Engaging Students In Multidisciplinary Engineering Problem Solving: An Investigation Of An Airflow Imbalance And Humidification Problem At An Absorbent Hygiene Production Facility
2005 Annual Conference Proceedings
An investigation of an airflow imbalance and humidification problem was recently conducted at an absorbent hygiene manufacturing location in the southern US. The project's multidisciplinary approach involved a student engagement team of one senior mechanical engineering student and one graduate student in environmental science, as well as two mechanical engineering faculty members and an environmental science faculty member. The students participated in all phases of the project from initial
... e visit to report completion and follow-up. The facility of concern manufactured a fluff pulp and super absorbent polymer product. To assure product quality, a relative humidity range between 30 and 50 percent was required. Relative humidity conditions well above the 50% maximum value were experienced during the summer months due to a significant negative pressure differential induced by process equipment inside the facility. A quantification of the problem and potential solutions were sought to provide better overall control of the facility relative humidity and subsequent product quality. The student team collected the majority of the field data during a two-month period in the late summer and early fall using an air velocity meter and a Pitot traverse tube to determine volumetric airflow, a standard indoor air quality meter to record temperature and relative humidity, and a differential pressure instrument to measure indoor and outdoor pressure differences. Significant points of possible air infiltration were quantitatively evaluated as well as HVAC, process supply and exhaust air ductwork. After the data collection was completed, an air mass balance was performed, and the results were compared with approximations supplied by HVAC and process equipment suppliers. Overall air deficit calculations resulted in a negative volumetric flow range of 75,000 to 125,000 CFM, depending upon the operating conditions existing inside the plant. Significant points of air infiltration were assessed and included fork truck overhead doors and employee doorways. It was concluded that a reduction in the negative pressure differential was imperative to proper humidity control. The recommendation for accomplishing this included a long-term solution of filtering and returning the process air back into the manufacturing space. Student involvement in this project was critical to its success. They participated in all of the meetings, collected the field data, evaluated the results, and assisted in the preparation of the final report. The benefits to the various parties involved in this multidisciplinary, student engagement activity were several-fold. The students gained practical experiences in analytical problem solving; the company received a high quality, economical assessment of their problem, and the professors gained experiences that could be shared with other students in the classroom.