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Independent Study Snapshot: Mechanical Engineering

Stefanie Senkow
January 24, 2022

usgif logoIndependent studies are typically reserved for first class (1/c) cadets. But 3/c Tamara Wheater was given the opportunity to investigate 3-D printing and investment casting. Exploring this topic expanded her engineering knowledge, built her confidence, and reinforced her love for mechanical engineering at the Coast Guard Academy.

What sparked your interest in this independent study?

My initial interest in both 3-D printing and investment casting grew as I realized both methods produced a useable final product. I find it more interesting to build or make something that can be used for a purpose. Investment casting was an interest by surprise; I had no prior background in it before starting this study.

How does this research apply to the real Coast Guard?

The Coast Guard could benefit from the use of casting. It would allow the Coast Guard to make parts specific to the equipment used in everyday operations. Parts could be replicated with this technology, cutting down on ordering time and cost, thus streamlining operations out in the fleet.

Describe the biggest challenge you overcame?

Casting lends itself to trial and error when trying to make a mold. It got frustrating at times because we couldn't get the plaster for the molds to release the excess air built up from mixing the plaster at times which would result in the final mold having deformities. Sometimes this would be more of an issue than others and we tried various methods to get rid of the excess air, such as using a vacuum to pull out the air and changing the water to plaster mixture. There was also a process in which we had to heat the mold to within 200 degrees of the metal being used (we only used aluminum) so that the metal would have enough time to fill the mold before starting to cool.

What has been the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from this project?

I learned a lot academically just working on this project. However, it also became clear to me that I wanted to do mechanical engineering and that I was still interested in the manufacturing side even if I was just doing academic work while at the Academy. It reminded me of why I wanted to do engineering in the first place.

Discover the mechanical engineering curriculum at the Coast Guard Academy.