A plan to build better machines [The Register-Guard, Eugene, Ore.]
(Register-Guard (Eugene, OR) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Sept. 15--Eugene manufacturer A&K Development already builds what are considered some of the world's best corn husking machines. Now the 34-year-old company is teaming up with Oregon State University to try to make its machines even better -- and enable the university to see if some of the systems that drive A&K Development's equipment could be used for other purposes or in different industries.
In the two-year research project, Tim Foglesong, an OSU engineering graduate student, will spend the first year measuring various components in the vibrating tray that feeds the corn into the rest of the machine. Then he'll enter that data into sophisticated computer systems that can predict how various parts will perform, pinpoint which parts could be stressed to the breaking point and determine how to prevent that from occurring.
In the second year, Foglesong will try to develop new equipment or features using computer modeling -- an alternative to the slow and costly traditional method of designing, building, testing and revising products. The computer will build and test the product virtually before real time and money are spent to build the equipment.
The project will be Foglesong's thesis project.
A&K's owner and president, Ron Anderson, said he will pay $40,000 a year toward the research project, which will be matched by the Oregon Metals Initiative, a state program that supports research at Oregon universities for Oregon metal companies.
"We're excited about (the project)," said Anderson, who founded A&K Development in 1979, with ideas for a better corn husker after working at Agripac, a large food processor that formerly occupied the site where the federal courthouse in Eugene now stands.
"We like working with young people," he said. "We like people who think outside the box."
Likewise, Oregon State University's engineering program likes its graduate students to think outside the academic box through opportunities to work with local industry.
To earn a master's degree in engineering at OSU, a student must complete a research project. Traditionally that has been academic or grant-funded research, but recently there has been a bigger emphasis on cooperative research with industry, said John Parmigiani, an assistant professor and director of industry research and outreach at OSU's School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering.
The reasons for that are threefold, he said.
"I have an interest in my research in doing things with industry," Parmigiani said. "The federal (research) dollars are staying constant or decreasing, so industry is an attractive alternative. (And) we are a land grant institution. We're a state school, and it's a way to serve the state."
The project at A&K was a good fit for OSU's program because Foglesong will get hands-on experience applying sensors to measure such things as vibration and how much force various components exert on each other, Parmigiani said. Then he'll "close the loop" by applying the data he collected using computer modeling that will predict how the machine will behave, he said.
Anderson, 70, is busy running A&K at 410 Chambers St. in Eugene, the metal fabrication shop across the street, a factory in Thailand and a joint venture in China.
He said his goal is to make the equipment simple and affordable so it can be used all over the world.
Anderson spent three years making improvements to the vibratory feeder that Foglesong will be focusing on.
Instead of bogging down with heavier loads, the tray self-adjusts to speed the corn along. A new patented drive mechanism uses one-third of the energy that previous designs used, Anderson said.
Anderson believes the technology has a lot of potential, and he said he welcomed the partnership with the university to try to realize that potential.
"We would not be able to explore all the areas (in which) it could be used," he said. "We're too small and too focused on what we're doing to get side-tracked with the rest."
Anderson said his company has the patent on the technology for its purpose.
If, during the research project, A&K develops something, then they own it, said Brian Wall, OSU's director of the office for commercialization and corporate development. "If we develop something, then we own it, and if we jointly develop something, then we jointly own it."
If the company is interested in using intellectual property owned or jointly owned by the university, then "we will work out a reasonable deal within whatever field of use they want," Wall said.
Anderson plans to leave today for a monthlong visit to Harbin, China, where he is in a joint venture with a Chinese-American business partner and the Chinese government to make agricultural processing equipment. Before leaving the country, he had the opportunity to meet a couple of times with Foglesong, who he calls "one of the whiz kids from (OSU's) prior graduating class."
"He seems a very impressive fellow," Anderson said. "Very curious and very patient."
It took awhile for Anderson to connect with the right department at OSU to get the research project approved and under way.
Anderson first learned of OSU's computer modeling capabilities and the university's interest in working with industry while leafing through a metals trade magazine looking for equipment deals. He was reading an equipment ad when his eyes scanned across the page to an article entitled "Oregon State University Developing Computerized Machine Builder."
"I thought, 'I've got to read what in the world is Oregon State doing in there,'" he recalled recently.
The article described OSU's involvement, along with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology and other universities, in developing a new way of designing and building machines where designs are tweaked and tested through computer modeling before any actual physical machine is built.
That immediately sparked Anderson's interest.
"We're always improving or we're creating a complete new machine to answer a problem our customer has," he said. "You always have a long, drawn-out testing process. You design what you feel will do the job. You test it. You run it; it might break. You test it again, you improve it. ... This software shortens that process."
A&K Development Co.
Headquarters: 410 Chambers St.
Owner and president: Ron Anderson
Business: Designs and manufactures equipment for the food-processing and agricultural industries
Plants: Eugene; Drain; Arcadia, Fla.; China; and Thailand
Employees: 200, including 86 in Eugene and Drain
Annual revenue: More than $27 million
"We're excited about (the project). ...
We like people who think outside the box."
-- Ron Anderson, owner and president, A&K Development
(c)2013 The Register-Guard (Eugene, Ore.)
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