ASME IAM3D Challenge Case Study: The Fishing Future

By Joshua Olesker/ASME Public Information

Eric Chapin of South Dakota State presents at IAM3D Challenge

It has been said, “build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.”

Will the same happen if you build a better bobber?  Mechanical Engineering students and recreational fishermen Eric Chapin, Tyler Tashner and Brandon Westrick of South Dakota State University may just find out.

Their entry into the 2014 IAM3D Challenge, “The Fishing Future,” re-imagined and re-engineered a simple device: the humble fisherman’s bobber.   Yet the team’s design won out as the “Most Innovative Project” at the IAM3D Challenge finals this past November in Montreal.

Cost comparison of raw materials – traditional vs additive manufacture

The IAM3D Challenge calls on mechanical and multi-disciplinary engineering undergraduates around the world to re-engineer existing products or create new designs using additive manufacturing techniques to minimize energy consumption or improve efficiency.  Entrants must address industrial, manufacturing, and humanitarian challenges in novel ways; to take top prizes, a team must demonstrate exceptional creativity and ingenuity as well as mastery of engineering design principles and their application.

Chapin and his teammates, all recreational fisherman as well as engineering students, racked their brains to dream up a great project for the IAM3D Challenge.  When they realized they like to spend their off hours fishing and saw they could focus their engineering energies where their extracurricular passions lay, they suspected they’d hit paydirt. 

“We thought -- why don’t we just design our own customized fishing bobber -- and print them right here at the school?” Chapin said. 

Sample bobbers created by the SDSU team

Their research indicated that the traditional manufacture of fishing bobbers was ripe for improvement.  And in fact the SDSU team improved the process dramatically, allowing a greater variety of bobbers to be produced in less time, for less money, and with less waste and environmental consequences than had ever been done before – all through taking advantage of Additive Manufacturing technology. 

“When you look at the standard process” of bobber manufacturing, Chapin explained, “there were just a lot of inefficiencies.  You have the quality control of the raw material, the processing through different machinery.  Final assembly is tedious and expensive job if you’re mass-producing - and then shipment to stores can take days.”

In contrast, the SDSU team’s process used CAD design and 3D Printing -- and that was all. 

“If you like a standard bobber, we can produce those no problem,” said Chapin.  But if you want a bit of customization, the Fishing Future team could produce almost any shape that floats. 

“We’ve made them in the shape of a [Minnesota] Vikings helmet, a Pokemon ball, and in the shape of a batting helmet for a Cubs fan,” Chapin noted, grinning.

He also argued that the many conditions faced by fishermen call for a broader variety of bobbers than have been economically feasible to this point.  Additive manufacturing allowed the SDSU team to create a significantly improved production path for bobbers, one that includes broad customization and fun designs as well as reduced costs at every stage of the production process. 

So will the world beat a path to these brilliant young engineers’ door?  Only time – and the fishing bobber industry – will tell.