Senior Project Shows Post-Graduation ‘Power’

Published 04.02.2014

Engineering & Industrial Design Technology
Alumni News
Industrial, Computing & Engineering Technologies News

Mitchell T. Black and Bryant M. Deller became friends after enrolling at Pennsylvania College of Technology. Today, the successful alumni are separated by companies and specialties. But their bond endures, thanks to a joint senior project that is powering a champion tractor in a professional pulling league.

The 2012 graduates returned to campus during the college’s recent Open House to showcase their handiwork: a multi-engine gearbox installed on a modified tractor. Black, of East Berlin, designed the gearbox, and Deller, of Red Lion, performed all the machining on the 500-pound device.

“Their display not only showed the accomplishments of Penn College grads but added extra enjoyment for many of our visitors to see this technology close-up,” said Katherine A. Walker, assistant professor of engineering design technology and department head.

Mitchell T. Black, of East Berlin, left; and Bryant M. Deller, of Red Lion, brought their modified tractor to Penn College’s recent Spring Open House.Black devised the idea for the three-engine gearbox after watching his brother-in-law, Jason McKenzie, compete in pulls and be outperformed by tractors that had such a system. McKenzie required an upgrade, and Black needed a senior project as a requirement for earning a bachelor’s degree in computer aided product design. The gearbox initiative was born.

“I started the design the summer before my senior year,” said Black, who also earned an associate degree in computer aided drafting technology. “Had to get everything ‘spec’d’ out: gears, bearings, shafts, all that.”

The design had to accommodate three engines, each producing 1,800 horsepower, so McKenzie’s tractor, dubbed “Never Satisfied,” could pull a sled loaded with weights down a 300-foot clay track during competitions.

“It’s supposed to take the power and torque from each engine and bring it all together through the gear system,” Black said. “Then it has a drive shaft that comes out of the back of the gearbox that sends it to the rear of the tractor, which makes it go forward or reverse.”

Black’s eventual design impressed David A. Probst, assistant professor of engineering design technology.

“It was exceptional,” he said. “In addition to obtaining needed information as to input and output shaft locations, size of bearings, etc., a huge unknown had to be overcome, and that was the ability of the design to withstand the immediate torque of 6,000 horsepower.”

With the design complete, Black’s next step was to machine his creation. Enter his friend Deller, in need of a senior project for his bachelor’s degree in manufacturing engineering technology.

“Mitchell was kind of joking around saying, ‘I need someone to make this.’ I said, ‘We can do it.’ I had no idea what I was getting into,” Deller said. “I was expecting this little box, and this thing shows up and its 57 inches long!”

While juggling five courses, Deller estimated he spent 10 hours a week during his final semester machining the gearbox.

“There was no time for slacking,” he said. “The sheer size of it was the biggest challenge. We had to get everything lined up when we were boring the holes.”

Deller, who also earned an associate degree in machine tool technology and a machinist general certificate, credits Keith H. English and John G. Upcraft, instructors of automated manufacturing and machining, for their support throughout the project.

“A lot of people weren’t really sure how Bryant and I were going to make the gearbox and how everything would turn out in the end,” Black said. “We just stuck at it. We trudged through any problems we had.”

The tractor powered by the gearbox didn’t have many problems competing this past season in the East Coast Pullers of the Lucas Oil Pro Pulling League. “Never Satisfied” won its first points championship in the modified tractor division, which consisted of approximately 15 pulls throughout the Mid-Atlantic.

“I enjoy being able to stand next to the tractor,” Black said. “I feel that I’ve contributed to the whole setup and its success.”

Black and Deller credit, in part, the practical experience gained from the project for leading to post-graduate success. Like many of their peers, both remember having jobs lined up before receiving their diplomas. Today, Deller is a machinist-mechanic for DLA Aviation in Mechanicsburg, and Black is a manufacturing engineer at Billet Industries in York.

Probst is confident their accomplishments and the enduring nature of their senior project will benefit current students.

“The ability to show and talk about previous projects does make a difference,” he said. “I believe it makes students take a step back and look at what can be done if you take the time to lay out a plan, research and seek advice from professionals.”

As for the advice he offered current Penn College students, Black just needed to point to the tractor and gearbox. “Focus on something you could use for a long period of time,” he said.

For information about engineering design technology, manufacturing engineering technology and other majors offered by the college’s School of Industrial, Computing & Engineering Technologies, call 570-327-4520.

For more about Penn College, which is celebrating its Centennial throughout 2014, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

Photo by Craig R. Urey, student photographer