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Alec Bialek

Student’s Enthusiasm for R2D2 Translates into Munich Internship

Oct 15, 2018


On the Cal Poly campus, Alec Bialek is widely recognized for the fully functional R2D2 droid that he’s been building and fine-tuning since his arrival here in 2012.

He’s also a familiar presence in Cal Poly’s machine shops — not only for the more than 3,000 hours of shop time he’s logged on his own projects, but in his roles as senior shop technician, lab maintenance supervisor and safety supervisor. Bialek is involved with more than seven Cal Poly Engineering labs and shops, from Mustang ’60 Machine Shop to the Mechanical Engineering Fluids Lab.

The R2D2 replica has regularly taken its creator off campus — Bialek deploys the droid as an engineering outreach tool in area schools and special events.

More recently, however, the droid even had a hand in taking him to Munich, where Bialek landed a six-month internship as an engine calibration engineer at the BMW Group.

“I was surprised at how seemingly casual the interview was and how quickly I was hired,” recalled Bialek. “My boss later told me that, among other factors, it was seeing my work on R2D2 that made them feel ‘he speaks our language.’”

Not that there weren’t language difficulties to overcome.

“I was part of a 25-person team where I knew no German and few others could speak English to any degree. It was an intense exercise in language immersion. Even to execute basic mathematical functions – addition, subtraction, division – I had to learn the German equivalent shortcuts in Excel – but, over time, I gained an adequate working proficiency, which was quite a meaningful accomplishment.”

 Bialek arrived on the job when the B58 engine, used in BMW’s 2016 340i model among others, was in the late development phase.

“Much of the work at that point was testing for bugs – and they do so exhaustively. They take perfectionism to a whole new level,” he said.

Bialek’s duties included work on next-generation inline 4- and 6-cylinder engines, including dynamometer calibration and engine control unit (ECU) mapping; extensive in-car testing for ignition, knock, exhaust gas temperature and boost control, as well as drivability and transmission interfacing.

“Driving these cars in excess of 150 mph was an extraordinary experience,” he said.

Although the company culture there is casual in terms of dress and camaraderie, the mindset is extremely detailed oriented.

“It was my kind of culture in many ways. Highly perfectionistic, and I liked how anyone and everyone on the team could speak and critique – fully and frankly – regardless of age, rank or experience. There was no beating around the bush, which resulted in no hard feelings because it was all about identifying and solving problems.”

“I’m a firm believer that the more you do outside of school, the better you are for it — and this was the coolest six months of my life.”

Bialek is currently completing his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and plans to find a job at a small company focusing on high performance automotive design.

Cal Poly Racing

Winning Formula

Oct 15, 2018


Cal Poly Racing marked its 65th anniversary as a club this year with renewed vim, vigor and vroom — and a new formula for car sharing as it applies to manufacturing.

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) student chapter is rooted in mechanical engineering know-how — and then some. With more than 60 members, the club reflects a broad spectrum of interests ranging from a variety of engineering disciplines to agriculture, business and the arts. It encompasses three SAE teams: Formula Combustion, Formula Electric and Mini Baja.

“We are the only team in California to have three running cars,” said Kathryn Webb, chapter president. “We design, manufacture and test everything from the ground up.”

A major innovation this year was to adapt a principle used by major car companies — platform sharing — for the club’s two Formula race cars. Working throughout the winter, the teams developed a single merged platform as the base for building both the combustion and electric vehicles. When completed, the vehicles shared the same front chassis but sported different rear subframes. The suspension, steering, brakes, ergonomics, aerodynamic and drivetrain were all on the same platform with minor configuration differences.

“Building two cars on the same platform is no small engineering feat,” said Webb. “The purpose was to reduce cost, enable us to build faster and give us more time for design considerations and other improvements. We feel the merger was a success and paves the way for more success in future years.”

The club’s best race in the national SAE collegiate competitions this year in was the Formula Combustion competition where they placed first in efficiency and were ranked the second-fastest U.S. car.

“We had an amazing Baja car this year, and would have been in the top 10 if not for a minor mishap resulting in a 20th place finish — but not before we posted the fastest lap time in the competition and saw how well the car performed overall. Next year our goal is to be in the top three,” said Webb.

“All of us mechanical engineering members are extremely passionate about what we’re doing. Our time in the shops is where we take off — attaching material learned in the classroom to real life. We get to apply what we’re learning in dynamics and thermal design to cars. What’s better than that?”

Other club officers include Junior Gonzalez, vice president; Dan Ash, events director; Toby Shirts, treasurer; David Vitt, secretary; Kyle Bybee, public relations director; Angel De La Torre, webmaster; Nathan Powell, quartermaster; Adam Menashe and Gina Ghiglieri, Formula SAE team lead, Ford Eimon, Formula SAE technical director, combustion; Kevin Ziemann, Formula SAE technical director, electric; Paul Swartz, Baja SAE team lead; and Connor Kingsbury, Baja SAE technical director. 

Webb noted that the team feels especially fortunate to have John Fabijanic, a mechanical engineering professor with a background in Formula One cars, as their advisor.

“Professor Fabijanic goes to all our testing dates, plus spends most of his weekends watching our cars and helping us brainstorm what would benefit the team and cars,” she said. “We’re known as one of the teams who test our cars the most — two to three times a week for the Formula cars; the Baja every weekend. In the fall, ‘Fab,’ as he’s known, serves as our toughest critic, with safety a major focus. He makes us keenly aware that if we don’t do our job right, we may be endangering someone’s life. He’s the best mentor we could ask for.”

Webb, who’s a Baja team member as well as president of both other teams, has plans in the coming year to make a 3D model of the Baja car to test in Cal Poly’s renovated wind tunnel, designed specifically to measure the aerodynamic efficiency of vehicles and aircraft.

“I do love cars,” said Webb. “I’m even more passionate about manufacturing. My dream job would be to run a shop — they’re amazing places. At Cal Poly it’s truly unique to have the access to machines shops that we have. I don’t know anywhere else that could match this for hands-on experience, breadth of collaboration and design opportunities.”

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Cal Poly's Human Motion Biomechanics Program Gets Boost from Keck Foundation

Oct 15, 2018


A $350,000 grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation will promote the integration of research and education in Cal Poly’s growing interdisciplinary program in human motion biomechanics.

Cal Poly’s Human Motion Biomechanics (HMB) Lab, established in 2014, has enabled applied research in the field. Keck’s support will boost the clinical and educational goals of the HMB program by providing additional funds for student projects and curriculum development. 

“The Keck grant will provide opportunities for teams of students in the Biomedical Engineering, Kinesiology and Mechanical Engineering departments to undertake targeted biomechanics research,” said Professor and HMB Lab Director Stephen Klisch. “We will also develop an interdisciplinary undergraduate course in biomechanics, along with inquiry-based, hands-on learning modules in several existing courses.” 

In addition to Klisch, HMB campus partners include Scott Hazelwood (Biomedical Engineering), Brian Self (Mechanical Engineering), Robert Clark (Kinesiology) and Kevin Taylor (Education). 

An example of student-led research taking place in the HMB Lab is a project to determine knee loads for normal weight and obese subjects during walking, cycling and elliptical training. Keck funds will further the research of students who are working on ways to reduce the risk for knee arthritis in overweight individuals by identifying weight-loss exercises that produce low knee loads and reduce long-term wear. The team included mechanical engineering students Juan David Gutierrez-Franco, Sam TuckerDaniel Montoya and Luke Kraemer; biomedical engineering students Jim DarkeKatherine Mavrommati and Megan Pottinger; and kinesiology students Grace PrivettEshan Dandekar and Isaac Gomez.

According to Klisch, the Keck award provides a solid foundation for the HMB program moving forward, including the purchase of key equipment and funding for approximately 14 students each year to work on research projects aimed at encouraging weight loss and exercise while preventing or slowing the progression of knee arthritis.

“The grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation positions Cal Poly to become a leader in engaging large, interdisciplinary undergraduate student teams to conduct motion analysis experiments with clear clinical outcomes,” said Klisch.

HMB lab

Cal Poly's Human Motion Biomechanics Program Gets Boost from Keck Foundation

Oct 15, 2018


A $350,000 grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation will promote the integration of research and education in Cal Poly’s growing interdisciplinary program in human motion biomechanics.

Cal Poly’s Human Motion Biomechanics (HMB) Lab, established in 2014, has enabled applied research in the field. Keck’s support will boost the clinical and educational goals of the HMB program by providing additional funds for student projects and curriculum development. 

“The Keck grant will provide opportunities for teams of students in the Biomedical Engineering, Kinesiology and Mechanical Engineering departments to undertake targeted biomechanics research,” said Professor and HMB Lab Director Stephen Klisch. “We will also develop an interdisciplinary undergraduate course in biomechanics, along with inquiry-based, hands-on learning modules in several existing courses.” 

In addition to Klisch, HMB campus partners include Scott Hazelwood (Biomedical Engineering), Brian Self (Mechanical Engineering), Robert Clark (Kinesiology) and Kevin Taylor (Education). 

An example of student-led research taking place in the HMB Lab is a project to determine knee loads for normal weight and obese subjects during walking, cycling and elliptical training. Keck funds will further the research of students who are working on ways to reduce the risk for knee arthritis in overweight individuals by identifying weight-loss exercises that produce low knee loads and reduce long-term wear. The team included mechanical engineering students Juan David Gutierrez-Franco, Sam TuckerDaniel Montoya and Luke Kraemer; biomedical engineering students Jim DarkeKatherine Mavrommati and Megan Pottinger; and kinesiology students Grace PrivettEshan Dandekar and Isaac Gomez.

According to Klisch, the Keck award provides a solid foundation for the HMB program moving forward, including the purchase of key equipment and funding for approximately 14 students each year to work on research projects aimed at encouraging weight loss and exercise while preventing or slowing the progression of knee arthritis.

“The grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation positions Cal Poly to become a leader in engaging large, interdisciplinary undergraduate student teams to conduct motion analysis experiments with clear clinical outcomes,” said Klisch.

Solar decathalon

ME Students Shine at Solar Decathlon

Oct 15, 2018


Three Cal Poly students — Sanjit JoshiJulien Blarel and Cristina Paquin — led the mechanical engineering aspects of Cal Poly’s vision of the solar-powered home of the future at one of the most prestigious sustainable housing competitions in the world.

Cal Poly finished third overall among 14 sun-powered homes at the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 at Orange County Great Park in Irvine, Calif. last fall.

Judges and spectators were wowed by Solar Cal Poly’s 1,000squarefoot INhouse, with its 15-foot folding window-wall between living room and outdoor patio, built by a multidisciplinary team of engineering, architecture, business, science and graphic communication students.

“It was very real world,” said Mechanical Engineering Professor Kim Shollenberger, one of the team’s faculty advisors. “The most important part of this competition for me was the opportunity to help launch dozens of careers in the alternative energy industry. This project was the perfect tool for getting students excited about emerging technologies and then giving them the experience critical for entering into this field. In particular, this is the generation that’s going to have to confront global warming and as an engineering professor, it’s my most significant goal to give them the skills to do that.”

In addition to its architectural appeal, the INhouse’s design reflected an array of engineering factors that ensure structural integrity, ease of assembly, safety, durability, heat loss, building codes and integration within and among other systems.

“For instance, of particular importance was the level of integration required of the water systems team,” said Shollenberger. “They dictated use of the grey water captured by the plumbing system, and directly coordinated supply conditions and requirements with the overall team. A black-grey connection valve was designed for the plumbing system to easily divert water away from water systems as necessary. Sewage pumps were designed into the system to allow flow into grey water and septic tanks above grade. And that was just one aspect of the INhouse.”

The breadth and scope of the mechanical engineering considerations required for the project were reflected in the sheer number of section leaders: Robert BurttTyler Dunaway and Chris Lutze, plumbing systems; Lauren Jones, Jake Morris and Zach Yasuda, water systems; Timothy AmbroseMateo Begue and Andrew Elliott, instrumentation and control; Patrick FillinghamWesley Goodson and Kenneth Li, structural insulated panel design; and James Cornish, Jake Cosmo and Patrick Weston, HVAC.

In addition to Shollenberger, other Cal Poly Engineering faculty advisors included John Clements (Computer Science) and Dale Dolan (Electrical Engineering).

About the Solar Decathlon

The Solar Decathlon educates students and the public about environmental benefits and money-saving opportunities presented by clean-energy products and design solutions; demonstrates to the public the comfort and affordability of homes that combine energy-efficient construction and appliances with renewable energy systems available today; and provides participating students with unique training that prepares them to enter the nation’s clean-energy workforce.

Related links

Solar Cal Poly
http://calpolysolardecathlon.org

Solar Decathlon 
http://www.solardecathlon.gov

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