GE Aviation selects McCormick seniors’ work to prototype

Kelli Nguyen, Reporter

A project created by seven McCormick seniors that more efficiently inspects airplane turbine engines has been selected to be prototyped by GE Aviation, the University announced earlier this month.

McCormick senior John Harris, who worked on the team, and fellow McCormick seniors Zachary Fenske, Jonathan Hoffman, Elizabeth McTighe, Matthew O’Hagan, Jacob Schneider-Martin and Jay Welch worked to develop SearchEYE to streamline the turbine inspection process and remove the human element as part of their Capstone Design Project.

Currently, engines are inspected using a borescope, a small camera attached to a wire, that is fed into the engine and manually maneuvered through it, said Harris said. The current inspection process is inefficient and can take anywhere from 6 to 8 hours to complete, he said.

During the second half of the two-quarter Capstone course, the team found a competition with similar objectives as their class assignment and decided to submit their work. Their design was selected out of 150 submissions worldwide to be prototyped by GE.

The team worked with GE affiliates as clients for their Capstone project, though GE affiliates had no connection to the global competition, Hoffman said. The team spent five weeks ideating and came up with about 140 different ideas before settling on the solution they developed for their class project and later submitted to GE, he said.

“I don’t think any of us had any real expectations besides it being a kick in the pants for us to really get an idea going,” Hoffman said.

Due to a confidentiality agreement, details about the SearchEYE prototype cannot be released, Hoffman said.

“It uses not-obscure technologies in obscure ways,” he said.

Harris said even after the competition, the group continues to work on the project for its Capstone class. The team’s current work and the work being prototyped by GE are similar, but not the same.

Hoffman and Harris both said one of the things they enjoy most about the project as a whole is the autonomy they have over their design and the initial ambiguity of the problem statement.

“We were very much our own bosses as to how we wanted to figure it out compared to most other projects,” Harris said. “We were able to lead our own design.”

Joseph Holtgreive, an assistant dean in McCormick, said he is thrilled with the team’s achievement. The problem statement was rooted in a difficult field and aviation technology has not seen major innovations in the past few decades, he said.

McCormick has been working toward building a more holistic engineering program, Holtgrieve said. The seven students and their achievement are an example of what “whole-brain engineering” looks like, he said.

“It’s a great example of a recognition from industry of the unique qualities our students possess,” Holtgrieve said. “Not just the intellectual capacity to solve difficult problems, but also the ability to think in a more integrated fashion.”

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