Pick up sticks – engineering style

24 October 2014

Enginerring design team

Winning team:  Winning team from left Gordon Jackson, Ben Plumtree, Mark Edwards and Nate Ryan.

Picking commercial pine tree seedlings is about to get a whole lot easier thanks to a class of engineering students from the University of Waikato.

As part of a third-year mechanical engineering design paper, 10 teams of students were each asked to create a prototype that could collect nine metal pins along a track, then reverse and drop the pins in a box at the end. The process is designed to emulate the act of picking pine tree seedlings.

The winning team’s prototype collected and deposited the most pins in the fastest time. The inventions were tested at the Carter Holt Harvey Pulp & Paper Engineering Design Show earlier this week.

Winning team

The winners on the day were Gordon Jackson (Paeroa College), Ben Plumtree (Hawera High School), Nate Ryan and Mark Edwards (St John’s College Hamilton) with their vehicle named Zeus, which stood out for its speed and accuracy.

“We think our success was down to utilising the electrical circuits to allow maximum voltage through each motor,” says team member Mark Edwards.  

From start to finish

Course lecturer Associate Professor Mike Duke says the project is a great way for the students to work on something from start to finish. “It’s their first chance to experience the development of a functioning machine right from concept, to design and build.”

The project is part of a much wider research collaboration with tree improvement and treestock production business ArborGen Australasia. Last year students worked on prototypes that could distribute one pine tree seed in each compartment of a seedling tray in the shortest time. In addition Assoc Prof Duke’s research team completed a Dibbler machine which plants seedlings so that they grow straight.

“Picking the seedlings in a mechanised way is just another step in our research project. For the students we simply asked them to make machines that could collect seedlings, but what we’re working on at a higher level is creating a prototype which uses machine vision systems to grade the seedlings as it collects them.”

Engineering Design Show

The Carter Holt Harvey Pulp & Paper Engineering Design Show ran from 21-22 October and gave Waikato University engineering students from years two, three and four the opportunity to showcase their prototypes, posters and design projects.

The event was sponsored by Carter Holt Harvey Pulp & Paper, PDV Consultants, the Institute for Professional Engineers New Zealand (IPENZ) Waikato/Bay of Plenty Branch, the University of Waikato’s School of Engineering, SENZ (the student division of IPENZ), Tetra Pak, Gallagher Group, MEG (Mechanical Engineering Group) and Coupland’s Bakeries.

View photos from this event.

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