Today, we interviewed Elizabeth Gilbert, a member of the C.I.D. Capstone Expo Team sponsored by Rheem. Their project set out to design a device to heat water without right at the base of a sink without an external source of power. C.I.D. was able to overcome issues as a direct result of the beginning of the pandemic for the Spring 2020 Expo. Today, Elizabeth talks about what she and rest of her group were able to accomplish. Her team included: Casey Brown, Marissa Rubino, Macey Parrott, Evan Ragoowansi, and Mason Hodge.
The C.I.D. Team on a call with blankets and pajamas to showcase what it was really like working on the capstone project for the latter half of the semester.
Q: Could you give us a brief description of your project for those who may not know about it?
A: The project my team worked on for senior design was centered around creating instant hot water for a sink. Our industry partner, Rheem, prompted us to create a ‘black-box’ device that a consumer could, ideally, self-install under their sink to generate instant hot water without an external power input. This project aimed to reduce water waste that comes from running the tap while waiting on the water to warm up.
Q: Where did you first draw inspiration for the idea of your Capstone Design Project?
A: Our team wanted to work on a sponsored project because we felt we could have the most impact that way. We were also primarily focused on thermal systems and agreed that the project with Rheem was both impactful and well within our range of capabilities.
Q: What was the design process like and how did you and your teammates come together to finish the design and research?
A: As funny as it may sound, one of our first inspirations came from a comment one team member made about just putting a hot rock under the sink to warm the water. We were also very fortunate to have two representatives from Rheem come to campus one day and run a guided brainstorming activity with our team, and a lot of ideas came out of that. The design process for our team was fluid, we had good communication between teammates, and with the structure provided by the senior design course, we always knew where we needed to be in the process. Our team had 6 members, so it was easy to divide up into teams of 2 or 3 to split tasks, which is what we did often because it can be difficult to coordinate 6 schedules. We pursued 6 different ideas initially and then cut those down to 3 ideas after feedback from presentations to our faculty advisor and Rheem. Those three ideas were flushed out and eventually narrowed down to one after another round of presentations. Once we did reach a final design idea, we were able to play on team members’ strengths to work towards the completed CAD designs, literature review, and paper.
Q: What were some of the problems that you faced along the way and how did you overcome those obstacles?
A: The largest obstacle that our group faced was the Coronavirus pandemic. Going into spring break, we weren’t sure what to expect, but losing time in the weeks after before school started back and when teachers were trying to restructure class was tough on the group. We rallied along with the rest of the school and found a solution, but it took our project on a very different route. Originally, we had planned to work with Rheem to build the tank that would go under a sink in the final months of the project, but instead, our project became more theoretical with an added a literature review.
Q: What do you think made your project stand out?
A: Our project stood out for its novelty. Even the initial prompt with its lofty goal of no external power input would have been incredible to see come to fruition. The results of the project analyzed the validity of using waste heat recovery across the home to pre-heat the water so it comes out of the faucet at a desired temperature. While innovative, it would be difficult to retrofit such a system in pre-existing homes which is why the project was considered more theoretical in the end. Despite the heavy theory, all the physical exchangers necessary to the project were also designed by the team during this process.
Q: What do you think made your team successful while working with Rheem?
A: Rheem provided us with a lot of helpful feedback and left the door open for a lot of creativity during the whole process. We always had multiple team members that were copied onto email communication with our contact at Rheem to ensure we were timely and efficient at communicating progress, questions, or the need for advice. One of the most helpful things was talking with the plumbers who work for Rheem and getting their experienced feedback as well as that of an R&D team member.
Q: Do you have any advice for future teams?
A: Our advice for future teams is to ensure you build a diverse team with varying strengths. Our group had members with thermal systems experience, manufacturing experience, and CFD experience. This helped us accomplish our tasks much more thoroughly as we could play to our strengths. Another word of advice is that all ideas should be considered. Our group had the policy that no idea is a bad idea, where all members’ ideas were talked through, no matter how far-fetched they sounded at first.