First-year engineering design project makes the grade

March 26, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Around the globe, railroad transportation remains an important way to transfer passengers and goods from one location to another. But railroad standards relating to governing body requirements, axle-weight limits and Critical to Quality (CTQ) customer requirements across regions throughout the world are not consistent.

Locomotive requirements and designs relate directly to infrastructure capabilities, government regulations, operations and the environmental conditions of a country. Though the United States has a common set of requirements for the large Class 1 railroads, this isn’t the case in regions in Asia, Africa, South America and Australia.

To solve this problem, Wabtec Corporation has asked first-year engineering students at Penn State to design a regional lightweight locomotive system that can be sold across multiple regions in order to expand the company’s global reach.

“This market is comprised of small individual markets with vast requirements differences, making it challenging to develop a viable product that can meet the needs of multiple countries and customers without redesign,” Frank Dolski, global engineering operations manager at Wabtec, said. “The combination of small markets equates to a large opportunity and the company that can design a product that can serve the overall market will generate tremendous sales and profit growth.”

Because Wabtec’s product management team aims to establish a product family for regions around the world, in order to meet regional needs, student teams’ designs may focus on a variety of locomotive system needs. Concepts may include a power source, a lightweight cab structure, the electronic system and related packaging for power transmission, operator cab design and infrastructure system designs such as fueling stations or charging stations.  

“Wabtec wants to expose students to real-world problems. The lightweight locomotive market represents a real opportunity for Wabtec to grow our business; however, there are many technical challenges that need to be overcome first,” Dolski said. “At the same time, this is a very global market and we want students to get a glimpse of what it is like to seek out, interpret and summarize requirements that originate from different sources.”

Regions to design for include central Asia, southeast Asia, Africa, South America, Australia and New Zealand, and Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Designs must meet all relevant regulatory, axle-weight limit and CTQ requirements for a team’s selected region. Teams must complete extensive market research of the chosen region in order to submit a comprehensive design concept, highlighting how critical it is to understand customer desires and capabilities.

“Having a solid background of market research can assist in the launch of a 'product family,' which enables a business to leverage common design for multiple customers,” Jamie Nevel, lead locomotive proposals engineer at Wabtec, said. “This helps to drive down development costs and provide standardization, which benefits the production costs, as well as the servicing aspect for the lifecycle of the product.”

Final project deliverables include a system design concept that addresses customer needs and requirements for the selected region, complete with an exploration of the region, infrastructure capabilities and needs; environmental considerations and analysis; economic viability of the system; and CAD drawings. A prototype of a component of the system or the overall system must also be created. Student teams are encouraged to consider unique alternatives to traditional locomotive power sources, materials and manufacturing methods for their project, aligning with Wabtec’s drive to “always innovate and lead the industry.”

“Our products contain cutting-edge technology and we require the best engineers to sustain the innovation and growth required to solve our customers’ toughest transportation challenges,” Dolski said. “We rely on a strong pipeline of talent coming out of the university system to be our next generation of technology leaders.”

It’s providing this pipeline of future engineering leaders with additional education and experience that sparks Wabtec’s interest in interacting with engineering students early in their education.

“The goal is to open the eyes of all engineers to the problems that an industry faces and the global impacts of those solutions. Leveraging the ability to engage students with a problem our industry is currently facing is a great way to generate new, bright ideas,” Nevel said.

Dolski agreed, stating Wabtec believes practical application reinforces engineering fundamentals for students in a way traditional coursework may not.

“Having the opportunity to provide students with real problems forces them to think outside of the box and gain an understanding of the types of problems they may be challenged with during their careers,” he said. “We want to play our part in ensuring that tomorrow’s engineering leaders are well-prepared to innovate and make an impact on the world.”

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Last Updated March 28, 2019