When a group of University of Wisconsin-Platteville students approached Mike Falkner, a purchasing specialist for Global Finishing Solutions (GFS), about an engineering project in 2019, he was initially unsure about the time commitment and meeting schedule.
“They asked to meet at 4:15 on a Friday afternoon,” Falkner said. “I don’t know about you, but I’m normally done with my work by 4 o’clock on Friday afternoons.”
Fortunately, the meeting was well worth Falkner’s time. And now, after months of brainstorming and designing with the engineering students, GFS has developed prototypes of paint booth doors, featuring switches that will make for improved door sensing and positioning.
This product redesign was part of a senior project for an Engineering Physics Design class. Four UW-Platteville seniors worked with GFS to redesign the door sensors on automotive refinish and industrial paint booths. For the students, the project offered a challenging blend of mechanical and electrical engineering, along with much-needed real-life experience. For GFS, this project put our core values of Partnership and Continuous Improvement in action, while allowing us to collaborate with students to generate fresh ideas to improve our product line.
New Switch Improves Spray Mode
With spray mode activated, if a paint booth door opens, the circuit is broken and air is shut off to the spray guns, disabling spray mode. GFS’ previous design did not include a target for the sensor, using only the metal door to trigger the sensor.
“We had problems where doors were indicated as being closed, but they were actually ajar,” Falkner said. “This new switch has a magnetic target. That magnet must be in positive contact with the switch. So now, you have a true closure and increased reliability with spray mode.”
The UW-Platteville students redesigned the mounting brackets on the prototype doors to accommodate a new magnetic proximity switch. It is a sleek and inconspicuous design that functions on both insulated and non-insulated paint booths, with the 4-inch-long, stainless-steel sensor embedded into the door.
The prototype doors are installed on industrial paint booths at the Center for Excellence training facility in Osseo, Wisconsin. If the doors function as expected through continual testing, the doors on all GFS paint booths may be manufactured with the new proximity switch.
COVID-19 Obstacles Don’t Slow Students
Getting to this point involved more than a few hurdles for the UW-Platteville students. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, all their work on this project had to be done remotely. The group had to overcome software issues and poor Internet connections. They also were unable to see GFS’ manufacturing facility and capabilities in person.
“They had to work that much harder to get their design hammered out,” Falkner said. “They had to communicate more and ask a lot of questions, which was a good experience.”
Motivating the UW-Platteville students was not a problem. They had plenty of incentive to succeed, treating the project as a dry run for their future engineering careers. Plus, the message from Falkner was straightforward:
“Use your creativity and come back with a concept,” Falkner told the students. “And they did.”
Falkner forecasts significant cost savings if the new switch is implemented. Plus, transitioning to a single switch would help reduce quality issues and make it easier to train technicians.