Project Examples

Design of Shipping Bracket for Transport of Solar Modules

Course: 26.518 Plastics Product Design
Semester: Spring 2008
Instructor: Nick R. Schott
Partner:Village Empowerment Peru Project

The objective was to design a disposable shipping bracket to protect stacked solar panels during their shipment to Peru. The Village Empowerment Project uses these solar panels in order to help villages in Peru to obtain electricity for basic needs such as hospital communications, water pumping, etc.; but if these panels get damaged during transportation in the plane, and later on the trucks, they can’t be used, and that is why shipping brackets are needed. Due to the low yearly volume and the limited funds at UMass Lowell a method of manufacturing low volume quantities of the bracket (<500 parts/year) with low cost tooling was required. A total of seven teams with an average of four students per team were assigned to solve this problem. Each group was free to select their plastic material, design the plastics part, select the tooling, and select the process using equipment available in the Plastics Engineering Department. In many cases commodity plastics such as polyethylene or polypropylene were selected based on cost and low temperature impact properties. Some students chose copolymers with better impact properties, and some chose to use recycled plastics to go green. Both thermoplastics, as well as thermoset materials, can be used to make the parts. Other students considered structural foam molding, which is a low-pressure process that greatly reduces tooling costs. Low-cost tooling can be produced via inserts made out of aluminum or silicone rubber, which are mounted in standard mold bases available at UMass Lowell. The constraint is that the mold base has to fit onto one of the injection molding machines available in the department. The objective for the semester project was to come up with several designs. A continuation of the project in the Fall 2008 could actually build the mold and produce parts. This would be done by incoming senior students who have a year to complete their capstone project. The professor reported the project as being a “perfect fit for the Plastics Product Design course and its objectives”.

Learning objectives met by the S-L project:

  • The constraints forced the students to work on a prototype design which limits the cost of the tooling and is suited for low volume production.
  • The service component made the students aware of the poor living standard in certain parts of the world.
  • The consideration of recycled plastics also made the students aware of the environmental impact of manufacturing and the potential for recycling.
  • Project gave the students an opportunity to work in teams, hone their public speaking skills and their power point presenting skills.

Community objectives met by S-L project:

  • A plastic bracket was designed for solar panel shipments.
  • The plastic bracket is to be built next semester