As the environmental and regulatory requirements change for diesel engines, so do the demands on the components that go into making the engines. One such component is the air valve, which serves a variety of purposes — from helping control emissions to helping ensure an emergency shut-off of the engine under certain circumstances.

To help meet this challenge, Caterpillar Inc. teamed up with Bradley University for a senior convergence project to help generate new ideas for air valve design. Convergence projects bring engineering and business students together on real world projects. A team of seven students was established in August 2016 and worked with Caterpillar engineers and business managers to design and produce a prototype valve that could be tested in new extreme environments.   

Dr. Lex Akers, Dean of the Caterpillar College of Engineering and Technology, believes these experiences are priceless for students. "The Bradley student team gained valuable real world professional experience working on this project,” he said. “Teaming with Caterpillar provided the students additional technical knowledge and experience in the practice of engineering and business in industry."

The project started with marketing and finance students who worked with Caterpillar dealers to understand current products and the potential improvements that could be made. The business students then turned to their engineering counterparts to look for ways to make the valve more durable. Finally, the business students monitored customer feedback and made sure the new designs met expectations for cost and quality. 

By April 2017, the students produced a prototype that was ready for testing. That prototype completed vibration testing and is now ready for additional testing and consideration for production on future applications. 

Tim Wolfe, Caterpillar product manager for engine systems, believes it was a fruitful partnership for the engineers and the students, as several new valve design concepts were explored and the students continue to work with Caterpillar’s intellectual property attorneys to pursue patents. “The Caterpillar team enjoyed working with the Bradley students,” he said. “They were able to bring fresh ideas to the table and provide very high quality analysis and designs. They were very mature with a high level of professionalism and strong work ethic." 

Bradley President Gary Roberts says it is a century-old commitment at Bradley to provide experiential learning opportunities for students and this is just one example of how the business and education industries can work together to create a stronger and more prepared workforce. "Partnerships like this help us to produce a superbly educated workforce that has been forged in a rigorous multi-disciplinary, hands-on academic experience that the modern world demands,” he said. “One that involves significant cross-functional interaction and fosters a collaborative team-oriented mentality."