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David Siedal (standing), a senior from Batavia (IL) who is majoring in engineering technology and graphic communication, presenting the "Part Identification Using Opposed Sensor Triangulation" project to judges at the Digital Signal Processing Competition in Tainan City, Taiwan, in November 2009. Along with Siedal, Andrew Brophy, a sophomore engineering technology major from McHenry (IL), and David Hunter, a professor in WIU's engineering technology department, logged long hours in the lab, as they feverishly worked on a digital signal processing system in order to compete in the international competition.
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Engineering Tech Students Win Award in International Competition

March 22, 2010


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MACOMB, IL -- For two-and-half weeks last November, two Western Illinois University engineering technology majors and one engineering tech department professor spent most of their free time in a third-floor Knoblauch Hall lab. David Siedal, a senior from Batavia (IL) who is majoring in engineering technology and graphic communication; Andrew Brophy, a sophomore engineering technology major from McHenry (IL); and Professor G. David Hunter logged long hours in the lab, as they feverishly worked on a digital signal processing system. The three, along with many of their fellow students and colleagues in the department and in the College of Business Technology (CBT), were on a mission: to finish the project before Siedal and Hunter were to fly to Tainan City, Taiwan, November 17 to present their project and compete in the international Digital Signal Processing Competition later that week.

Their long hours paid off. Their "Part Identification Using Opposed Sensor Triangulation" project garnered a fourth place technical award in the international competition. Not only was this the first time that any of Western's engineering technology students competed in the invited competition, but almost all of the other students who competed and won hailed from engineering schools throughout Asia. Hunter noted while this fact is indeed noteworthy, he said that perhaps even more noteworthy is that many of the other student competitors had likely been working on their projects for the better part of the year. Hunter, Siedal and Brophy only first learned they would be attempting to compete in the competition in late October.

"Dr. Hunter approached Andrew and I about four weeks before the competition," explained Siedal. "We didn't have a whole lot of time to work on it. But we put some really long hours into it, something like eight to 10 hours a day for two weeks straight. We ended up finishing it barely in time," Siedal said.

According to Hunter, Western's engineering technology department was invited to propose a project to compete in the Digital Signal Processing Competition through Ray Diez's involvement with it via the University of North Dakota and National Kaohsiung Normal University in Taiwan. Diez, who was named chairman of the department July 1, 2009, served as a department chair, assistant and associate professor and lead instructor in the University of North Dakota's technology department, and he served as an international visiting professor at National Kaohsiung Normal University.

"We had about a week to develop a paper to be reviewed, and the project had to be reviewed and approved before we could even get permission to come," Hunter explained. "So Dave, Andrew and I went to the library and we spent a lot of time reading. Eventually, we decided to base our project on another graduate student's project, which we modified for the competition. I obtained permission from her, and after she agreed, we started ordering parts and figuring out how to put it together."

Siedal and Brophy explained that much of the work on their project, "Part Identification Using Opposed Sensor Triangulation," was negotiated between the two of them. Professor Hunter also helped them with the programming work, and Hunter added that many in the department and College -- including other students, retired engineering technology faculty member Bill Cupples and School of Agriculture Associate Professor Kevin Bacon -- helped with the project. Hunter also noted he was grateful for the financial support provided to the project via Diez and CBT Dean Tom Erekson.

On the Right Track
"The system we built uses multiple sensors to measure the length and the height of a box or an object going down a conveyor belt," Siedal noted. "That information is translated into a part name, and then the information is sent to an inventory system. It lets you know where a particular part is in the manufacturing process."

According to Hunter, the system could provide a way for manufacturers to keep track of their products in process without investing in expensive camera-visioning systems. He noted it could help manufacturers get real-time information about their products as they are being produced.

"Currently, industry puts a lot of money into trying to identify work in process, and it is common to utilize a vision system. But vision systems can be fairly expensive -- they are about $20,000 to $30,000 per workstation," Hunter said. "This type of system, if we were to upgrade it, could basically do the same thing for about $1,000 to $1,500. So a manufacturer could afford to invest in more systems of this type, perhaps put them in places in which they wouldn't traditionally have a vision system."

Hunter explained that he asked Siedal and Brophy to work on this project not only because they were both bright, hard-working students in his Manufacturing Engineering Technology (MET) 271 class, but they also both had some background in programming, which was a significant part of the work that needed to be done in order for the system to work.

"I was enlisted in the active-duty Army for seven-and-a-half years, and in the Army, I worked on satellite communications, which involved different electronic courses, troubleshooting and signals for that equipment. So some of my programming background came from that experience," Brophy said. "Some of the concepts I was also learning in Dr. Hunter's class had to do with the programming side of it. So, Dave had the task of programming the stepper motor, and I was reading about how to program the LCD screen. I did a lot of research on the specific LCD screen we used, and I figured out different ways to display messages and different ways to hook it up," he added.

Once their paper was accepted, the sponsoring university, Southern Taiwan University, invited one of the students who worked on the "Part Identification Using Opposed Sensor Triangulation," and the academic adviser for, the project to travel to Tainan City to compete. The Taiwan Ministry of Education paid the airfare and hotel expenses, as well as provided food during much of trip for Hunter and Siedal.

Because Siedal is a senior, Hunter noted that the team decided he should be the student to go. Hunter added that he had "high hopes" for Brophy, who still has at least two more years of undergraduate work in the engineering technology program at Western. Siedal, after graduating this May, has plans to attend graduate school to continue his engineering technology studies.

Hunter noted that based on Siedal's and Brophy's, as well as the engineering technology department's, winning performance in the 2009 competition, he hopes to have students invited back to compete in the Digital Signal Processing Competition later this year.

Posted By: Teresa Koltzenburg (WIUNews@wiu.edu)
Office of University Relations