WRITER: Tiffany Acosta
For their senior capstone project in the College of Engineering, Macklin Begaye, Austin Hilton and Jagg Lovato, all mechanical engineering technology students, knew they wanted a challenge. The trio, who graduated from New Mexico State University last month, selected a project to design and manufacture a machine for a local small business.
The team constructed an electronically controlled heating kettle for Mary Kane, CEO of The Sacred Desert, so she could improve production of her lip balm, ChipChap. The device, which the team calls the ChipChapper, includes a basin/kettle to make the lip balm, heater, dispenser and an electronic control system. Only on the market for about a year, ChipChap is a lip balm made with organic and fair trade ingredients and is certified New Mexico True.
Kane learned about the capstone project through Arrowhead Center and the Small Business Development Center in Alamogordo. With her specific needs such as temperature control, constant mixing and food-grade components, Kane said she wasn’t sure students would choose her project.
“She really encouraged the freedom to create our own setup. We wanted a project worth showcasing our skills and knowledge we’ve gained over the years,” Begaye said. “I think the biggest challenge we faced during the design process was trying to find the right materials, because she was requesting food-grade materials.”
To assist Kane and her growing company, she asked the team to make the ChipChapper portable and to have residential capabilities.
“For most industrial applications you need a lot more power than we’re using,” Hilton said. “I think we did a pretty good job of delivering a system to her that she can still run in a house and scale her production by five.”
Prior to the ChipChapper, Kane could make approximately 500 jars per batch. Now with the increased size of the basin and a dispenser, she estimates that making 2,000 to 3,000 jars per batch is possible.
“There’s no way I could keep up with the production that I’m anticipating, with my current production scale,” Kane said. “It’s that stepping stone that will make it possible for me to have serious and considerable growth.”
“I have been involved in hundreds of design projects, and it is not typical for most engineering students to be able to design a project this complex and be able to also build it and validate the concept in one semester,” said Anthony Hyde, engineering technology distinguished professor and capstone design course instructor. “The three students stayed focused and put in hundreds of hours on this project because they all wanted to help Mary with her company and product.”
Lovato said he believes the team was successful because each member brought a different specialty to the group.
“We complemented each other. Austin knows electric, Macklin got all the programming done, and I like to bang and weld stuff,” he said.
Kane said she appreciated the attention to detail the team considered during the project such as changing a hose from latex to silicon in case of an allergy.
“Not only did they take on a project that may fail, they also stubbornly and determinedly were sure they wouldn’t. That’s the thing I find so impressive, when you take on something so big it’s expected you fail, but you’re so determined that it will never happen. I knew I found my team, because that’s a quality I hope to have when I go through my days.”