Skip to content Skip to navigation
See our Campus Ready site for the most up to date information about instruction.Campus ReadyCOVID Help
School of Engineering

2016 Fall Capstone Projects

Innovate to Grow - Fall 2016

Check out Event Program & Presentation Schedule


(Note: No Teams #1 or #4) 

Team 2.     Olam:   New Mound Conveying System - Lemoore, CA

Project Background:

A new layout to the current flume system is being considered that involves placing the station where tomatoes are unloaded on a mound (hill). This will replace our elevator feed system to one that is gravity fed. Due to this gravity conveying system and volume of product that is processed, controlling flow rates in the flume system is essential. In addition, the flume system should be designed to prevent material other than tomato (MOT) from entering the product lines, which is a current issue at the plant.

Project Objective:

Design a flume system with controllable flow rates while utilizing gravity as an advantage. Since water is the conveying medium, fluid mechanics of water recycling must also be considered.  

Flume system should also have a method of removing MOT such as rocks, sand, vines, and crop stalks.

Team 3.     Olam:  Tomato Harvester Improvements - Williams and Lemoore, CA

Project Background:

Tomato harvesting is a mechanically driven operation where a harvester digs into dirt and cuts the vines. What is dug then goes through a set of tumblers to loosen and remove dirt, rocks, and vines. A vacuum is also put in place to aspirate light vines and dirt in order for tomato to finally be conveyed to a belt. The tomato then passes through a set of color sorters and the purpose of these color sorters are to remove MOT in order to have only tomato make it to the tomato trucks. Although it does remove a fraction of the MOT there is still a percentage that makes it through to the truck and inevitably to the plant which damages equipment.

Project Objective:

Investigate and modify current harvester design to reduce the amount of MOT being loaded to the tomato trucks.

Team 5.     Bowles Farming: Remote Sensing

Project Background:

Bowles Farming Company (BFCo) is currently pursuing the development of a commercial composting site that will provide the farm with well-developed compost from Green Waste and other waste streams in the region.

Project Description/Objective:

In order to develop high quality compost there are some key metrics that must be closely monitored and controlled. BFCo is looking for help in developing a compost sensor that will measure those metrics and fulfill the following requirements.

  1. Sense and report in real time, or in incremental time periods not to exceed 5 minutes.
  2. Sensors will need to be located as much as 5ft into a compost windrow.
  3. Sensors must have simple calibration and be capable of being frequently installed and removed from the compost windrow.
  4. Sensors will need to transmit signal at least ½ mile.
  5. Sensors will need to accurately sense the following:
    • Temperature
    • Moisture Content
    • CO2 Content

Team 6.     Bowles Farming: The Perfect Mix

Project Background:

Bowles Farming Company (BFCo) is committed to conserving the land we farm for generations to come. Regenerative practices such as cover cropping and the use of compost are both practices that can help promote the long term health and productivity of our soils. BFCo is interested in exploring full scale composting operations as a means to create a stable and cost effective way of providing the long term nutrient needs of the farm’s soil.

The greatest challenges we face are related to the input materials for the composting operation. Finding reliable sources for input materials can be challenging. BFCo has developed relationships with a number of potential source providers and is committed to using winter cover crops as a carbon source for composting operations. BFCo needs help creating optimal blends of source materials to best improve the needs of our farm’s soil. While selling compost on the commercial market is a part of the greater business plan, the priority and primary focus is creating optimal blends for our farm’s soils specifically.

While the economics of sourcing materials are variable that must be considered in the selection of source materials, the Green House Gas (GHG) Foot Print also must be considered. BFCo wants to ensure that its operations are conducive to long term environmental stewardship.

Project Description/Objective:

BFCo is seeking help in finding the solutions related to:

1. Optimum Blends of Available Source Materials

  • We believe that a strategy of aggregating the farm’s soils into three categories and then creating an optimal blend for each category would be an excellent starting point.

2. Optimum GHG Emissions

  • b. Transportation emissions, spreading emissions, processing emissions, windrow emissions, stock pile emissions (Pre & post), in field emissions.

3. Optimum Economics.

  • c. Total cost/yard of final product cheaper than current cost to BFCo (Ideally a significant reduction in cost.)

Team 7.     Development of a smartphone-based spectrophotometer for SRM analysis of beer     

Project Background:

The invention of the smartphone has fundamentally changed the way our society functions. We carry around miniaturized computers in our pockets that possess more computing power than the guidance systems for the Apollo 11 space shuttle. This opens up a massive opportunity to harness the computing power and form factor of the smart phone for applications that span all areas of science, technology and medicine. Instead of using these incredible devices to just surf social media and watch cat videos, your project will be to re-create a typical laboratory spectrophotometer using the smartphone as the detection and analysis apparatus for the device. This project will require a truly collaborative effort as the project spans multiple areas of science and engineering.

For this project, you will need to design and build a smartphone-based spectrophotometer to measure the color intensity of beer (also known as the Standard Reference Method or SRM). The American Society of Brewing Chemists (ASBC) have set standards for SRM values of different styles of beers. Brewers must conform to the SRM standard (one of many brewing standards) if they are interested in producing a particular style of beer.  Color intensity, or SRM measurements, are a quick and easy measure of the quality of the batch; if the color of a given style of beer is off, you can bet that something went awry during the production of the batch. Beer quality measurements that can be made accurately and with low implementation and maintenance costs are extremely important and beneficial to any sized brewery!

Project Description/Objective:

Design a smartphone-based spectrophotometer to determine the SRM of samples of beer. High-level goals for the device are as follows:

  • Portability: small form factor devices can be taken or installed anywhere
  • Repeatability: device should provide consistent results
  • Accurate: device should be accurate to within appropriate specifications based on the application
  • Ease of Use:  measurements should be easy to take and results easy to obtain

The project will include:

  • Electronics design (electrical engineering)
  • Optical design and alignment (optical engineering)
  • Mechanical design (mechanical engineering)
  • App and algorithm development (software engineering)
  • System-level design and integration (systems engineering)

Students will learn and become familiar with:

  • Fundamentals of optics, electronics, mechanical design, algorithm development and app development
  • Systems-level design, development and integration
  • Requirements-driven design and development
  • Design Verification and Validation testing

[1st Place Winners] Team 8.     La-Z-Boy:    MAW Carts improvements

Mentor/Sponsor:  Michael Del Valle, La-Z-Boy

Project Background:

In 1928 the first recliner was born and a legendary company was founded on the principals of comfort, innovation, and industry-leading craftsmanship. These principals still hold true today and are at the heart of everything we do. From gorgeous stationary furnishings to the iconic recliner, you can count on quality with the La-Z-Boy name. Let us help transform your house into a home.

La-Z-Boy prides itself in making a sound product made and assembled in the USA and values the health and safety of their employees. Extending the motto “Live Life Comfortably” from the living room to the workplace is constantly a goal La-Z-Boy strives to accomplish. Some areas which are of attention to accomplishing this goal are as followed:

Project Description/Objective:

Currently, La-Z-Boy’s cellular manufacturing utilizes MAW (Mobile Assembly Workstation) carts which are used nationwide by La-Z-Boy’s five divisional facilities. Constructed of squared structural members, poly-ethylene surfaces and caster wheels the carts are quite large in size and heavy in weight. The MAW carts are set-up in a series of five or seven depending on the style of chairs being constructed in the cell. The current guiding systems for these MAW Carts are angled iron rails bolted to the ground in a square fashion surrounding the carts, which must then be pushed by the employees so that the unit can be worked on from station-to-station. Once loaded with the various components that comprise the product, the cart gains a significant amount of weight which must still be pushed alongside the guiding rails for the product to be constructed until it reaches the final assembly/inspection station. The additional weight has led to frequent lower back injuries associated with the torsion necessary to move the cart cross the bodies of the operators. Additionally due to the nature of swivel caster wheels, once the cart gets to a corner the operator must exert more force than necessary to ensure the wheels turn and move into position. Our challenge to the students is to construct a system which will allow the heavy carts to move easily within the geometric constraints of the bolted railings in both directions with minimal user input. These employees are compensated via piecework incentives-- so time is money!

Team 9.     CITRIS:   Mobile Charging Station Kiosk

Mentor/Sponsor:  Stefano Foresti, CITRIS

Project background: 

One of the greatest problem on the UC Merced campus is the lack of available charging ports for electronic devices.  This can be seen primarily in the Kolligian Library where students often have to search for outlets to charge their devices.  One possible solution to this problem would be to implement a mobile charging station kiosk to allow students to charge their various mobile devices.  Another goal of this project is to promote CITRIS to the UC Merced campus using its logo.  In order to keep in mind with the mission of CITRIS, the Kiosk will be self-sustained through the use of solar panels.   This project is in Phase 2, building on the initial demo and equipment collected from the Capstone project in the Spring.

The purpose of this project is to make a self-sustaining mobile charging station.  While other such charging stations exist commercially, none provide all of the desired features.  An in house solution would be able to provide all of the required features while providing close control over unit costs.  Some of the objectives are as follows:

  • provide a reliable source of energy for students to recharge their devices during all school hours
  • provide an easily accessible, yet secure environment

At Innovate to Grow, a preliminary design with CAD the kiosk and some components were demonstrated, but not integrated due to time constraints:

  • Functional user interface that allows for selection of lockers using CatCard identification.
  • Acrylic locker demo featuring solenoid lockers.
  • Functional battery and inverter system powering the demo.
  • 3D printed model of a possible locker design.

Project Description/ Objective:

The overall goal is to complete of a full featured prototype of mobile charging kiosk, using a structure consisting of the locker assembly and sun shade, which can be implemented by the end of the Fall Semester.

While the project was not completed by spring of 2016, it did provide insight into the direction.  Requirements and features for the Fall semester project include:

  • Determine methods to reduce overall weight of the structure.
  • Utilize the electrical components from the previous phase (inverters, batteries, panels, charge controllers, displays … totaling several thousands of dollars) so that the additional equipment required is minimal.
  • Improved user interface that would include a name to every locker.
  • Further research and address student concerns over locker security.
  • Determine a process by which one would retrieve forgotten electronics.
  • Provide a management tree that will give an overview of required maintenance and operation procedure.
  • Determine how locker error can be managed and what systems can be implemented to remedy this.
  • Design with the intent of withstanding the most extreme weather conditions in Merced.
  • Implement a system by which the kiosk can be moved easily while retaining security.

[2nd Place] Team 10.  UC Merced Vivarium:   Mouse Mating and Density Study

Mentor/Sponsor:    Roy Hoglund                               

Project background: 

The Department of Animal Research Services (DARS) would like to monitor waste gas (ammonia, CO2) and thermal load levels for all cages in a ventilated caging system in real time.

Mating mice in trios allows faculty researchers to produce twice the number of mice using half the number of cages allowing research to proceed at a faster rate at a lower cost. Changing rodent cages less frequently is more cost efficient both in terms of technician time and utilities costs. However, as cage change frequency is pushed out longer and as cage density increases waste gas and thermal load levels may reach an unhealthy state.

With a sensor to monitor rodent cage waste gas and thermal load levels, DARS would be able to adjust husbandry practices to be more cost effective while still providing appropriate animal welfare.

Project description:

Cage density and trio mating: Trio mating (1M and 2F) of mice for biomedical research has been a popular breeding scheme used for decades.

The eighth edition of the “Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals” (the Guide) has new minimum space recommendations for commonly used rodents housed in groups, females with litters.

The Guide states:

Space allocations should be assessed, reviewed, and modified as necessary by the IACUC considering the performance indices (e.g., health, reproduction, growth, behavior, activity, and use of space) and special needs determined by the characteristics of the animal strain or species (e.g., obese, hyperactive, or arboreal animals) and experimental use (e.g., animals in long-term studies may require greater and more complex space).

Female + litter – 51 sq” floor area recommended space for the housing group

Other breeding configurations may require more space and will depend on considerations such as number of adults and litters, and size and age of litters.

Other considerations may include culling of litters or separation of litters from the breeding group, as well as other methods of more intensive management of available space to allow for the safety and well-being of the breeding group. Sufficient space should be allocated for mothers with litters to allow the pups to develop to weaning without detrimental effects for the mother or the litter.

Cage change frequency:  With the invention and utilization of Individually Ventilated Caging Systems cage change frequency has been pushed from one week to two weeks routinely industry wide.

The Guide states:

Soiled bedding should be removed and replaced with fresh materials as often as necessary to keep the animals clean and dry and to keep pollutants, such as ammonia, at a concentration below levels irritating to mucous membranes.

There is no absolute minimal frequency of bedding changes; the choice is a matter of professional judgment and consultation between the investigator and animal care personnel. It typically varies from daily to weekly.

In general, enclosures and accessories, such as tops, should be sanitized at least once every 2 weeks. Solid-bottom caging, bottles, and sipper tubes usually require sanitation at least once a week.

Some types of cages and housing systems may require less frequent cleaning or disinfection; such housing may include large cages with very low animal density and frequent bedding changes, cages containing animals in gnotobiotic conditions with frequent bedding changes, individually ventilated cages, and cages used for special situations.

The increased use of individually ventilated cages (IVCs) for rodents has led to investigations of the maintenance of a suitable microenvironment with extended cage sanitation intervals and/or increased housing densities.

By design, ventilated caging systems provide direct continuous exchange of air, compared to static caging systems that depend on passive ventilation from the macroenvironment. As noted above, decreased sanitation frequency may be justified if the microenvironment in the cages, under the conditions of use (e.g., cage type and manufacturer, bedding, species, strain, age, sex, density, and experimental considerations), is not compromised. Verification of microenvironmental conditions may include measurement of pollutants such as ammonia and CO2, microbiologic load, observation of the animals’ behavior and appearance, and the condition of bedding and cage surfaces.

Team 11.  Merced County Landfill:    Generation of Energy from Landfill Bio-gas

Mentor/Sponsor:    Zuhair Mased

Project Background:

In order for UC Merced to achieve its net zero greenhouse gas goal by 2020, it is essential for campus to discontinue use of natural gas and obtain an alternative energy source.  UC Merced has provided a letter of interest to the Merced County Landfill regarding the potential to utilize their landfill gas as an energy source for campus.   

Project Description/Objectives:

A capstone project would be helpful in determining the feasibility for campus to undertake such a project.  Some initial research questions that would be helpful to address include:

  • How much gas can a landfill generate based on its size?
  • Which energy approach is least environmentally detrimental: natural gas or biogas?  Incorporate different combustion methods in evaluation.  

Research, develop and design solutions for Line 14 to reduce line change over times by 10% thus optimizing production of case throughput. The design(s) should include a complete cost estimate for implementation and safety and risk implications documented. This will be a great project for engineers interested in machine design, 3D printing, cad drafting, data analysis and manufacturing experience.

Team 12.  UC Merced Facilities:   Transportation of Bio-gas or Energy from Landfill to Point of Use

Mentor/Sponsor:    Zuhair Mased

Project Background:

In order for UC Merced to achieve its net zero greenhouse gas goal by 2020, it is essential for campus to discontinue use of natural gas and obtain an alternative energy source.  UC Merced has provided a letter of interest to the Merced County Landfill regarding the potential to utilize their landfill gas as an energy source for campus.   

Project Description/Objectives:

The objective of this project is to perform a study that would help determine the feasibility for campus to undertake such a project.    The initial questions to address include:   the best method to transport energy generated from the RWA Regional Waste Authority (RWA) landfill (Merced Landfill) to UC Merced.  Is it more cost-effective to transport bio-gas to Campus and transform it there?   Or to produce energy at the Landfill and transport it to Campus?  And in what form:  electricity, water, steam, …?   What are the pros and cons?

The objective of the project is evaluate the feasibility of using the Biogas from the landfill to replace the natural gas on campus and produce electricity.  Constraints includes:

  • the campus electricity and hot water needs
  • amount of available biogas from the landfill, and potential energy produced
  • amount of natural gas or energy needed for the existing systems and 2020 projects
  • the distance Landfill – Campus point of use
  • MMBTU of biogas compared to natural gas
  • sizing of the system and piping
  • does existing boilers accept biogas or not
  • compare the cost of such endeavor by including all associated costs

Team 13.   UC Merced Stem Cell Instrumentation Foundry (SCIF): Cell Sorting Collection Device Improvements

Mentor/Sponsor: David Gravano, Assistant Project Scientist, SCIF

Project Background:

Fluorescence Activated Cell Sorting (FACS) is a technique to separate heterogeneous cells in liquid suspension into purified populations based on fluorescent labeling. It often utilizes differences in cell surface protein expression to determine cellular populations of interest. FACS has become a widely used

technique in the past several decades and is increasing in popularity due to the single cell, high throughput data generated, and the ability to sort live cells for downstream functional assays, such as injection into animals.   In the SCIF core facility at UC Merced we have two FACS instruments capable of sorting cells. Cells are sorted into various collection vessels, such as 15ml tubes, 1.5ml tubes, and even onto 96‐well plates.  Our cell sorters are manufactured by Becton Dickinson (BD) Biosciences, the company that first commercialized flow cytometry instruments, and continues to be a leading company in new instrument development and applications.

One limitation that many core facilities that house FACS instruments have realized is that BD only sells limited collection tube holders. This does not allow for the flexibility to efficiently handle the various sort requests by labs on campus. For example, the largest commercially available tube holder can handle two 15ml tubes. Researchers sorting large quantities of cells often have to go through many collection tubes and would benefit from a tube holder that could accommodate 50ml tubes. A second limitation of current collection tube holders concerns cellular viability. The fluid that runs through the instrument is phosphate buffered saline, which does not contain proteins, such as growth factors, to keep live cells happy. In order to keep cells viable after the sorting process, investigators will often place a small amount of nutrient rich media or animal serum in the bottom of their sort collection tube. However, there is currently no mechanism to agitate the collection tubes to ensure mixing of the sorted cells with the nutrient rich media placed in the collection tube. What occurs is a layering of cells in saline on top of the nutrient rich media. With sorts often lasting hours, this insufficient mixing will affect cellular viability as cells cannot receive the necessary nutrients. Thus, it would be beneficial to have a mechanism to agitate the collection tube.

Project Description/Objectives:

In addressing the problems with sort collection devices students will learn the principles of flow cytometry and cells sorting. There are two separate objectives for this project. First, obtain faculty input on the collection device formats that they would benefit from and generate novel water‐cooled collection devices to meet their requests. Second, generate a mechanism to mix the samples in the collection tube holders and perform analysis of cellular viability on sorted cells to assess improvement over current design.

Team 14.   UC Merced ME: Custom Test Rig for Measuring Particle Counts in Oils

Mentor/Sponsor: Dr. Ashlie Martini

Project Background:

Oils are used as lubricants and hydraulic fluids in a variety of applications. The function of these oils can be hindered by the presence of contaminants or other particles. Contamination is measured and characterized using optical particle counters. However, some oil additives, chemicals that are used to enhance the performance of the base oil, can be identified by these particle counters as contaminants. One means of addressing this issue is to tune the base oil – additive blending process such that the resultant additive particles are too small to be detected. However, there are many challenges associated with this approach, which require further study.

Project Objective:

The goal of this project is to design and build a test rig capable of circulating a base oil – additive blended fluid while recording particle counts. The design must be small enough to fit on a laboratory bench top, require relatively small volumes of oil (less than half gallon), and, most importantly, should not further blend the additive into the oil during the circulation process.

[3rd Place] Team 15.  UC Merced Blum Center: Solar Thermal Collectors

Mentor/Sponsor: Jason Vogel

Project Background:

Gateway Gardens serves UC Merced by catering on-campus and downtown. The banquet hall also hosts numerous dances, conferences and other events for UCM and the city community. As restaurants use a lot of energy, 2.5 times other commercial buildings on average, they have been identified by California as a priority for conservation and solar production. As UCM has a net zero goal, Gateway Gardens offers an opportunity to help meet that goal in a wider sense.  Further, Gateway is a willing partner for Capstone solar energy projects.  

Project Description/Objective:

A Capstone Team is sought as partner to use Gateway Gardens’ fully exposed, 2,000 sq.ft. Rooftop to establish a solar system to power the facility’s air conditioning and refrigeration equipment.  While photovoltaic systems have made significant inroads in the state, Solar Thermal Collectors offer promising new opportunities for running air conditioning, which could revolutionize energy savings in the hot, Central Valley and throughout the Southern United States.