Laurer, a mechanical and aeronautical double major from Rochester, N.Y., spent this past winter and summer at GE Aviation's Manufacturing Engineering Center of Excellence in Cincinnati, Ohio.
As part of her internship, Laurer worked on a solo project that she hoped would both improve the working conditions of GE employees who test turbine blades and save GE a significant amount of money.
Wind turbine blades must be extensively tested and qualified before they can be used in an engine. Before Laurer's project, the blades were manually probed to test for airflow through the coolant holes on the blade. This process was very tedious and had negative ergonomic effects on the workers who tested hundreds of blades each shift. Laurer wanted to automate the process so workers could test the blades with the push of a button.
Before taking on her project, Laurer helped prepare herself at Clarkson by taking additional classes in milling, lathes and woodworking. Then, while at GE, she received intensive training in CAD Unigraphix 3-D modeling software, drill pressing, grinding, grit blasting and sanding.
"The most exciting training I received was with a machine called a wire EDM (electronic discharge machine). It can take a computer model of a part and cut it out of metal by passing current through a wire and burning out the shape," says Laurer. "To date, I've learned how to operate four different EDMs and it's just amazing how I can design a fixture on the modeling software and have a tangible piece in my hand in just a few hours."
Even after learning the ins and outs of the necessary programming, Laurer's task was still a difficult one. Her biggest challenge was the fact that she was working with extremely small dimensions, hundredths of an inch, which was the main reason GE had not tried automated airflow testing in the past.
Laurer's biggest challenge was the small dimensions she was working with, hundredths of an inch, which was the main reason GE had not tried automated airflow testing in the past. But working with different variables and positions for months, Laurer was able to develop a fixture, roughly the size of a shoebox, which would lock the turbine blade in place so that the airflow qualification and probing could be performed automatically. The fixture runs on a switching unit so that the operator can load the blade and use switches to engage and disengage the probes at the necessary times instead of doing the probing manually. This not only saves time and money, but also eliminates human error and virtually erases any previous ergonomic issues.
After finishing her project, Laurer was invited to travel to Greenville, S.C., where she installed and qualified her fixture for use in one of the lines in a GE plant. She then stood back and watched as over 200 turbine blades ran through her machine and passed inspection, proving that her project was a success.
"It was amazing to see a project of my own creation actually working, saving the company money, and helping GE workers. It was also rewarding to be able to explain to engineers who had been working on turbine blade testing for years that my fixture was more efficient and accurate than manual measuring," says Laurer.