Georgia Southern engineering student assists global medical device company
When the opportunity arose for Kenneth Nwagu, an engineering graduate student in the Allen E. Paulson College of Engineering and Computing (AEPCEC), to work on a real-world engineering project that’s since been put to use at a global company, there was no way he would say no.
He began his Georgia Southern journey in 2017 as an international undergraduate student from Nigeria. For Nwagu, engineering has always been a passion. He completed his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering and began his graduate studies in manufacturing engineering immediately after.
“I thought about how few people get an opportunity like this and how much I could learn working on an actual industry project,” Nwagu said. “It got me excited, so I hopped on it.”
The project, used to fulfill the thesis requirements for Nwagu’s Master of Science in manufacturing engineering, was to create a device that would consistently and accurately test the drills, burs and blades that Brasseler USA® Surgical Instrumentation (Brasseler) was creating.
“They were looking for a testing device that would be able to evaluate the medical devices they were building and show how they compared to others in the industry,” said Drew Snelling, Ph.D., principal investigator on the project and former assistant professor in the Department of Manufacturing Engineering in the AEPCEC at Georgia Southern.
Snelling joined the project after it began, though he worked closely with Nwagu to ensure its successful completion. He recognized Nwagu’s passion for the work and helped him push through the challenges that arose with the project.
“I was very interested in automation,” Nwagu said. “So the concept of working to create a device that simplifies and streamlines the company’s testing process was in line with my interests. There were plenty of ups and downs that were frustrating with this project, but there’s always going to be ups and downs. You just have to push forward and have attainable goals.”
After working on the project for over a year and a half, the finished product was delivered to Brasseler earlier this semester and the company has already started putting it to use.
“This is a project that we’ve been interested in pursuing for quite some time, but we did not have the bandwidth to do so,” said Stephen Schwaner, Ph.D., senior engineer at Brasseler. “Using Kenneth’s device in our design process, we can determine which designs bring improvements in performance and which do not. We can also prove that our products perform as well or better than competitors’ products, which is hugely beneficial for communicating with our customers. The device can perform much-needed testing immediately, while its design and documentation leave room for our engineers to make adjustments and improvements over time. It is a turn-key solution, but it is not an inaccessible ‘black box.’”
The partnership between Georgia Southern and Brasseler also has the potential to impact the education of additional students according to Reinhold Gerbsch, D.Sc., director of industrial relations in the AEPCEC. He encourages companies looking to sponsor a similar project to reach out to him.
“This has been an excellent opportunity for Georgia Southern to showcase the capabilities of its undergraduate and graduate students,” Gerbsch said. “Brasseler is looking to make their plant in Savannah the center of manufacturing for their world operations, so being the only institution with a manufacturing engineering program within a 500-mile radius is pretty exciting.
“The partnership with Brasseler has bloomed in many ways to meet more than just the needs of this project. They hire our students at the full-time as well as co-op and internship levels. We’re really looking forward to continuing this relationship as they expand their brand and their manufacturing in this area.”
Nwagu feels like this is an experience that he could not have gotten at another institution.
“When I was researching schools I found that Georgia Southern was really community-driven,” Nwagu said. “The ratio of professors to students means that you can have more communication with your professors and they get to know you by name. It was important to me to have professors who are invested in my growth and success.”
Snelling was one of those professors. Nwagu’s time working with Snelling provided the feedback he needed to create the best product possible for Brasseler.
“Dr. Snelling has been the best,” Nwagu said. “He gave me advice and always made sure I was working in the right direction. His help in working with an actual company rather than just fellow students was very influential for me.”
For Nwagu, the project helped him expand his experience in many fields ahead of his December graduation. If there was one piece of advice he would pass on to other students, it would be this.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” Nwagu said. “Whether that’s going to tutoring or meeting with professors during office hours or even reaching out to another student, don’t think that you have to struggle alone. Teamwork is important and there is always someone willing to help.”