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York College engineering students work on potential life-saving tourniquet machine

Machine Design Project

You don’t normally think of engineers as saving lives in the medical field.

But a machine design project by Kinsley School of Engineering, Sciences and Technology students at York College of Pennsylvania may do just that.

“There is no set standard to measure whether a tourniquet applies sufficient pressure to stop the flow of blood,” says Dr. Steve Kuchnicki, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering.

Sixteen teams of York College Mechanical Engineering majors just completed a project that may lead to an international standard for this vital measurement.

Students helping find the solution

Tourniquets have been mass-produced for only the past 20 years or so, Dr. Kuchnicki says.

There are several problems in finding a standard for the pressure needed. These include the size of the limb — think a child’s arm versus the leg of an NFL linebacker — the material used for the tourniquet, and whether temperature affects how this material constricts.

York College graduate Rob Kinsler of HP White Laboratories in Maryland recently reached out to Dr. Kuchnicki to help with the project.

HP White Labs is searching for a pressure gauge to submit to the bodies that will determine what would be an international standard, but Dr. Kuchnicki says many projects were impressive.

“One design well received included two curved plates each with a center post, joined by one sensor between the plates to measure the force applied,” he says.

Perfect scenario for project-based learning

Marcos Rivera was one of the students in the all-junior ME 380 class who worked on the project

“This is a great example of how designs on paper may not work in the real world,” he says. “This was a unique experience having a customer engage on the project.”

His team came up with its initial design concept, then went to HP White Labs to see if this was acceptable.

“In class, the professor has a ‘right answer,’ but in this project and the work world, you have to troubleshoot and test your theories,” Marcos says. “This is typical of a scenario where your boss tells you, ‘We need to get this done. Find a way.’”

His team’s project featured two tubes representing extreme limb sizes, the proverbial baby’s arm and linebacker’s leg.

“The operator applied the tourniquet to the tubes, and we had a strain gauge attached to the inside of the tube to measure the force,” he says. “This was sent to a computer program to display the pressure reading.”

This project-based learning is important for prospective students to consider, Dr. Kuchnicki says.

“Math, science, theoretical background are important, but then you have to design something that works in the real world,” he adds, noting one design for this project looked great on paper, but when it was built, the gears just didn’t work.

“This was stressful but a great learning experience,” Marcos says. “We learned better time management skills, to keep track of details, and to collaborate with others.”

Engineering jobs cut across disciplines

The medical field is just one area where mechanical engineers are needed.

“Think of someone who designs a car or airplane but also a hip implant or a wind turbine,” Dr. Kuchnicki says.

York College students often work in co-op jobs during school on heating and cooling systems, given the prevalence of those industries in the area.

“We’ve also had co-op students working for companies making robots that take food from an assembly line and put it in boxes, and for Graham Packaging to design bottles, and to set up assembly lines that make the bottles.”

Dr. Kuchnicki says these are all great experiences for students learning to meet customers’ needs.

Marcos agrees.

“I think York College lets you grow and develop more than other schools. You need three full semesters working at a company to get your degree,” he adds, noting he is now working as a hydraulic intern at American Hydro.

The search goes on for the right machine to measure tourniquet pressure.

Maybe, someday, Marcos will be on the team that develops that international standard, or some other, to help save lives, in no small part due to his York College experience.