The Apprentice Automation Challenge asks teams of budding engineering apprentices to design, develop and build a device for use in the home or garden. Set by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), the annual contest aims to develop key skillsets by encouraging apprentices to identify and improve a real world problem with automation. The challenge benefits their ongoing development as apprentices and culminates in a showcase event where each team presents a fully working prototype of their final design.
We caught up with the MTC’s entrants for 2021 to find out how their project is progressing and what they have learned from the experience so far…
Can you introduce yourselves and tell us about the device you’re designing?
We are an apprentice-led project team called PetTech consisting of 4 first-year engineering apprentices, all from 4 different companies, studying at the AMTC. Our team is made up of Lucy Doe from CoMech Metrology, Beth MacDonald from Expert Engineering, Dan Cook from Meggitt and Ben Rabone from Fire Angel.
Our project goal is to manufacture an automated pet food dispenser that specialises in the delivery of wet pet food. There are many available options that dispense dry food, but we identified a gap in the market to develop an automated dispenser of wet food. Because of design, hygiene and cost implications, businesses usually shy away from creating this type of dispenser. We wanted to demonstrate that a wet pet food feeder is a good idea that is beneficial for all pet owners, particularly the elderly, disabled or infirm who may struggle with standard wet pet food containers.
What stage are you at in the challenge?
We have recently submitted our final report to the IMechE. The report covers our design specification, manufacturing instructions and business report. We have also created a Gantt chart to ensure that we keep on track with our initial plan. Now that the report has been submitted, we are looking to begin manufacturing our prototype in the MTC very soon.
What obstacles have you faced over the course of the project?
The most challenging part of the task was when we were working from home. We all had different ideas of how we thought the automatic feeder would work and what it would look like. When we all got back into the centre, we could have regular meetings to update each other on what we had been working on and any additional ideas that we had. We were then able to come up with sketch ideas which meant that we were all on the same page.
Another obstacle would be that some parts of the report could not be started until information was available from other sections. For example, the costs could not be completed until we knew what machines we would be using and how much this would cost.
What have you enjoyed most about the Challenge?
As we all come from different industries, we bring an array of knowledge to the table. It has been enjoyable to learn new things from each other and to try something different. This helps us to work better and more efficiently as a team.
How do you feel the challenge has benefited your apprenticeship experience?
Throughout the challenge we have been exposed to experiences that other apprentices’ won’t have done, such as designing and creating your own product from start to finish. We’ve also had the opportunity to work alongside specialists at the MTC that have all been very helpful and have guided us throughout the process. It’s given us confidence in our abilities because we have pushed ourselves out of our comfort zones.
What have you learnt about each other as a team?
Whilst we knew each other before becoming a team we have learnt more about each other’s strengths. For example, Beth has been the electronics lead, Dan has been the 3D print lead, Ben has been the circular economy and environmental considerations lead and I have been the business and finance lead. We have all used our best skills to our advantage which has helped us to succeed as a team.
What’s the end goal for the project?
The end goal is to create a working prototype by the due date. We would also love to have the opportunity to get involved and showcase our prototype in The Manufacturer Smart Factory Exhibition. Alongside the opportunity to win an award at The Manufacturers MX Awards.
We wish the entire PetTech team the best of luck in this year’s challenge! To learn more about the Apprentice Automation Challenge, visit the IMechE website: https://www.imeche.org/events/challenges/aac-challenge?resultsPage=1