Hydroelectric Turbine Rotor Design for Malawi

During the Spring 2016 semester, students in the Impacts of Engineering course were tasked with redesigning the rotor for a hydroelectric generator. These generators are designed and built by a gentleman by the name of Hastings Mkandawire (second from the left in below photo).


Hastings builds these generators from scrap materials found in junk yards. He then uses them to supply power to his home and the homes of his neighbors and other nearby communities in rural Malawi, tacking advantage of Malawi’s mountainous terrain and flowing streams.


The objective for the students was to redesign the turbine rotor in order to achieve the greatest power development under both a low-pressure flow of water and a high-pressure flow of water. To do this they had to research the background of turbine design and figure out how they were going to prototype their design. The results of these efforts are shown below. The prototyping methods varied from 3D printing to PVC tubing and glue to cut up soda cans and rivets.

Turbine rotor prototypes

Ultimately, a design competition was held where each prototype was tested using a flow of water supplied by a hose (we don’t have mountains in Wisconsin…) and the flow was controlled by a valve set to two different conditions.

testing prototypes

After the design competition, it was found that the soda can prototype performed best. This was likely due to it being the second lightest prototype while having an open center which allowed it to shed water after all of the energy had been extracted and converted to rotational motion.

Reports outlining each groups project can be found here.

Essays from Austria

In January I was fortunate enough to be invited to the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria (FH Oberösterreich) at the Wels Campus (Fakultät für Technik und Angewandte Naturwissenschaften) as a visiting professor. As part of this visit, I delivered an abbreviated version of the Impacts of Engineering course to students enrolled in the Masters program for Innovation and Product Management. This program is offered in English, which was a huge help for me!

The offering of my Impacts of Engineering course was entirely voluntary for the students so I was extremely pleased that 20 of them finished the course with me despite not receiving any credit for it. As part of the course I had students write an essay (and peer review their classmates’ essays) about the view of the role of engineering and innovation or product management in society. I have posted these essays on the class journal.

Winter 2016 essays
I think my favorite part of leading this course in Austria was the wide diversity of students that were a part of it. Several countries were represented and the students came from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds.

Paper Recycling for Liberia

The Fall 2015 semester wrapped up on December 22, 2015 and with it the end to the first offering of Impacts of Engineering. This semester has been a learning experience as an instructor for this course. As it was the first time I have taught this course, there was a lot to be sorted out and a lot of things I could have done better.

The design project incorporated into the first delivery of this course involved the design of a paper recycling process and resulting product. This project was conducted in partnership with an organization known as Gift 2 Change, founded by Fombah Lasana Kanneh of Monrovia, Liberia (shown below).


The organization’s mission is to “help reduce poverty and build a middle class society through waste recycling.” The organization currently operates by collecting discarded clothing and furniture and reprocessing these items into products that can be sold. The money raised through this process is used to provide employment for the men and women of Monrovia and to fund youth programs which provide clothing, books, educational materials, and training to the poorest children in Monrovia and the surrounding rural areas. The goal of the course project was to explore new directions for Gift 2 Change involving the collection and reprocessing of paper products for review and possible implementation by the organization.

As the course progressed, students were guided through the design process through both lecture content and small group work. Students were able to communicate with Fombah for assistance with their questions as they arose. In addition to the technical aspects of the design, students had to research societal and environmental considerations in Liberia to ensure that their design made sense for the region and the result would be marketable to best ensure success. During the Fall 2015 semester, seven student groups pursued designs to develop a recycled paper product for Gift 2 Change.

Each of the seven students groups developed independent solutions drawing from a variety of possible processing techniques. The end products that student groups proposed for implementation included decorative and functional bowls, fire briquettes, papercrete bricks, disposable pillows, and a paper-based soil additive similar to compost. While these ideas are not necessarily novel as means of producing goods out of paper and paper pulp, students were forced to think about what form of processing techniques would be accessible to Gift 2 Change and its employees. Further, these solutions suggest that students looked to a variety of industries for inspiration such as agriculture, construction, and medical care as well as basic home comfort. As shown below, students explored various means of processing recycled paper.

Students also investigated various aspects of their intended product in order to develop the best result. For example, in the next set of photos, students are packing a mold to make a papercrete brick. These students tested various ratios of paper to concrete to better understand how the ratio affects the curing time and the quality of the resulting brick. In Figure \ref{fig:burning}, students are testing various shapes and densities of fire briquettes to better understand burn time, heat output, and smoke or soot production.

The final products of the students’ designs demonstrate the results of their testing and iteration.

Overall, the students produced some really interesting work. These results were communicated back to Fombah for potential implementation by his organization.

The photos shown here can be downloaded from Figshare. Also, a writeup on the experience of this first semester offering is going to be presented in June 2016 at the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition under the title, “Incorporation of Liberal Education into the Engineering Curriculum at a Polytechnic.” A preprint of that paper can be found on Figshare.

What is Impacts of Engineering?

Impacts of Engineering is a course offered at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. This course was created by Dr. Devin Berg and was first offered in the Fall 2015 semester. The course is intended to both provide an introduction to engineering for students who have declared an engineering major and to provide a glimpse of engineering as a field to non-majors.

The course therefore covers common introductory engineering topics such as design, problem solving, and an introduction to materials while also discussing things such as social responsibility, social justice, ethics, and intellectual property.

The course is officially described as:

A comprehensive study of the engineering design process from initiation to completion. Definition and history of engineering disciplines with comparisons among them. Investigation and exploration of past and present impacts of engineering on people, society, and the environment. Examination of contemporary and emerging issues related to engineering. Introduction to engineering in practice through engineering design projects.

It also has the following stated objectives:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the historical philosophy of engineering and identify the effects of engineering design decisions throughout history.
  • Describe the various engineering disciplines and the differences between them.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the comprehensive nature of engineering design.
  • Develop a systems perspective regarding the context of engineering design on a global scale.
  • Evaluate the ethical, social, economic, and environmental impacts of engineering during the design, production, and end user phase of a product’s life from multiple perspectives.
  • Synthesize ethically, socially, and environmentally conscious design judgments and decisions.
  • Evaluate trends and future impacts of environmental and social consciousness and globalization on engineering design and manufacturing from multiple perspectives.
  • Demonstrate an experiential understanding of engineering design impacts relevant to the various engineering disciplines.
  • Apply basic calculation procedures and computational tools used in engineering.
  • Apply the engineering design process and employ it to solve real-world issues.

Through these objectives, the course satisfies campus general education requirements with endorsements in Global Perspectives, Contemporary Issues, and Social Responsibility and Ethical Reasoning.

In addition to the lecture and discussion content of the course, it also includes a significant design project carried out in a laboratory setting. These projects are intended to expose students to the engineering design project while underscoring the importance of consideration for the impacts, direct or indirect, that the engineering design process can have on individuals and communities.

This site will serve as an outlet to report on the activities and outcomes from this course.