ME 430 Experiment Design

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  • Dr. Kumal Kumar
Team Name Team Icarus
Duration Summer 2017 - Fall 2017
Team Members
  • Jens Christianson
  • Daniel Cox
  • Bradlee Speirs
  • Sammy Stuhlman
  • Zhengsong "Eric" Xia

The goal of this project is to develop two experiments for the ME 430 class. These include a heat pipe and solar panel experiments. The heat pipe experiment consists of reverse engineering a heat pipe thesis by W.K. Rossiter and designing an experiment that goes with the heat pipe. The solar panel experiment consists of a solar panel that tracks the movement of the sun and a pyranometer to gather data from the different forms of solar radiation.

Solar Panel Experiment[edit]

Problem Definition[edit]


Dr. Kumal Kumar wants the Capstone Design students to design two experiment platforms for the ME 430 class to use in their curriculum. For the solar panel, he wants us to make a solar tracking device that gives us feedback on how much solar energy is being produced as it follows the sun. This information would be used to generate a efficiency curve for a given solar panel.


Solar Tracker Specifications (As of 8/3/2017)


Project Learning[edit]

Client Interview[edit]

  • Discussed the specifications of what the solar tracker should have.
  • Needs to have different Operating Modes (i.e. I-V Characteristics from forms of tracking).
  • Before programming there needs to be an understanding of how the actuators determine position.
  • Understand the governing equations that will be used to determine the angle of the panel.
  • Budget will determine whether we have single or dual axis movement.

Lead Instructor and Technical Advisor Meetings[edit]

  • Discussed our weekly issues and where we are ahead/behind.
  • Discussed technical questions about the solar tracker.
  • Received feedback on designs.


  • Our team extensively researched how to program in LabVIEW to control the linear actuators of the solar panel. We will also have to integrate into our program data acquisition from the electronic programmable load.


Our research consisted of two sections:

Solar Tracker Design[edit]

As a team sub section we researched different designs of solar trackers, in both single-axis and multi-axis variations. After finding designs we thought would work well for our application of a solar tracker. We needed a design that would work with the size of linear actuators that we chose, this way we would get the most movement out of our two axes. We decided to go with a design similar to this Progressive Automations design.

One Vs. Two Axes of Movement[edit]

Dr. Kumar taught a Sustainable Energy Sources and Systems (ME 404) that included notes on the equations that were developed to track the sun. Using these we could accurately position the solar panel for maximum efficiency. For the solar panel to follow the sun in the most accurate way we would need two axes of movement. This is way we could precisely position the solar panel's North to South angle compared to a normal way of affixing the solar panel at the appropriate angle. We were able to find a table that showed our case effectively:


Initial Designs[edit]

Concept Description
TeamIcarus_onelinearactuator.jpeg Concept Design of the Solar Tracker using only one linear actuator.
TeamIcarus_onemotor.jpeg Concept Design of the Solar Tracker using a motor and gear.
TeamIcarus_linearactuatoroneaxis.JPG.jpeg Render of frame with one axis movement from a linear actuator.

Final Design[edit]

We chose this final design for a few reasons. It was able to integrate the size of linear actuators that we chose from Progressive Automations. The manufacturing process was greatly simplified with this design due to the fact that there are a few custom brackets used to put it all together. This design utilized the donated T-slot material and this was one of the ways we cut down cost.

Final Design
BK Precision Programmable DC Electronic Load Model 8500: This is a programmable dc electronic load that will be used to dissipate and read the power of the solar panel.


Complete System Schematic[edit]

This is a schematic of our system and how it it will function. It includes which parts of the system will control which variables..

Programmable DC Electronic Load[edit]

The BK Precision Electronic Load Model 8500 was selected to dissipate and read the power/voltage/current levels from the solar panel. This electronic load also works with the LabVIEW software and that makes it suitable for this project.

Solar Panel[edit]

During the initial design phase there was discussion on the capacity of the solar panel. We decided on a 100-Watt solar panel from Grape Solar because the electronic load we selected can accurately dissipate and read the load value. The solar panel also comes with a number of features that allow us to have flexibility in our design, one example is weatherproofing. We can't have an ME 430 student falling behind because of a string of rainy days.


Our controller of choice is the MyRio Student Embedded Device. This controller has 40 interfacing ports when expansion slots are included. This will allow us to control the linear actuators, detect their position, and acquire data from the electronic load with room for growth depending on our future implementations of data input devices. This controller is also compatible with the LabVIEW software that we will be using for all of our experiments.

Linear Actuators[edit]

Our chosen linear actuators were the Progressive Automations PA-14P 18 linear actuators. These actuators are weather resistant and have easily replaceable parts. They also have position feedback via linear potentiometers that are integrated in their enclosure. These features are all important to the function of our complete system.


For control of the linear actuators we decided to use a 4 channel relay board. This board switches the relays on and off when their respective pins are connected to ground. We will be using the MyRio to do this function to control the actuators.

Power Supply[edit]

The power supply for the linear actuators is a generic 12 volt, 15 amp bare power supply. This should provide enough power to the linear actuators even under maximum load.


TeamIcarus Budget.jpeg

Projected Schedule[edit]

TeamIcarus Schedule.jpeg

Heat Pipe Experiment[edit]

Problem Definition[edit]


Dr. Kumal Kumar wants the Capstone Design students to design two experiment platforms for the ME 430 class to use in their curriculum. For the heat pipe, he wants us to build it based on a thesis by William Kent Rossiter in 1970.


Heat Pipe Specifications Priority
Compatible with LabView Software Must
Ability to change heat pipe and mesh (off the shelf) Must
Measure heat distribution Strong Should
Measure heat flux Strong Should
Tested vertically and Horizontally (possible more later on) Want
Cost under $1200 Want

Project Learning[edit]

For this project we learned how a heat pipe works and what affects it. We learned what each component in the heat pipe did and how vital each of the specs were to the performance.

Client Interview[edit]

Dr. Kumar wanted to us to read up on heat pipes and how they work. One of the goals is to have a temperature distribution. Another goal was to have the heat pipe oriented in the vertical and horizontal position. Need to look up and see what thermal couples are going to be used. Need to know what is being tested for our heat pipe and have a plan for an experiment. All hardware we get must be labview compatible. Our SolidWorks model for the heat pipe is our prototype.

Lead Instructor and Technical Advisor Meetings[edit]

  • Discussed our weekly issues and where we are ahead/behind.
  • Discussed technical questions about the heat pipe.
  • Received feedback on designs.


We needed to build the heat pipe around testing the heat pipe, so we needed to research and find what were some of the most common test. Some of the test included:

  • Heat distribution (really common)
  • Heat transfer performance
  • Fill ratio of the heat pipe working fluid to empty space

To test performance, people used R=(T_e-T_c)/Q [C/W] for the thermal resistance and h=Q/[A(T_e-T_c)] for overall heat transfer, where R is the thermal resistance, T_e is the evaporator average temperature, T_c is the average condenser temperature, Q is the power input, A is heat transfer surface area and h is the overall heat transfer coefficient. We also looked at how other people set up their heat pipe. Most of them had a heater section, an adiabatic section and a condenser section. The heaters were either a coil heater, wire heater or a block heater. Most of the experiments insulated their adiabatic section. The Condenser section was either a tube in a cooling jacket or a fin. We also had to find out how to attach our thermal couples to the heat pipe without using thermal couple wells that were permanently attached to the heat pipe.


Initial Design Phase[edit]

Concept Description
2017_ME430ExperimentDesign_SWThesisModel.jpeg SolidWorks model of heat pipe from thesis.
2017_ME430ExperimentDesign_SWUpdatedModel.jpeg Our updated model with an easy loading assembly. We also are using heat tape for the heater. The condenser section will be shorter because we are putting in less heat than the thesis model. There will also be an adiabatic section that will be insulated.


System Schematic[edit]

This is a schematic of our system and how it it will function.


The coil heater will be controlled by the power supply that we can program.

Power Supply[edit]

The 9120 Series DC Power is a controllable power supply that we can control through labview. We can set it to maintain the coil heater at a constant temperature or do a series of temperatures.


The DAQ will be able to read the thermal couples and send the data to labview.

Thermal Couples[edit]

The Sa1 Series thermal couples come with a sticky tap to attach the thermal couples to the heat pipe. They also come with a connector to plug into the DAQ. The HSTC Series thermal couples are made to go into water.

Heat Sink[edit]

We will use these to take a few more temperature readings since the DAQs only come in 8 or 16 inputs and we need 10 inputs from thermal couples. These heat sinks will allow us to use the 8 input DAQ.


2017 ME430ExperimentDesign HeatPipeBugenbt 8 4.jpeg


2017 ME430ExperimentDesign HeatPipeSechule 1.jpeg
2017 ME430ExperimentDesign HeatPipeScheule 2.jpeg

Team Information[edit]

Team members listed below from left to right
Daniel Cox Project Specialty: Solid Modelling
Mechanical Engineering
Bradlee Speirs Project Specialty: Solid Modelling, Programming
Mechanical Engineering
Jens Chrsitianson Project Specialty: Design Development, Programming
Mechanical Engineering
Sammy Stuhlman Project Specialty: Consultant Relations
Mechanical Engineering
Zhengsong "Eric" Xia Project Specialty: Scanning, Solid Modelling
Mechanical Engineering