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Recycling Project 3.3.

1 Report
Justin Alpern
Miles Simpkins, Reid Harrison, Ariel Whitehead
Principles of Engineering
Westwood High School
3/29/16

Design Problem:
Problem:

The NRPA wants our team to develop a solution for a problem in the national parks. They
have placed dumpsters around the parks for recyclable materials, and they do have a
sorting facility, but they need us to design a device to sort the recycled materials.

Design Statement:
We must design, model, and test our device, which needs to be able to separate specific
recyclable materials.

Constraints:
Our machine must be able to run automatically, not requiring any input during the sorting
process. The components we can use are limited to one VEX kit and certain other materials
approved by the instructor, such as funnels, solenoids, and electromagnets.
The machine must be able to separate commingled recyclable materials into individual
holding bins without error. Said materials include four different half inch spheres of material,
sixteen marbles in total. The five available materials are steel, aluminum, wood, opaque plastic,
and clear plastic. Extra credit is awarded for sorting all five materials (twenty marbles in total).
The entire process must be completed within two minutes, and the marbles must be fully under
control the entire time; NO BOUNCING.

Brainstorming Ideas:
Sketch & Explanation:

The marbles can be dumped into the funnel all at once. A timed gate below the funnel
only allows one marble through every few seconds.
From there, another gate stops the marble briefly while the light sensor detects the
marble’s material. Depending on the material and its properties, such as translucence and
reflectivity, the gates are moved in a certain way before the marble is let go.
If the marble is clear, gate one puts it in the cup, and otherwise it moves the marble
farther along the track. Same for gate two with wood marbles, which are a lighter color than
metal ones. Finally, the metal marbles pass under a magnet. The non-magnetic ones roll into cup
three, and the magnetic ones are moved onto a conveyor mechanism before being pushed off by
a wedge and into cup four.

Decision Matrix:
For our decision matrix, our group chose five criteria to judge the brainstorm designs by.
We picked criteria that allowed us to judge the designs based on a sketch, a description of it,

and the opinions we could form based on that. The first criteria was Difficulty of Programming,
which we determined by the designer’s description of what the machine needed to do. Our
second criteria was Construction Time, and we determined this one by looking at the complexity
of the design’s structure. These first 2 criteria together helped us judge how long each design
would take to create. We didn’t know exactly how long we had to make the sorter, so we
decided that it would be best to pick a design that could be created as quickly as possible.
The next two criteria, Speed of Sorting and Accuracy, pertain to the machine’s
functionality. Speed of Sorting was based on how quickly the machine could sort each marble,
since the marbles needed to be sorted in two minutes. We judged this based on how the
machine would sort the marbles. For example, Miles was using a conveyor belt and several
stations along the path, so the individual marbles would be sorted slowly, but multiple marbles
could be sorted at once. Accuracy was hard to determine based purely on a sketch, but we were
able to use our prior knowledge of how the devices worked to judge the odds of the machine
failing at its job.

Group
Difficulty of
Members Programming

Construction
Time

Speed of
sorting

Accuracy

Requirements
met

Total

Ariel

4

4

3

2

5

18

Reid

4

3

2

4

5

18

Justin

5

3

3

2

5

18

Miles

3

4

3

4

5

19

1 --------------------- 5
Worst
Best
Miles’ design scored the highest on the decision matrix because it included good ideas that the
other group members also included in their designs (conveyor belt, servo gate to limit passage
of marbles onto belt), while also including some unique aspects that none of the other group
members had in their designs (Moving electromagnet).

Final Sketch:

The marbles go into a funnel and onto a track, where a servo gate moves them onto the
conveyor belt one at a time. The marbles move down the conveyor belt, stopping at various
stations to be sorted.
At the first station, an electromagnet moves forward and activates, attracting steel
marbles. The magnet then retracts and deactivates, so if the marble was steel, it gets dropped into
the “Steel” bin. If the marble was not steel, it continues to the next station.
At the second station, the marble passes between a light sensor and a flashlight. If the
marble is opaque (wood or aluminum), the marble will block the light, allowing it to continue to
the next station. If it is clear, then a lever will push the marble onto a track and into a “Clear” bin.
At the final station, the marble goes under a canopy which blocks outside light. A
flashlight is shined at the marble, and light reflects off of it onto a light sensor. Depending on the
marble’s reflectivity, it will produce a different value for the light sensor. The value determines
whether the marble is pushed to the right or the left, with reflective marbles (aluminum) being
pushed one way and non-reflective marbles (wood) being pushed the other way.

Design Modifications:
There were several modifications that we made to the design as we were building and
programming it. We had to replace the servo door at the funnel with a solenoid so that we could
mount it properly. We also had to replace the solenoid at the clear marble station with a servo.
The reason for this is that the conveyor belt was too wide, so the solenoid couldn’t push far
enough to knock out the marble while still being out of the conveyor belt’s way while retracted.

So, we instead used a servo that was mounted above the belt with an arm that could swing side to
side. Essentially, we just swapped the positions of the solenoid and servo in the original design.
We encountered a similar problem with the electromagnet as we encountered with the
solenoid; the magnet didn’t have enough range to grab the marbles. To solve this, we attached the
electromagnet to a moving bar on a track, which allowed us to have the electromagnet move into
the slot of the conveyor belt with the marble, grab it, and then retract before dropping the marble
into its bucket.
We had issues with the marble landing consistently in the slot of the conveyor belt that
we wanted it to. Sometimes, especially with the heavier steel marbles, the marble would go too
far and land ahead of where we needed it to. To counteract this, we added a backboard above the
track that would prevent the marble from going too far.
Towards the end of the building, we realized that we had flaps in the conveyor belt that
were extraneous. Since we were only using every third compartment, the 2 compartments in
between were pointless. Furthermore, the flaps were occasionally catching on the guardrails,
causing the belt to get stuck or change the drift of the belt when it stopped. So, we removed the
flaps separating the extraneous compartments, which improved our efficiency.
The final change we made was one that increased the belt’s efficiency even further. We
changed the position of the first motor so that instead of driving the belt directly, it drove a
compound system of gears that started with a very small driver connected to a very large driven
gear. The driven gear was then on the same axle as the gear that the belt was resting on. We only
made this change on the first motor, not the second.

Final Design:

Our machine did not function as well as we originally planned it to or as we would have
liked it to, but it still functioned fairly well for the state that it was in. We sorted three marbles
correctly (one clear, one opaque, and one metal), but only four out of the sixteen marbles made it
through the entire sorting process. We attempted to sort about eight marbles, and four of them
fell off of the belt. After that, we stopped the process early on account of being far over the time
limit and other groups needing to present after us. Even for the part of the process that we did get
through, it took over five minutes, more than double the time limit. Objectively speaking, our
machine was non-functional. But considering the complications with the belt getting caught, the
inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the encoder values, the extreme dependence on precise and
accurate movements, and the fact that the final sorting station didn’t even work, it’s amazing that
we still technically managed 75% accuracy in the sorting.

ROBOTC Program:

Design Process:
Steps of the Process:
1. Define Problem
2. Generate Concepts
3. Develop a Solution
4. Construct and Test Prototype
5. Evaluate Solution
6. Present Solution
Our Design Process:
The first step in our project was to define the problem that we needed to solve. We
were tasked with building a marble sorter, the constraints of which are listed near
the beginning of the report under the “Design Problem” section. After figuring out

what we needed to do and how it needed to be done, we split up to brainstorm
separate designs. We each came up with a separate, unique design utilizing
different elements of the VEX kit and different properties of the marbles to
achieve the same task. After we Generated Concepts, we compared our
brainstormed designs with each others and built a decision matrix to decide which
design we would use. In a very close decision, we picked Miles’ design due to
having a relatively simple structure and the simplest program. That entire process
only took a few blocks to complete, but the next step, Construct and Test
Prototype, took the majority of the time that we spent on the project. There were
several issues that we ran into during the construction and programming of the
design. We evaluated and fixed these issues as they came up, and eventually we
realized that we probably should’ve picked a design that didn’t use a conveyor
belt due to the issues we were having with the consistency of it. In the end, we
weren’t able to get the machine fully working properly for our presentation of it.
Although, nobody else had a fully working design, so we didn’t feel sad about it.

Reflection:
1. What would your team do differently with your design solution and why?
a. If we had a chance to do this project again, we would likely choose
a different design. The main problem we ran into with this design was the
inaccuracies associated with the conveyor belt. The belt would usually drift quite
a bit as it moved, and occasionally it would get caught on something and bounce
backwards instead. The most likely solution to this problem would be to use a
design that utilized ramps instead of the belt.
2. What was the most challenging aspect of this design problem?
a. The most challenging aspect of this project was definitely having
to make the marbles sort in 2 minutes. While we encountered several challenges
as we worked, those weren’t necessarily part of the design problem. The most
challenging aspect of the design problem was having to make the marbles all be
sorted in 2 minutes, which gave us only seven and a half seconds per marble.

While this may not sound like much of a challenge at first, it severely limited
what we could do with our sorter while still being within the constraints.
3. What did you learn?
a. The main thing that we learned from this project was that the
conveyor belts work somewhat ineffectively due to the issues that I listed above.
In the future, I will try not to use a conveyor belt in a project if I can avoid it, or at
the very least it won’t serve as important of a role as it did in this project. There
were also a few things that we learned from the other groups, such as the need to
secure axles on motors and the inaccuracies of some of the sensors.
4. What were some of the challenges of working in a design team?
a. In all the projects I’ve done in this class, I’ve never had very many
challenges when working in a design team, and this project was no exception.
While some people may cite the level of communication necessary to get ideas to
pan out properly or the coordination needed to efficiently accomplish tasks, I have
never had those issues when working in a design team.