Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Mechanical Engineering Undergraduate Students Work to Improve Sanitation in Cambodia

For our mechanical engineering senior design capstone project, we (Joanne Wu, Rachel Muradian, and Yao Guan) worked on improving sanitation in floating communities along the Tonle Sap lake in Cambodia.

We partnered with Wetlands Work! (WW!), a social enterprise based in Cambodia that designs sanitation and wastewater treatment solutions. The HandyPod is a sanitation solution designed by WW! for use in floating communities along the Tonle Sap lake. Pilot studies indicate that the HandyPod system is very effective at reducing pathogenic content in the lake. However, its $150 price tag is somewhat cost prohibitive. Furthermore, the current system is built for use with floating houses and is thus not viable for use with stilted houses and other types of houses along the lake.

The overall goal of our partnership with WW! was to increase uptake of the HandyPod system among residents of the floating communities. To achieve this goal we focused on two main objectives: (1) minimizing the cost of the system and (2) adapting the system for use with stilted houses. We brainstormed four designs and moved forward with two of the designs: a stand alone stilted support structure for the HandyPod (left) and a hand crank (right) to allow residents to extend/reel in tubing.

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From the start of our project we knew we wanted to ensure the local appropriateness and effectiveness of our designs by implementing them in Cambodia. To that end we applied for the Poverty Alleviation Through Action (PATA) grant through the University of California, Davis Blum Center and were each awarded $2,000 to fund our travels. With this funding we were able to spend the month of August testing and refining our designs in Cambodia.

Here’s what each of us took away from the experience:

Rachel Muradian(2017)

Everyone always says that traveling and experiencing other cultures is important because it opens your mind to other ways of doing things. I would agree, but I would add that working with other cultures is even more important, because there are many cultural wisdoms that you can miss when simply visiting a different place. Working with the engineers at Wetlands Work! helped me to learn the importance of simple design and prep work, but also becoming used to the fact that no matter the amount of preparation work you do, a good amount of those plans will change and you can never be prepared for anything.

I would say that working in a research lab plus the coursework of the senior design course (EME 185) and EME 150A helped to prepare me best for this work trip. In my lab and those courses, I have gained experience in working in groups, working on my own time with only minimal deadlines, and practice in transferring my classroom knowledge to a real world project.

Joanne Wu (2016)

My major takeaway from  my experience in Cambodia is the importance of being receptive to the needs and constraints of the community you’re working with. For instance, we ended up using SketchUp, a free computer aided drawing (CAD) program, instead of SolidWorks, an expensive proprietary CAD program, to create and share design files with our sponsor Wetlands Work! Though we have the most experience with SolidWorks through our coursework, SketchUp is free and thus accessible by our co-workers in Cambodia.

Though most of the classes in the mechanical engineering curriculum at UC Davis taught me useful problem solving skills, I would say the most helpful classes for our senior design project were EME 150A (Mechanical Design) and ENG 4 (Engineering Graphic Design, CAD). I also found that the communication, collaboration, and management skills I gained through various extracurricular and group projects were important to our success.

Yao Guan (2016)

Locals rely heavily on the lake for their livelihood, so sanitation along the lake is imperative to provide good health and living conditions. Working on this project gave me great joy and pride because I can finally utilize my engineering knowledge to help others. In terms of which classes were most useful, I would say classes such as EME 150, EME 185, or ENG 4 are most useful. Mainly classes that teach us about teamwork, structural analysis, 3D CAD modeling, and forces. Throughout my invaluable experience working abroad, I learned many things. Some of which include: working with locals and peers, using what was accessible locally, becoming more independent as a person, learning about the Cambodian culture and history, learning how to use a new 3D modeling program, and learning some clever construction and fabrication methods from local engineers. The main lesson I took from this experience is that sometimes you can’t really plan for everything and you have to improvise with what you have to make things work. Much like life, this is a part of growing up.

Here are some of our favorite pictures:

The gang. From left to right: Chandy (field assistant), Rachel, Yao, Hakley (Tonle Sap School Teacher and self-taught engineer), Virak (Wetlands Work! Apprentice Engineer)

The gang. From left to right: Chandy (field assistant), Rachel, Yao, Hakley (Tonle Sap School Teacher and self-taught engineer), Virak (Wetlands Work! Apprentice Engineer)

 

Yao (right) explains one of our designs to Hakley (left and Puthea (center), two of the engineers at Wetlands Work!

Yao (right) explains one of our designs to Hakley (left and Puthea (center), two of the engineers at Wetlands Work!

Chandy, Hakley, Yao, Virak, and Joanne - building the stilted frame in mud

Chandy, Hakley, Yao, Virak, and Joanne – building the stilted frame in mud

Moving the stilted support to the boat for transport to the installation site

Moving the stilted support to the boat for transport to the installation site

Stilted support on the boat for transport

Stilted support on the boat for transport

Our hand crank

Our hand crank

The stilted support was ~95% successful with minor modifications to be made to the dimensions to better constrain motion. The hand crank was ~60% successful with more work needed to improve functionality and ease of use.

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