Mechanical Engineering students partner with the Utilities and Energy Department to improve building performance

Mechanical Engineering students apply classroom knowledge to improve the performance of Auburn University’s buildings.
Mechanical Engineering students apply classroom knowledge to improve the performance of Auburn University’s buildings. (L-r) Team members are Caroline Mitchell, John Terry, Joe Garrett, Joseph Rashleigh, and Jeffrey Gaddes. Not present was Trey Gross.

By Gail Riese


Mechanical Engineering students in Professor David Dyer’s two-semester senior capstone engineering design class are working with industry professionals to apply knowledge learned in the classroom to improve the performance of Auburn University’s buildings.

Beginning in the fall 2013, a team of six mechanical engineering students partnered with Auburn University Facilities Management’s Utilities and Energy Department. They were issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) to improve the performance of M. White Smith Hall.  The focal point of the RFP was to make the building more energy-efficient, more comfortable, and safer and easier to maintain.  

“We provided the class with building drawings, utility usage, and gave them access to our system so they could understand how our campus buildings work,” said Ken Martin, Energy Engineer in Utilities and Energy.

Mechanical Engineering student checks the pressure at a pump

During the course of the fall semester, the class studied building operations, identified building issues, conducted interviews with building occupants, took air measurements, and performed preliminary troubleshooting exercises.

“We have learned a great deal about how to maintain the quality of comfort in Auburn University buildings. The Utilities and Energy Department gave us a challenge to solve and encouraged us along the way,” said Senior Engineering Design Student Trey Gross.

Facilities mechanical technician Tim Watts worked with the class and was on site assisting with maintenance issues. “We issued a work order to Tim and as the students gathered data, they worked with Tim to perform some quick fixes,” said Eric Moore, Energy Engineer in Utilities and Energy.   

At the end of the fall semester, the class presented the results of their building analysis and established goals for the spring semester. The goals include a building systems manual and a Final Comprehensive Retro-commissioning (RCx) Report. The report will include recommendations on implementation, at least some of which will be completed.

“I worked with a fantastic team that supported each other throughout the entirety of the two-semester-long project. Working with the Utilities and Energy Department has been a fantastic experience. We hope to implement energy cost saving measures throughout the building. We also are striving to make M. White Smith Hall more comfortable,” added Gross.

The Utilities and Energy Department has partnered with three of Professor Dyer’s senior engineering design classes. Last year’s engineering design class recommended many improvements to the Lowder Business Building, one of which was to upgrade the controls for the air handlers. The class estimated annual savings of $40,000. In 2014, Facilities Management plans to fund this recommendation.

Tour of the Satellite Steam Plant
(R) Eric Moore, Energy Engineer in Utilities and Energy, gives a tour of the Satellite Steam Plant to Mechanical Engineering students (l-r) Caroline Mitchell, Joe Garrett, Joseph Rashleigh, Jeffrey Gaddes, and John Terry. Not present was Trey Gross.


Last Updated: April 07, 2014