Outmoded Machinery Turned Into Valuable Instruction Tool

Published 07.08.2004


Four students in Pennsylvania College of Technology's Electric Power Generation Technology major recently refitted a new control panel onto an obsolescent generator, producing a piece of up-to-date instructional equipment worth tens of thousands of dollars.

The 1980s-era Caterpillar 3208 generator was donated by Giles & Ransome, a Caterpillar dealer in Bensalem, when the associate-degree program first was offered in 2001, and its revival came courtesy of students mentored by Kenneth C. Kuhns, assistant professor of electrical technology/occupations at Penn College.

The students who participated in the upgrade were Jeremy L. Benjamin, Wysox; Andrew J. Benvenuto, Langhorne; Joseph A. Duskasky, Wapwallopen; and Matthew J. Strine, York. All but Benvenuto graduated in May.

"This was a great project now and for the future," the instructor said. "What this new electronic control panel allows us to do, among other things, is to program different parameters to match the 3208 engine.

"Students can learn how to get in and out of various modes of operation that the control panel offers. These modes help the students troubleshoot and diagnose engine and generator problems," Kuhns explained. "This up-to-date control panel can now be used to train future power-generation students."

Dr. Wayne R. Longbrake, dean of the School of Natural Resources Management, approved the project and secured the approximately $5,500 needed to purchase the panel and conversion equipment to upgrade the 25-year-old generator set.

Kuhns said the "new" equipment rivals the 2-year-old technology in Penn College's Student and Administrative Services Center at the Main Campus entrance.

"With the improved control panel," he noted, "the 175,000-watt generator could provide enough emergency power to serve that three-story building, as well as a number of residential properties."

The professor's pride in the group's work is obvious, as he recounts the students' after-hours dedication to the project. The students, most of whom already have been hired in their field, learned everything from designing and building a mounting bracket unique to future training needs to rerouting the new wiring harness while maintaining the standard wiring methods that are incorporated in the more modern industrial generator sets.

Not only did the students accrue the immediate benefits of hands-on learning while working collaboratively to solve problems, but future enrollees now have the advantage of up-to-date machinery with which to simulate and troubleshoot a host of engine scenarios.

"This was an opportunity for us to really get a firm understanding of how common generator controls work and are constructed," Strine said. "There really weren't step-by-step instructions that we followed; with the help of Mr. Kuhns and some industry professionals, we made a game plan for what we had to do and we did it."

He said the students worked well together, each making a valuable contribution and all quickly cooperating to correct any "minor hiccups" that arose.

"In the end, the project turned out better than we expected and, now, future EPG students will have a platform to work on and advance their knowledge," Strine said.

The cooperative spirit was echoed by Dr. Longbrake, who said the project "is a good example of how industry, the College and motivated students work together to create an outstanding learning activity that benefits all parties and future students.

"We are extremely proud of the accomplishments of our students and the professional manner in which they approach their educational experience, making the most out of the opportunities made available to them," he said.

Among the helpful industry professionals was Walter R. Chrysam Jr., of Alban Engine Power Systems in Maryland, who was referred to Kuhns by a colleague with long-standing ties to Penn College. Chrysam sent equipment and volunteered to visit to help with planning the upgrade.

His two-day visit began on the Main Campus with a four-hour demonstration on April 21, set up by Kuhns and facilitated by the students in the electrical technology center machine analysis lab. The next day, Kuhns and Chrysam met with the students at the Schneebeli Earth Science Center, where the actual upgrade of the generator set was to take place. There, the details of the project were presented and revisions were made before the physical upgrade began.

During the following two weeks, Chrysam related, "the students did all the work, while I offered technical assistance as needed which wasn't often, as they had a good grasp of the operation and installation of the panel. I had no idea that the students would be as involved and enthusiastic as they were. This class was evaluating problems and looking for creative solutions on a level that left me dumbfounded."

"This was not an easy project, and they spent much time a lot of it nonclass time to properly prepare and install this panel," Chrsysam said. "The students' thirst for knowledge and aptitude with the panel were a tremendous reflection on Ken. It is obvious he has taught them well, and prepared them for success in careers whether in power generation or elsewhere."

He also gave high marks to his employer who is represented on Penn College's Heavy Construction Equipment Technology advisory committee for allowing him to pursue outside projects.

"When so many companies are cutting back, Alban supports me with the time and materials to help the College in support of students even though there is no immediate monetary return," he said. "Alban realizes these students are the future return on their investment."

The Electric Power Generation Technology curriculum includes courses from the Electrical Technology department in Penn College's School of Construction and Design Technologies and the Diesel Technology department in the School of Natural Resources Management. For more information about the major, call (570) 320-8038, send e-mail or visit on the Web.