FormaShape provides hands-on experience for UBC engineering students

UBC Mechanical Engineering students are helping FormaShape – one of North America’s largest manufacturers of composite fibreglass and fibre-reinforced plastic – find innovative ways to make manufacturing simpler.

Partnering with UBC's Faculty of Applied Science and the UBC University-Industry Liaison Office, FormaShape has invited five students enrolled in UBC's fourth-year Capstone Design Project course to help their manufacturing engineers develop new techniques for manipulating high-pressure molding gear.

"We're excited about collaborating with engineering students," says Peter Jeffrey, President of FormaShape. "This partnership allows us to work closely with talented students who are keen to learn and help develop innovative manufacturing methods. We see this project as an important step in establishing a strong relationship with UBC."

At the company's 7,500-square-metre manufacturing facility in Lake Country, massive two-piece molds shape very large fibreglass and composite plastic parts for waterparks, architectural fascia and cladding, and other uses. At the start of their 13-week course in January, students Brandon Proc, Sabrina Lin, Brendan Jay, Jon Leskowich, and Mike Schatkoske visited the company to see how the molds work.

Since then, they've been working with Faculty of Applied Science Senior Instructor Emeritus Don McAdam and Instructor Jon Mikkelsen to devise a way to move the top and bottom halves of a heavy mold so workers can easily access the inside surfaces of the two halves.

The students' solution, says McAdam, was to automate the bottom of the mold to slide away, then lower the top half to floor level while automating the turning of it. Using this method, the mold operators can apply coatings or perform maintenance at floor level, without having to work upside down and underneath the suspended top half of the mold. Key to this automation, he says, is the exact mating of the two mould halves, especially when the lower half has been loaded with the fibreglass material.

"We do our best to solicit projects from outside the university," McAdam notes. "Companies provide us with unique projects like this, and we can help them. The concept the students have come up with seems to work pretty well and I think they've done an admirable job."

The students are developing a scaled-down prototype of their solution, and it will be presented later this month at a year-end show in Vancouver with 18 other student projects developed over the past term.

David Jones, Associate Director of the UBC University-Industry Liaison Office, says that as UBC Okanagan's School of Engineering expands in coming years, with a capstone design course of its own, engineering students from UBC Okanagan can look forward to similar collaborative learning opportunities with industry partners.

"One of the big benefits of having a UBC campus in the Okanagan is the assistance we can provide to our region's industries," he says. "We hope to encourage much more collaboration between industry innovators like FormaShape and students from both UBC Okanagan and UBC's Vancouver campus."

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