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Bryce Gamble

Student’s summer research could help save thousands in material cost

Bryce Gamble

Bryce Gamble, a computer-engineering major from Tennessee Tech, spent 10 weeks in the Volkswagen Distinguished Scholars Program where he simulated stress-points on a theoretical cantilever to create a “best version” of a materials design.

For 10 weeks this past summer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Bryce Gamble used the computer-aided design, or CAD, software SolidWorks to digitally optimize materials in an effort to save on printing costs and time. He also toured the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., stood a few feet away from a nuclear reactor, and learned how to use 3-D printers.

“I liked the chance to see some of the stuff at Oak Ridge that I never would have gotten to see without getting an in,” he said.

The “in” was the Volkswagen Distinguished Scholars Program managed by Oak Ridge Associated Universities. The annual program gives students from six select Tennessee universities the opportunity to participate in cutting-edge, automotive-related research at ORNL.

A computer-engineering major at Tennessee Tech, Gamble gained his first internship experience in ORNL’s hands-on research environment.

“I like problem solving. It’s kind of a neat feeling when you work really hard at something and get it to work,” he said.

Gamble remembers fixing simple computer programming problems at the age of 10. In high school he took an introductory course to CAD software and also participated in SkillsUSA.

Part of his assignment as a VW Distinguished Scholar was to help build a software framework to automate and accelerate the additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing process, using a piece of software code developed by Gamble’s mentor Dr. Mark Buckner.

“The key was developing an interface between the CAD software and our optimization tool to establish a kind of a proof-of-concept,” said Buckner. “We’re hoping to develop this in to a fully automated design exploration tool for additive manufacturing in the future.”

Gamble needed a way to calculate the materials’ factor of safety, or FoS, a term referring to maximum allowable stress dependent on the material’s strength and design load. During the first few weeks of his internship Gamble learned to write in C# programming language and, by the end of the program, could show off about 100 colored lines of code used in collaboration with Dr. Buckner’s code to drive the SolidWorks simulation.

Gamble’s code changed the angles of the cantilever and ran simulations that pulled out the FoS ratio. Dr. Buckner programmed his code to compare these FoS values with predetermined target values.

“A part’s closeness to the target value is graded, so that a higher grade means closer to optimization. Then the parts with the highest rankings are ‘bred’ and a new generation of part parameters is created,” explained Gamble.

On the computer, Gamble studied a silver oblong shape—representing a cantilever—pierced with green and red dots showing points of manipulation. He could press these points and drag them to define fixed points and areas of pressure. Gamble said it takes only a couple of hours to find a theoretical optimized part that can then be printed out and put through real-world tests to measure the success of the simulation. Optimizing a part before it gets printed, versus printing a part and then figuring out how to optimize it, can save thousands of dollars in materials and energy usage, in addition to man hours.

“What we really hope to do is make this process generic enough so we can design anything,” said Gamble.

The VW Scholars program provided Gamble with daily exposure to a wide variety of engineering activity. “I’ve only ever known it [engineering] in terms of school work. This is really different, which is nice and eye-opening,” said Gamble.

Buckner also thinks the program broadened Gamble’s awareness of the discipline. “We’ve had a lot of creative discussion and I think we exposed him to things he never realized were possible before the program.”

Buckner believes Gamble improved his skills in SolidWorks and acquired programming skills in both coding and interface. “Project-based research is a critical skill that these students are going to need when they enter the workforce,” Buckner said. “Learning to apply conceptual research ideas to real-world problems to make a real impact in the market is invaluable.”

Gamble described the program as “really solid” and feels his experience as a scholar helped prepare him for an eventual graduate degree in computer science. “Any experience with writing code is useful,” he said, and added, “Computer science is problem solving, and the more problem solving experience you get, the better problem solver you are. Any little bit helps.”

Learn more about the Volkswagen Distinguished Scholars Program and other educational programs available at ORNL.