Executives at Kurtz Brothers in Clearfield have built a strong relationship over time with the Pennsylvania Technical Assistance Program (PennTAP). The school supplies, equipment and furniture distributor recently opened its doors to a group of students who conducted an energy audit of the facility and they discovered two minor leaks in the company’s compressed air system.
Monty Kunes, Kurtz Brothers president and CEO, said one of the leaks would have been difficult to detect without the specialized equipment, and he suspected the machine would have continued to leak air unnoticed if it weren’t for the energy engineering students in EGEE 494A who visited the plant as part of their class.
“It’s a win-win for us,” said Kunes. “It’s a learning experience for the students and Kurtz Brothers receives a full, extensive report of what they discovered. Their analysis will help us improve our systems and become more energy efficient.”
Many of Jonathan Wise’s energy engineering classes focused on the global overview of energy issues. He wanted to complement those research-based courses with a practical, team-based opportunity as part of his required energy research project. So he enrolled in EGEE 494A and found himself wielding a specialized leak detection gun for PennTAP.
"It's a class that attempts to incorporate concepts learned over the years, utilizing that information for problem-solving, and I definitely feel this PennTAP project has done that,” Wise said. “A lot of what we have learned in the classroom has manifested into real world experience.”
The students used high-tech tools to detect leaks that might be wasting energy in the manufacturer’s compressed air system. It’s a free service for Kurtz Brothers and other Pennsylvania companies – facilitated by PennTAP – and designed to be mutually beneficial to the manufacturer and the student.
It’s just one example of how PennTAP helps Pennsylvania companies every day. According to its annual report, PennTAP provided 273 cases of technical assistance to clients across the commonwealth in 2013. Clients have reported more than $7.7 million in economic impact and 72 jobs created or retained. And many Penn State students are now involved with projects across the state.
“This is a chance to get students into real world applications, where they apply the principles they learn in class and put their theories into practice,” said Denise Bechdel, energy, environment and worker health team lead for PennTAP. “This will prepare students to be tomorrow’s sustainability leaders.”
Sarma Pisupati, associate professor of energy and mineral engineering, is the faculty mentor for EGEE 494A. He said many budding engineers have not seen fully operational manufacturing facilities in person. He said PennTAP provides an opportunity for them to work directly with the professionals who run those plants for a learning experience beyond the classroom.
"Although the students know the theories to some extent, it's always good to have guidance from a PennTAP expert," said Pisupati. “This really works out well in both training engineers and helping industry solve its problems."