equipment, and process engineers. During these design reviews, I gained valuable feedback and iterated my design. It was really interesting to see the different aspects that the different types of engineers had when analyzing the design since everyone's perspective was very different.
After creating details and BOM, I had the parts quoted and then manufactured by an external machine shop. Having only created parts myself in the student shop it was quite a different experience interacting with the machinists at the shop and I learned a thing or two about lead times and costs.
Lead times were the biggest bottleneck for this project as it took me a majority of the internship time to design the fixture with all of the different iterations. I learned that it takes at least 2 weeks before your parts are made unless you wanted to pay an expedited cost. During the time that I was waiting for my parts I also ordered parts from both Misumi, McMaster-Carr, SMC and Automation Direct. I then began programming the ladder logic that would be used to control the pneumatics and indicator Lamps.
At the end I had my mechanical parts come in the Friday that I was suppose to leave so I extended my internship another week so that I could finish the project. I assembled almost everything then found out that I had made a couple of errors in my drawings that mainly had to do with the tolerance fits. I learned that if it doesn't need to be a tight fit have the machine shop cut more or else you will be doing the menial intern task of filing (Get the joke?).
The next week more things came in and the entire mechanical assembly was complete. The controller was the last to come in and stopped progress for a day or two. I programmed the controller and connected all of the electrical components. After testing, I learned I had overlooked that the pneumatic booster valve did not automatically relief.
After spending the night thinking the night before the last day I figured out a way to solve the problem using another valve on the output side of booster. Luckily it worked.
I really learned a lot from this project that would be impossible to learn in class. Here are a few key ones laid out"
1. Lead times are bottlenecks: Bother everyone for your parts until they come in or they won't.
2. Triple check drawings: Check drawings a lot especially after you make a modification to the part.
3. Prepare for design review: This one is obvious but having a set of questions helps move things a long and can avoid different things from being overlooked like the booster problem.
4. Learn to draw wiring diagrams: To help maintenance technicians create a wiring diagram. I am a mechanical engineer but I should be able to make an industry acceptable wiring diagram with proper labels.
5. Lead times are bottlenecks: Oh did I say this one twice? It was really a drag to not be in control of your project.
6. Things are expensive: Yes, I could probably make most of the parts in the machine shop myself but it would take much longer, and probably not come out looking as nice. We pay skilled machinists to do this for a reason.
7. Plan for failure: No, I don't mean complete failure but temporary failure. My supervisor Elson constantly told me that most machines don't work the first time around and have to be debugged. I thought I had everything figured out for this simple fixture but again, overlooked the booster. Thinking ahead is always good but giving yourself time to fix problems is useful especially in my case where I was literally finishing it on the last day and could not enjoy my surprise sushi party (Thank you Gordon).
Yes, I know this post is quite wordy and more of rushed explanation of my main project but really I wanted to give you insight on what I've learned as an engineer. I don't know of any other interns who were able to design their own safety fixture. It was my first fixture and yes, there is definitely room for improvement in the design but I am proud to say I successfully completed the design and look forward to designing more machines and fixtures.