Aug 2, 2017
Penn State students tackle apple harvest assist unit

In a small workshop, just north of the Ag Arena on Penn State’s University Park campus, Quinn Holland, a biological engineering major with the agricultural engineering option, talks about a half-assembled contraption that sits in front of him.

This project is part of Holland’s and other students’ final year at Penn State. All biological engineering students must complete a one-year capstone project, in which they apply and execute what they have learned in the major.

Unlike conventional capstone projects, which last a single semester, this experience allows students more time to design a solution to a problem and come up with a more comprehensive and better thought-out project.

The Apple Harvest Assist Unit as seen attached to the Bartlett Chariot. The device is all of the silver metal, along with the two small baskets hanging from the top of the chariot and the black tubes. All of the green and black metal is part of the chariot itself. Special supports were welded onto the chariot by Bartlett specifically for this project and can be seen wrapped around the front wheels. Photo: Penn State University.

During their first-semester class, team members establish design specifications and develop and select preliminary design options. In the second-semester course, the teams complete and test the detailed designs.

Students communicate directly with industry, community or academic sponsors, giving them a taste of what they can expect in the workplace after graduation.

Paul Heinemann, professor and head of the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, was one such sponsor. As a project idea, he proposed the redesign and improvement of an existing Apple Harvest Assist Unit, a device that one of his past graduate students had designed and built, but that he found was not entirely appropriate for the eastern United States due to the uneven and often hilly terrain.

Originally, the device was mounted on the Orsi EcoPick, a two-person picking platform that fits between trees in an orchard. “It was good for driving through flat orchards, but it wasn’t so good for Pennsylvania, which can be very hilly,” said Heinemann.

The original vehicle, according to Heinemann, was one solid platform. To raise and lower the platform, “you actually had to get off of it, you had to pull pins, raise the whole thing, then put them back in.”

Along with Rob Crassweller, professor of pomology in the Department of Plant Science, Heinemann purchased the Bartlett Chariot, a double-platformed picking vehicle that had “independently operating platforms, so each could pick-up and lower platforms independently.” A team was given the task of redesigning the device to fit on this new vehicle as its capstone project.

Holland, from Littlestown, Pennsylvania, was one of the students who worked on the apple picker redesign. While he looks for full-time employment Holland is working part-time for the department, making last-minute adjustments needed for the device to work properly.

“Since they started growing apple trees,” he said, “the way you harvested was that you basically climbed up a ladder with a basket strapped to your chest, you picked the apples, put them into the basket and you dumped them into a big plastic bin.”

This method of picking is very hard on workers, who sometimes have up to 50 pounds of apples in each basket. The mechanically assisted device the team is building will take some of the strain out of the work and protect workers’ backs.

The machine also will reduce bruising on the apples, increasing their market value. Instead of simply dropping apples into a container, workers place them in small bins on the sides of the picking platform. The apples then move down black tubes until they reach the center point. From there, a rotating plate gently deposits the apples into a plastic tub. As the tub gets full, the rotating plate rises to accommodate. All surfaces, from the bins to the rotating plate, are padded.

Like many biological engineering projects at Penn State, the apple picker has the potential to be picked up for commercial use.

“At some point, we would want to work with a company in Ontario called N.M. Bartlett, that they could start manufacturing, selling it, maybe, under license with us,” explained Heinemann.

The biological engineering major is offered by the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, which is jointly administered by the College of Agricultural Sciences and the College of Engineering.

Students can pick from three options within the major: the agricultural engineering option, which has an emphasis on machinery systems and structural design; the food and biological process engineering option, which has an emphasis on microbiological production and food processing; and the natural resource engineering option, which has an emphasis on protection of the environment from non-point source pollution.

The biological engineering major is offered by the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, which is jointly administered by the College of Agricultural Sciences and the College of Engineering.

Students can pick from three options within the major: the agricultural engineering option, which has an emphasis on machinery systems and structural design; the food and biological process engineering option, which has an emphasis on microbiological production and food processing; and the natural resource engineering option, which has an emphasis on protection of the environment from non-point source pollution.

Renato Buanafina, Penn State University

Source: Penn State University





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