College students assist Indiana company with engineering issues

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CARMEL, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — Dr. Doug’s Balms, a small business in Carmel, Ind., is giving students at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology practical experience in professional engineering by solving bottlenecks in its production line.

The company creates and sells organic, antibacterial balms that treat from dry skin, eczema, pain and stretch marks. Dr. Douglas Strobel, owner of Dr. Doug’s, said he is grateful for the students’ help because of how small the business is.

“We’re a mom-and-pop shop trying our best to do everything as economically as possible,” Strobel said. “Up until now we’ve been filling bottles by hand. It is slow and time consuming. We needed a solution that wouldn’t break the bank but would help automate the process.”

To fix this issue, Strobel said he reached out to Indiana engineering schools. Within weeks, he said he heard back from Dr. Rebecca Bercich, an assistant professor in Rose-Hulman’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.

“We are always looking for companies to partner with our senior students on capstone design projects,” Bercich said. “The goal is to match students with a real-world problem – something outside of a textbook – that will help them improve their skills so they’re marketable and feel confident leaving school and heading out into the job market.”

The eight-month-long projects are inspected by Rose-Hulman staff over the summer and then pitched by companies to the students in the fall. During the first quarter students set objectives and create concepts. The following quarter is then used to build and test prototypes.

The last two quarters are then spent resolving problems and presenting a final product to the client. Students work between 6 and 12 hours a week on projects and have access to equipment such as labs, clean rooms, 3D printers, electron microscopes, plasma cutters and milling machines.

Thakir Berhane, a Lawrence North graduate, was among the four Rose-Hulman seniors who worked on Dr. Doug’s project.

“We chose the project because the goal was very straight forward,” Berhane says. “Building a fully functional dispensing system was something I knew we could deliver on. Doug was clear in what he wanted and provided us with a budget that allowed us to be innovative.”

Their solution was a scalable peristaltic pump on a revolving tray dispensing the balm into containers. Strobel only required the machine to be compact enough to fit in the backseat of a GMC Acadia and narrow enough to fit through a standard door frame.

“Their solution was very novel,” Strobel said. “They took a medical approach to a mechanical engineering problem and ended up with a pretty impressive solution. The new automated process will increase our rate of production by more than 500% with less clean up. It’s definitely a game changer.”

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