November 2014

  • TeslaBalloon Powered Vehicle

    November 20, 2014
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    As I made my way around the aircraft perched in front of McDonnell Douglas Hall, my eyes rose to a crowd of about forty students, faculty members, and guests crowded around a gleaming beacon of childhood dreams. It made me stop for a moment and take in how special this vantage point was. The contrast of the old prop aircraft and the shiny new Tesla showed how far we have come. The imagination and drive of those who brought both of these vehicles into existence is the same passion I share with many of my colleagues in our pursuit of a goal that started as a dream. I approached today’s challenge with a level of inspiration unrivaled by any other time I ventured into the rotunda for this weekly opportunity. As inspired as I felt at that moment, I was quickly brought back to earth as the judges silenced the crowd to announce the mission of the hour. Instantly, the moment turned into an opportunity to take this creative stimulation and transform it into an unparalleled learning opportunity.

    In just a few minutes I grabbed the first few strangers I could find and we formed a team. Teamwork is an incredibly challenging endeavor even in the most well oiled partnerships. A gang of strangers certainly made the lesson of teamwork an important one to learn. We began spitting out ideas as to how we could make a balloon propel a vehicle made of classroom crafts over a distance of five feet. It became a lesson in trust about whose idea to pursue. Creating a vehicle with people operating on totally different wavelengths of thought created an opportunity to establish an efficient method of communication. We had to be straightforward with each other, even to the point of sounding harsh, in order to mesh our thoughts into one cohesive device. Eventually, after a variety of modifications, our team developed a vehicle all of us felt happy with.

    It took us on a roller coaster ride of ideas that could hardly be expressed in words. We had to exhaust all methods of communication we had at our disposal. From “back of the envelope” hand sketches to wild contraptions held together at our fingertips, we tried to convince one another why our idea was the best for this undertaking. Eventually, we carefully threw together a prototype that, at the very least, provided some aesthetic reward, seeing as the vehicle would be judged on its looks as well as function. This quickly honed contraption went through about fifteen modifications that the entire team felt would better the craft. It took a level of communication that you would be hard pressed to find anywhere else. We were concerned about accomplishing a task and we rode our communication skills through to the end. We would have never finished the task had we not learned how to compromise and work constructively toward our goals.

    I could point to at least a dozen instances where I felt my idea was the best but had to open up to alternatives because it proved best for the team. The variety of vehicles entered into the competition encapsulated the diversity of solutions to this one challenge. After I took a few moments to listen to my teammates, I realized that they had ideas that were just as good, if not better than my own. I had to realize that none of us were experts on alternative transportation and our innocence led us to obscene ideas as well as brilliant solutions. We eventually did communicate well enough with a high level of open mindedness to accomplish the mission within the time constraint.

    I left this challenge with an abundant list of learning points and places I need to improve. Our team finished the task, but unfortunately did not take first place in the competition. However, this does not mean it was a fruitless endeavor for us. We learned so much about how to communicate and work effectively with strangers. There are very few things I would have changed about our approach to the mission. We went in with a plan and felt confident in our design. It just shows the abundance of talent we have here at SLU. This competition provides us with an avenue to advance our talents to a level we may not be able to reach in the classroom. I learned so much about myself and about my classmates today and I will carry those lessons proudly into my future endeavors. 

    Winning Reflection - Paul Madsen

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  • VSM Abrasives Challenge

    November 13, 2014
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    In today’s challenge, we had to the privilege of working on a project that would have direct impact on a company!  Two managers from VSM Abrasives came to explain a process in facilitating their business in which they would like to save time.  They showed an 11-12 minute video clip of the loading, cutting, and finishing process of abrasive rolls.  The company was interested in saving money in order to keep up with pay increases and maintain product cost.  They estimated that they needed to save about 3% on cost, mainly through more efficient use of work time.  Our task was to create a sales pitch for an idea that would make either the loading, cutting, or finishing process of prepared abrasive orders for customers more efficient.

    Immediately I thought of an idea that could help save time in the loading process!  Before I could share the idea, someone in my group came up with the same idea.  We could save time by making some sort of rack that could help load the rolls onto the machine faster.  The method VSM is currently using requires a worker to use a loop connected to a pulley in order to transfer horizontally aligned abrasive rolls onto a vertical mount on the cutting machine.  We decided to have an individual loading rack for each roll that was the same height as the mount on the cutting machine.  That way the worker could just slide the rolls on the mount.  In addition, we suggested having a magnetic tip on the roll rack to help line up the two poles more efficiently.  We felt that if we could avoid having to invert the abrasive roll and line up the hole with the mount, we could save up to a minute per job.  That doesn’t sound like a lot of time saved at first glance, but seeing that they perform around 50 roll changes per day on each of the four cutting machines, those minutes add up to a couple of hours utilized more efficiently!

    Another teammate had the idea to have a ruler embedded on the cutting table to avoid having to use tape measure.  That would save an additional few seconds per order.  With these ideas, we were ready to make our pitch!  I felt confident after our meeting with the company executives.  They genuinely seemed to enjoy our ideas!  Unfortunately, other teams had similar ideas as well.  One important issue that we overlooked that the winning team addressed is that there is only a limited amount of space in the warehouse.  I learned in this challenge that many people may have the same idea to solve a problem, but true innovation comes when you refine that idea to solve the major problem and take into consideration the minor problems that can arise as well. 

    Winning Reflection - Michael Hankins

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  • Logo's Hidden Message Challenge

    November 6, 2014
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    Today’s challenge was one of my favorites. To me, it encompassed many aspects of innovation where it challenged the way we think of what we see around us everyday as well as enriching teamwork.  It was surprising to see the different, yet interesting, hidden messages in different logos. Although I was familiar with some of the logos and their messages, there were many that I had not realized embedded a message. As the intended learning objectives stated: spark curiosity by observing, effective team communication and keep an open mind, I think my team achieved all of those aspects, and more importantly, we had a fun experience doing that. For example, when a particular logo was presented, we immediately observed and identified it as much as we could. Under the time limit of 30 seconds to 3 minutes, we focused on thinking about the company, its background, and its mission to try to identify what their logo entailed. The time limit was different for each question, some more difficult than others. There were some that were more trivial and we immediately recognized them; needless to say we loved those easy ones. However, those easy ones did not come often, the more challenging ones required more critical thinking and team collaboration in the attempt to reveal its secret message. There were some logos we had to face with where neither of us had any clue of either the logo or the company. Problems like this made us think harder and kept an open mind to try to solve the open-ended questions.

    My team consisted of two other teammates whom I’ve never worked with before. However, we did not have any problem communicating and collaborating with each other. We had a common goal which was to solve the problems at hand. Through that goal, we worked closely together, communicated ideas and thoughts to generate solutions to stay competitive in the challenge. The results were rewarding, we achieved many correct answers, we learned how to work in an impromptu situation, and more importantly, we enjoyed the experience of doing so. It was a great challenge and I am looking forward to more fun and exciting challenges in the coming weeks. Thank you!

    Winning Reflection - Aaron Phu

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