Cleveland High junior Chandler Nichols looked beyond the candy bars and chips in the vending machine to a technological innovation for the industrial sector.
She pictured nails, motors and other items needed to keep a factory running smoothly, in place of the normal junk food.
A unique design was applied to the machine as Nichols brainstormed outside of the boundaries of common thought.
“The vending machine would be in a storage room. However, an advantage of it would be its connection to a computer connected to other computers throughout the factory,” Nichols said.
The project started as a fun initiative in an engineering class and ended up winning. Nichols first place in the 2014 Chattanooga Regional Science Fair seniors division.
She also took home the International Sustainable World (Energy, Engineering and Environment) Project and the Coca-Cola Bottling Award.
The vending machine was created with Fishertechnik pieces in class and later innovated upon in light of the upcoming Chattanooga science fair.
“That is the glory of engineering,” Nichols said. “An idea is limitless. You can’t really ever stop innovating.”
She walked through the real-life applications imagined alongside the vending machine’s creation.
A conveyer belt system would run from one room to the next. An employee could hypothetically order and receive a part from the other side of the building. The needed materials would be input to the system and computed by the vending machine program.
“The rotary table would be stationary, right in front of the vending machine. After the robotic attachments obtain whatever parts an employee orders, they are delivered to a ramp and go onto a bucket on the rotary table,” Nichols said. “Since it is a circle — 360 degrees — there can be virtually an infinite number of buckets that can be attached.”
Parts would constantly be moving from the various-sized vending machines. The high-tech storage containers could be larger or smaller, based on need. The engineering-savvy junior explained the robotic attachment could be pre-programmed to know where the parts are in the system.
“One week this container might have nails, and the next week something else,” Nichols explained. “You could put barcodes on there and then the robot would have a laser eye scanner to read those and locate the parts, while again also taking inventory.”
ISWEEP guaranteed Nichols a place at the next level of competition in Houston. At the competition, she had the opportunity to tour NASA. It was an exciting venture for the Cleveland High student.
Her intention is to pursue aerospace engineering after high school.
“I think there is a future in it,” Nichols said. “It is just a fascinating field for me. If you become a mechanical engineer, I think you can pretty much go in any field. So, I haven’t had any experience in aerospace, but I am really fascinated with the final frontier and exploring places beyond Earth.”
She admitted to some nerves prior to the Chattanooga science fair. However, Nichols felt ready for Texas.
Cleveland High engineering teacher Wade Jackson spoke highly of Nichols, her project and the work she completes on a regular basis in his classes.
“Things don’t work every time you try them the first time, but that doesn’t deter her from continuing to try and try to make it better,” Jackson said. “That is what will make her a tremendous engineer and a tremendous asset to the world.”
He encouraged Nichols to document every step of the project. She scribbled all of her ideas into journals. Drawings and notes cover the process from the initial inspiration.
She has since continued to innovate upon the idea. According to Nichols, something called the cross-hair movement concept will be added to the next level of the prototype. However, the changes will not be reflected in the current model, as contestants may not change their pieces from one level of competition to the next.
“She goes about it the right way,” Wade said of the concept, design and innovation. “She comes up with a concept. She puts in on paper. She refines it as much as she can on paper and then begins fleshing it out. If she runs into problems, then she is willing to go back and make changes.”
He told Nichols, “No one else is thinking like this [in industry],” when he saw the first prototype.
Although Wade primarily teaches budding high school engineers, he spent many years in industry and engineering before his education career.
“I’ve been to plants all around the country. I’ve seen what they need, and this [is what they need],” he said. “It is not just in manufacturing. It could be used in retail stores, grocery stores— it wouldn’t have to be limited to the manufacturing process.”
Nichols said she plans on attending next year’s science fair in Chattanooga.