A Lego Technic Cupcake Production Line – Features


In the third of a collection about chemical engineers who’re volunteering their expertise to contribute to society, Peter Swanson shares his experiences of getting schoolchildren into chemical engineering

I’VE loved a very attention-grabbing and different profession starting from pharmaceutical high quality management, chemical evaluation and microbiology, by way of analysis and improvement within the aerospace trade, to software program design and improvement and on to educating, each at college and college. This is a narrative about how all that has come collectively to construct a educating instrument designed to encourage schoolchildren into chemical and course of engineering.

Those of you sufficiently old to recollect again to the mid-Nineteen Eighties would possibly recall a sure furore within the UK Parliament brought on by the Westland Affair. It mainly revolved round whether or not the British helicopter trade ought to have continued to construct American machines below licence, or be built-in extra absolutely into Europe. Given the current debate over Brexit, this appears to have a well-recognized ring about it.

At that point, I labored as a analysis engineer for the Westland Aircraft group, based mostly in Yeovil, Somerset. The job initially concerned engaged on helicopter simulations, then moved on to growing manufacturing processes, earlier than ending up considering how the corporate would possibly use biotechnology to evolve its environmental management programs to be used in manned spacecraft purposes.

The backlash from the Westland affair led to the closure of the Westland’s analysis division, so I discovered myself retraining to turn into a trainer, earlier than embarking on a analysis diploma in pharmaceutical high quality management within the National Health Service. This in flip led to an Honorary Lectureship, and a place as a Research Group Leader in a college pharmacy division, wanting into pc aided studying (CAL) methods.

Learning by doing

I’ve all the time been an important believer in studying by doing. It is difficult to beat working with actual gear to resolve real-life issues. However, a convincing simulation or pc sport could be a good substitute, particularly if an appropriate manufacturing facility is just not readily handy. Simulations, digital worlds and video games don’t solely train by watching or enjoying them. They can be very instructive to design and construct.

Every yr, as an honorary college lecturer, in collaboration with different topic specialists, I gave round ten fourth-year college students the duty of constructing a CAL package deal. The temporary was to analysis a subject (this might vary from hypertension, to the workings of a big tabletting machine); devise a check to search out out what a pattern group of second-year college students already knew in regards to the topic; design and construct an efficient CAL package deal; let the youthful college students examine the package deal; retest them; and at last current the package deal and check outcomes to assembled workers and college students.

At instances it was onerous to get the undertaking college students to maneuver on to the following module. They discovered the artistic nature of writing CAL packages fairly addictive, and would usually need to add new concepts, reminiscent of further animations or 3D drawings – even after the undertaking had been submitted and marked. It was beautiful to see such enthusiasm.

Sparking creativeness

Around 2007, I grew to become chairman of IChemE’s Chester and North Wales Members Group (MG). Running the MG has been a really rewarding expertise. I’ve learnt a lot about these chemical industries beforehand unfamiliar to me. Over the years our committee has endeavoured to hunt out matters of curiosity to the members. Hence, we’re all the time open to strategies and affords of assist. We additionally labored intently with the University of Chester because it established a brand-new school of science and engineering, together with a division of chemical engineering, below Steve Wilkinson.

Lego, while it does have apparent limitations with regards to dealing with fluids or elevated temperatures and pressures, is very well-liked with each youngsters and most of the people

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One of the duties the MG wanted to handle was the right way to successfully promote the fascinating and various work of chemical and course of engineers to colleges throughout North Wales and West Cheshire. For my half, I used to be on the lookout for one thing extra engrossing than simply standing in entrance of a category and regurgitating a normal careers speak. I wished to have the ability to spark their creativeness, set them a problem, and supply them with a method to “be taught by doing” – one thing that will hook them on course of engineering. Anything I got here up with additionally wanted to be secure, and readily transportable to the faculties, utilizing my van.

Noticing that Lego Technic was being utilized in mechatronics courses at Chester prompted Steve Wilkinson and I to marvel if we may use Lego as an example chemical or course of engineering to the schoolkids. There are extra specialist instruments accessible available on the market, reminiscent of Festo. However, Lego, while it does have apparent limitations with regards to dealing with fluids or elevated temperatures and pressures, is very well-liked with each youngsters and most of the people. Examples of some principally non-functioning fashions of oil rigs or elements of refineries might be discovered on-line, and I did discover an attention-grabbing instance of some 3D-printed bricks designed to construct a fluidics circuit. Nevertheless, a working mannequin from some course of sector appeared fascinating.

Show & inform: selling the vary of merchandise related to chemical engineering

Food for thought

An opportunity dialog with Paul Meara and Phill Day on the Catalyst Science Discovery Centre in Widnes urged an answer. Why not mannequin a course of from the meals trade, the place the substances are available and usually secure to deal with? Cupcakes sprang to thoughts, as they repeatedly function amongst youngsters’s favorite meals. This gave us a course of that may not solely enchantment to their sense of play, enjoyable and creativity, however maybe additionally indulge their bottomless stomachs (even when samples for consumption – ie additional bribes, if wanted – would possibly really require being shop-bought for security).

The subsequent step was to buy some Lego and digital parts, and begin experimenting. You can think about that various Lego was going to be wanted to assemble an entire cupcake manufacturing line. Such a construct may embody objects reminiscent of silos for the uncooked supplies, elevators, a mixer, a cake batter depositor, conveyors, a cooler and an enrober. The oven, although, if it had been to operate, must be constructed out of steel, and resemble a mini conveyor pizza oven.

Initially, I wasn’t certain what the Lego plant would appear like, so I didn’t have a exact listing of bricks to order. The easiest method spherical this was to purchase quite a lot of the biggest kits I may lay my palms on. The bucket wheel excavator equipment fitted the invoice properly. The excavator included a few conveyors, which may simply be customised, in addition to a crawler base part surmounted by a slewing mechanism for the jib. The latter urged a method to assemble the our bodies of the depositor, cooler and enrober.

Luckily, the University of Chester and Techniquest Glyndwr on the University in Wrexham (now Xplore Science Discovery Centre) had been in a position to assist with a few of the funding, and over a number of weeks I used to be in a position to put collectively a prototype of the cake depositor, some conveyors and some different smaller objects.

Equipment improvement: cupcake line p&ID; mk III depositor (reverse, high); cupcake enrober (reverse, backside)


In North Wales we now have a few organisations, Careers Wales and the Engineering Education Scheme Wales (EESW), who repeatedly organise careers festivals for the native colleges. Both organisations, in addition to Denbighshire County Council had invited me to advertise chemical engineering at their conferences, and naturally I used to be in a position to take my prototypes alongside as an example what I needed to say. Alex Seton, a colleague on the Chester and North Wales committee additionally urged taking alongside some empty packaging to emphasize the vary of merchandise related to chemical engineering.

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The Lego actually acted as a giant draw to the IChemE stand. I believe I’ve solely been upstaged as soon as, and that was by an area petting zoo, who introduced alongside a 10-foot lengthy python. The little youngsters, particularly, took a shine to the snake, however had been relieved to listen to she had simply been fed. I’m happy to report, we misplaced no pupils that day below mysterious circumstances.

Meanwhile, again on the college, Steve Wilkinson and I additionally thought the undertaking college students may benefit from growing the cupcake manufacturing line. Two areas sprang to thoughts, particularly management engineering and product formulation. For instance, was it potential to provide a cake batter that’s fluid sufficient to be pumped by Lego pumps, however nonetheless able to being cooked right into a passable cupcake? Student Hannah Maloney kindly volunteered to look into these questions for her final-year undertaking. She labored with the NoWFOOD centre of excellence at Chester University, which helps meals companies with issues starting from product improvement to dietary testing and market suggestions. Whilst there she was in a position to expertise an actual meals depositor in motion. We additionally had assist from Riggs AutoPack, the producer of the NoWFOOD machine, to realize a greater understanding of its building.

The Lego undertaking at Chester has additionally spawned two additional outreach tasks with the Faculty of Engineering and Technology at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), co-ordinated by Senior Research Engineer Dave Evans, for Liverpool City Region LCR 4.0 Holistic (Cross Sector Digital Supply Chains). The first undertaking includes a bottle unscrambler, impressed by the manufacturing line of native glass bottle producer Encirc. The second, a Lego mannequin of the Liverpool Telescope, a 2 m Cassegrain reflector on the island of La Palma within the Canaries, commissioned by LJMU’s Astrophysics Research Institute.

During Covid and lockdown, I’ve been updating the design, utilizing Lego BrickLink Studio software program, and rebuilding the cupcake depositor and enrober, in addition to establishing the telescope mannequin. These fashions simply want a number of extra bricks to complete off the mechanical elements, and I’m now concentrating on the programming and management circuitry for the depositor. This will contain the usage of a Raspberry Pi, some Arduino Nanos and numerous digital chips reminiscent of motor controllers, PWM gadgets and sensors to measure the relative place between the depositing head and the cupcake moulds on the conveyor.

Where would I wish to see this all going?

Overall, the item of the train is to construct an engineering educating instrument, constructed from each bodily and digital components, which hyperlinks educating to the present and future wants of the method trade. The start line has been the Lego cupcake manufacturing facility, however then ought to incorporate digital course of plant to explain the manufacturing of uncooked supplies, that help the cake-making course of. The design, constructing and use of deliverables are instantly related to undergraduate educating and analysis tasks, but additionally have a major relevance to STEM educating throughout all ages.

The cupcake manufacturing facility, from the viewpoint of scholars, be they on conventional undergraduate programs or diploma apprenticeships, has the next goals and is designed to offer:

a component of studying by doing;
actions that parallel these present in an actual manufacturing facility;
the manufacturing of an actual product, ie a educating instrument, and related outreach providers for colleges and public, designed to foster understanding and uptake of STEM topics;
encouragement of an interdisciplinary, programs, problem-solving, business method to engineering;
a level of artistic pondering, design, building, enterprise acumen and social interplay to reinforce scholar motivation; and
a platform for college kids to develop presentation expertise.

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From the analysis viewpoint, the purpose is to make use of Lego, Meccano, VEX, Raspberry Pi-s, Arduinos, VR/AR simulation of course of plant, placement simulation and the programming languages reminiscent of Scratch, Python, Javascript, and C to develop a studying platform for chemical and course of engineering that may be deployed throughout a spread of ages, from junior-school youngsters to undergraduates. The work may present quite a lot of undergraduate and postgraduate R&D tasks throughout engineering, bringing collectively elements of Industry 4.0.

From the academics’ viewpoint the scheme ought to present:

larger flexibility in course supply;
supplies for distance studying (eg VR, simulations, movies, Lego fashions), which can be utilized to reinforce public outreach, and to promote the capabilities of the taking part organisations worldwide;
improved industrial networks between academia,firms, {and professional} engineering establishments;
a strengthened scholar and worker pipeline by encouraging extra children into STEM topics;
concrete examples to show troublesome theoretical ideas, act as an help memoir and improve lectures by introducing a larger number of studying strategies to match particular person studying preferences;
larger autonomy for examine, linked with social media; and
a technique of educating, and a sensible demonstration of Industry 4.0, which brings collectively ideas reminiscent of simulation; the web of issues; huge knowledge; programs integration; augmented actuality; additive manufacturing; cyber safety; cloud computing; and autonomous programs.

Collaborating with LJMU: a bottle unscrambler, impressed by the manufacturing line of native glass bottle producer Encirc

Collaboration is essential

Hopefully I’ve given you a really feel for one of many methods the Chester and North Wales MG has began to convey the world of chemical and course of engineering to the eye of schoolchildren, and most of the people, throughout our area. Besides native MG members, and Education Special Interest Group (SIG) members from throughout the globe, the work has concerned three native universities, many colleges, and enter from quite a lot of corporations and different establishments. I wish to see the present work prolonged to incorporate more practical use of CAL instruments reminiscent of VR, AR, gaming and movies. The Education SIG Digitalisation Working Group is at present exploring methods to bolster understanding and uptake of Industry 4.0 methods related to our career. If, like me, you’re feeling these methods and fashions have a lot potential, I’d ask you to supply your help and strategies by way of the Education SIG. There is all the time a necessity for enthusiastic topic specialists to assist construct more practical CAL sources.

Further studying

1. Blum, J, Exploring Arduino, Wiley.
2. Demaagd, Ok, Oliver, A, Oostendorp, N and and Scott, Ok, Practical Computer Vision with SimpleCV, O’Reilly.
3. Fellows, PJ, Food Processing Technology, Woodhead Publishing.
4. Howse, J, OpenCV Computer Vision with Python, Packt Publishing.
5. Isogawa, Y, The Lego Power Functions Idea Book, Machines and Mechanisms, No Starch Press.
6. Lego, Bucket Wheel Excavator building guide, lego.com/technical.
7. Molloy, D, Exploring Raspberry Pi, Wiley.
8. Norris, D, Raspberry Pi Electronics Projects for the Evil Genius, McGraw Hill.
9. Norris, D, Raspberry Pi Projects for the Evil Genius, McGraw Hill.

To learn extra articles within the collection go to https://www.thechemicalengineer.com/options/kind/chemical-engineering-in-the-community/

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