Seal of Approval: WSU Engineering students tackle real-world project in Anacortes

Community News

Anacortes, Washington, Foundation
(L to R) WSU students Ahmed Al-ramadhani, Jose Rodriguez and Ryan Dean stand with Brady Emmons from the Anacortes refinery with the seal save cart they designed for the machinists to use.
  • Washington State University students created a unique seal save cart as their senior capstone project for the Marathon Petroleum Anacortes refinery who acted as the customer for the request.
  • The partnership connects students from the engineering program with the refinery team for a real-world project that provides value for both sides.
  • The students created a solution that improves operations at the refinery and will make an impact on how machinists do their job.

Washington State University (WSU) students developed their senior capstone project on a real-world request from the Marathon Petroleum Anacortes refinery. Their professor says the partnership between the school and refinery is building a successful engineering community in Washington.

“Real world projects matter to my students because it gives them the opportunity to show that they can function as an engineer and forces them to ground their classroom work with reality,” said Professor Charles “Dr. Chuck” Pezeshki, Director of Industrial Design at WSU’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering (MME). “They also grow tremendously interacting with other professional engineers who act like customers. Customers don't tell you what to do -- they want you to think for yourself and deliver a solution.”

The partnership between the school and refinery is building a successful engineering community in Washington.

Dr. Chuck connected his students with the refinery’s Maintenance Supervisor Brady Emmons, a graduate of WSU, for a project sponsorship. The WSU Engineering senior design team built a seal save cart, a portable tool used by machinists to flush and clean seals while the hydrocarbon pump is still in the operating unit. The seal flush or seal save process prolongs the life of the mechanical seal and allows the machinists performing the work to be more efficient.

“I wasn't expecting this kind of project,” said Khalfan Al-Musalami, student at the WSU School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering (MME). “It was a great experience to participate where you get to be actually at the site and put together all the needed parts in order to create a cart that will be further used by the company.” 

(L to R) Anacortes refinery machinists Kris Garon, Jace Brunson, Brian Rebman and Trevor Smith stand with their new seal save cart.

Dr. Chuck said this differs from an internship where they work with a senior engineer who guides them in what to do at the job site. He said both are important elements of a students’ education, but the design clinic setting forces students to evaluate what each person in their cohort does well and put that into the project.

“We gave the students our initial project plan, and they analyzed and developed a cart that has the potential to make a big impact for us.” said Emmons. “We saw an opportunity for improvement in our refinery process and were able to work with the senior design team to create a product that would really make a difference in our operation.”

Close up of the fluid control manifold on the seal save cart.

Previously, machinists used hand sprayers, hoses, temporary piping and soap to clean and flush the mechanical pump seals to prevent leaks and prolong the life of the seal. They carried all the equipment and cleaning supplies to the worksites each time. The students analyzed the original process and, working with the machine shop, developed design drawings, incorporated improvements in the flush methods and then built the cart. When the students delivered the cart, they worked with the machine shop to demonstrate its functionality and then delivered a final presentation for refinery leaders.

The new cart has all the functions needed built into it and can be loaded on the bed of a truck or wheeled easily by one person. It is equipped with multiple connections for water and steam, contains a chemical tank, has storage for tools and incorporates a vice. The cart has three manifolds for testing the seal, regulating air flow into the pump, and controlling fluids sent to the seal port.