Ryan Chartrand

Several roller coasters at Disneyland just got a little bit smoother, thanks to Cal Poly’s Society of Women Engineers (SWE).

A team of roughly 24 SWE students recently took home first place and $5,000 at the national Boeing Team Tech Competition by designing a very useful tool for the world-famous amusement park.

The device, called a chassis, consists of a sensor that travels along a roller coaster track in a cart, measuring depth variation of the welds. The results are then printed out in graph form, showing all the points that need smoothing. The smoother the welds are, the more comfortable the ride is.

“It was really interesting to see everyone’s perspectives come together,” said general engineering graduate student Emily Hakun, who co-directed the project along with mechanical engineering senior Amber Iraeta.

Sponsored by the Boeing Company and held last October in Nashville, Tenn., the competition called for SWE students to choose a company in need of a new product or product redesign.

“We worked with Disney two years ago and it was a good experience,” Hakun said. She added that creating a successful product this year was more important than placing well in the competition.

Another requirement of the contest was that the device had to be configured to work on three separate rides (the names of which Disney requested not be released). This was a difficult task, Iraeta explained, because “each ride is unique and we had to adjust the device accordingly to fit on each track dimension.”

Before the creation of this device, welders had limited and somewhat inaccurate tools to check their work while building or repairing rides. Engineers would then have to be called after construction was complete to inspect welds.

According to both co-directors of the project, that was not a cost-effective or easy way to ensure weld smoothness.

Instead, the welder can now use the device while constructing tracks.

The competition was a yearlong process, giving team members time to design, construct, find compatible software and test the device. Along the way, they received direct feedback from Disney engineers, an aspect that some considered a privilege.

“It was an amazing experience to see professional engineers critique our design,” said bioresource/agricultural engineering and business senior Claire Miller.

“The Team Tech Competition is just a great design experience and I would recommend it to any engineer or anyone interested in engineering,” Iraeta said. “The biggest thing for me was being able to work on the interdisciplinary team and seeing how each major contributed to the project.”

Miller will co-direct next year’s project with mechanical engineering junior Katie Gage. This time, the SWE will team up with Stryker, a medical technology company. They will attempt to redesign their mechanical shaver system, which is used in closed surgeries to remove excess matter from joints, like bone, cartilage and soft tissue.

“We have a pretty awesome project and a really motivated team,” Miller said.

The SWE has placed first or second in the Team Tech Competition every year since 2002.

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