From left are John DiBaggio, Cole Bittel and Dave Minnick.
LAWRENCE — A trip to Denmark and a chance at more than $12,000 in prize money await a team of University of Kansas School of Engineering students who recently claimed a top spot at an engineering competition sponsored by a worldwide leader in advanced pump solutions.
Cole Bittel, a junior in mechanical engineering from Bonner Springs; John DiBaggio, a senior in chemical engineering from Overland Park, and Dave Minnick, a second-year doctoral student in chemical engineering from Sterling, Ill., were on the KU team that finished in one of the top two spots at the U.S. division of the Grundfos Challenge.
"This competition gave me a second chance to see what I like about engineering," said DiBaggio. "The challenge didn't necessarily deal with anything specific I've learned in class, it was more about having an overall problem-solving mindset. The team had to come up with a creative, innovative way to deal with a real-world problem."
Based in Denmark, Grundfos is the world's largest pump manufacturer, with more than 18,000 employees globally. Its U.S. headquarters is in Olathe,. The Grundfos Challenge began in 2006 among students from top educational institutions in Denmark. It branched out this year to include universities in the United States and China. Student teams are divided into two tracts – business and engineering – and are tasked with solving a real-life water management case by turning theoretical knowledge into a practical business strategy supported by sound engineering schematics.
The U.S. challenge took place in mid-November in a whirlwind 24 hours in Kansas City, Mo. Teams were challenged to find a sustainable, energy-efficient solution to reduce water loss that would ideally involve Grundfos pumps. The KU team examined ways to separate and reuse water from a household sink or shower – known as gray water, which is easier to treat – from the water that comes from the toilet – known as black water. Currently, all used water typically flows from the home in one pipe, so the team devised a plan to send the gray water to an underground tank. The water is treated and then pumped back to the home for use in a toilet tank or sprinkler system to water the lawn. They also considered ways to incorporate this concept into an expanding urban area.
"What made our team stand out was how we incorporated specific Grundfos pumps, down to the serial number, into our project. We did research on flow rates and pump curves and figured out which pumps would be most effective in getting the water from the storage tank back to the home for reuse," DiBaggio said.
Teams were given the challenge at 10:30 a.m. one day and had until 9 a.m. the next day to conduct their research, find a solution and finalize their presentation. The Jayhawk team spent much time doing research and dealing with potential obstacles in their project solution and then wound up spending most of the night ironing out the specifics and perfecting the presentation.
"I'm very pleased with the performance and creativity of our KU Engineering team. Their model of coming together from different disciplines to better solve problems exemplifies KU's solid, well-rounded approach to engineering education," said Lisa Friis, team adviser and associate professor of mechanical engineering.
The KU team embraced social media set up by Grundfos to promote the challenge and chose a unique approach for their team photo. They dressed up in suits and went to the produce section of a local grocery store.
"So at the competition they had a booklet with a photo about each team – and all other teams were just kind of standing there in a typical pose, and then you get to our photo, and it was a stark contrast," DiBaggio said. "We were the weird team that was kind of cool, too, and I don't think we were originally taken very seriously, but we put in a lot of hours, and we obviously did really well. We also had a great time interacting with many of the wonderful Grundfos personnel through the two days."
Grundfos pays the way for the KU team to travel to Denmark in March for the finals of the challenge, where the Jayhawk engineers will compete against winners from China and Denmark. The winning team receives more than $12,000 in prize money.