Learner Community Projects

The College of Engineering, Construction and Living Sciences welcomes enquiries from businesses interested in providing our learners with real problems they can help you solve.

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Do you have a problem to solve, or an idea to pursue, that is outside business as usual?

  • Is the problem or idea suitable for learners from one or more of these study areas to work on?
    • Mechanical Engineering
    • Electrical Engineering
    • Civil Engineering
  • Is there plenty of time for the learners to work on this?
  • Are you willing to pay for materials and provide other support that the learners might need?

Contact details

If you’ve answered yes to these questions, please contact us on and tell us your problem or idea.

What happens next?

  1. We’ll check that the project is suitable for our learners, giving them a good learning opportunity.
  2. We’ll finalise the project scope with you and record that in writing.
  3. We’ll offer the project to learners at the right time in their course.

Examples of past learner projects

Drum roller
When honey cools down, it can crystallise; a honey roller helps keep it liquid.

We all know what happens to a jar of honey left in the back of the cupboard. The same problem occurs when liquid honey is transported in metal drums. In Otago’s cool weather, the honey solidifies. Heating it back into liquid form for processing can take up to three days. Otago Gold Honey, a local, family-owned apiary, asked our Engineering learners to help solve the problem. They wanted a way to keep their drums of honey moving. A drum roller would cut down the time and heat needed to prepare the product for processing and packaging.

Three Engineering Technology learners, Daniel Rutter, Ennis Massey and Lewis Adamson, collaborated to develop and build the drum roller. From the outset, the team decided on a strategically simple design. As the client was a small, family-run company, one person needed to be able to operate the roller. The learners were able to adapt existing designs to make a roller that is easy to use and suitable to hold the weight of full drums of honey. It uses off-the-shelf parts to minimise costs and delays. These practical choices have resulted in a more workable and sustainable end product.

The finished roller has been designed to meet the client’s needs and a prototype has been manually and simulation tested to high safety standards. Once installed on site, further tests and adjustments can be made to optimise its performance. Furthermore, because it uses readily available materials, the drum roller has the potential to be developed for production on a larger scale.

April 2023

Ice sampling equipment
Cliff Lochhead has long had Antarctica on his bucket list. And, indeed, his forthcoming trip to the icy continent is likely to involve a form of bucket.

In an intrepid twist to his time studying a New Zealand Diploma in Engineering (Mechanical) at Otago Polytechnic | Te Pūkenga, Cliff will board a United States Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster in Christchurch on Friday, 24 February, travel 4000kms to McMurdo Station and on to nearby Scott Base, where he will live for nearly a month.

Summer at Scott Base equals lots of daylight (all day, in fact, during February) and relatively “warm” temperatures ranging between zero and, minus-10degC, near-perfect conditions for testing the equipment Cliff has helped develop as part of an University of Otago project, which Otago Polytechnic is supporting by providing engineering solutions.

The project, Tere Tīpako Tio: Rapid Extensive Antarctic Ice Sampling, aims to develop small, low-cost, easy-to-deploy drilling instruments, to collect ice samples rapidly and at a scale not previously possible. It is hoped the collected data will lead to a better understanding of ice sheets and how they might change in future. Led by Geology Professor David Prior, from the University of Otago, the research team required an enthusiastic engineering student to help design and fabricate key elements of equipment.

Enter Cliff who, after being interviewed and accepted for the role, has used his mechanical engineering skills to build a range of high-pressure nozzles for a hot water drill as well as a help design, develop and test a system of buckets to extract water from the drill holes. Cliff has been supported by Engineering Senior Lecturer Adam Liberatore, who helped scope and define the project.

“Essentially, we have made modifications to a commercial hot water blaster,” Cliff explains. “The first problem we need to solve is whether we can even drill into the ice. If the system works as we hope, we’ll melt holes of differing diameters in the ice. Another problem is how to get the water out of the drill holes. If the holes are deeper than 50m, we’ll need to manually remove the water. So we’ve been working on a system that uses buckets – although these buckets are 3m long and 10cm wide, more like long tubes.”

To lift the buckets, Cliff and company will employ a tripod, pulleys and cables – and their own muscles. Still, as a former outdoor adventure instructor, Cliff is used to a few callouses.

“When I left school, I trained on the West Coast as an outdoor pursuits instructor. I was teaching rock climbing and a little bit of mountaineering. I’ve been in alpine areas, but going to Antarctica is something else. My father had been there years ago, helping build on Scott Base. I remember him talking about it. So I have always been interested in the idea of going there. And now I’m about to. I’m really excited.”


March 2023

Fish hook testing
How can you find the best fishhook on the market?

Fishing is one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most popular outdoor activities. Whether for sport or recreation, fishing in our beautiful but sometimes harsh natural environments can take its toll on gear. Bernsport, a fitness and outdoor equipment wholesaler, wanted to find which brand of fishhook performed the best. Michael Grant, an Electrical Engineering Diploma learner, set out to put this question to the test for the Engineering Project capstone course.

Michael's project designed two sets of fishhook tests. The first was a simple and effective way to rate the strength of the hooks. By suspending a series of weights from the hooks, and increasing the weights by increments, Michael was able to record when each hook bent or deformed. Before and after photos provided a clear comparison: the stronger the hook, the longer it held its shape. 

The second test looked at the effects of corrosion. For this test, the learner devised a custom-made chamber. Inside this tank, suspended hooks were exposed to heated salt water. This spray doused the fishhooks on a timer for a period of seven days, allowing an accurate comparison of results. Overall, the two tests combined showed how each brand performed under pressure.

The outcomes of this project go beyond the initial findings. Both test designs proved successful. The innovative system of the corrosion chamber can be refined to better simulate real world conditions. The project’s solutions are now available to the client for future use.

February 2023

Milk bottle top recycling
An interdisciplinary learner project is supporting people with disabilities in meaningful work collecting, sorting, and shredding coloured milk bottle tops.

The Connections Centre offers supportive day programs for people living with physical and intellectual disabilities and their whānau. They aim to assist service users to follow their interests and develop engagement within the community. Connections is also passionate about recycling and minimising waste. They aim to repurpose products that might normally end up in the landfill.

An exciting new project will simultaneously:

  • provide meaningful work for Connections' service users which includes visible engagement with society, and 
  • provide an opportunity for milk bottle tops to be recycled, reducing waste going to landfill. 

Two Occupational Therapy learners, Ana Amador-Preciado and Alex Potter, worked with Connections to help design and set up the service, with collection points in stores for people to drop off their milk bottle tops. Connections service users will visit the stories to collect the bottle tops. The bottle tops will be cleaned and sorted by colour and plastic type, so that the shredded plastic will be more suitable for recycling.

The shredding machine has been built to a Dutch design by our Electrical and Mechanical Engineering Trades learners and their supervising staff with assistance from our EPICentre technicians. It incorporates a range of safety features to protect users. The machine has been donated to Connections Centre to be used by their service users for shredding the plastic milk bottle tops.

November 2022

Land stabilisation
Coastal land stability issues were the subject of research projects by several of our Civil Engineering learners.

For many years now Haven Street in Moeraki township has suffered from land slips after heavy rain events. Scott Rhodes investigated the causes and possible solutions in a final year research project, consulting with the community, iwi and the local authority. Unfortunately slowing land movement to keep the road open is likely to be very expensive. 

Sarah Maybin looked at coastal erosion at St Clair Beach, Dunedin. A decline in sediment inputs from rivers to the south may be a factor. Sand sampling indicated that mechanical weathering occurs during long shore transport of sediment northwards. Sarah suggests that a breakwater extending from an existing rock wall would help with beach sand retention.

A decommissioned landfill lies under Kettle Park in Dunedin, adjacent to Middle Beach. Beach erosion means there is a risk of breach of the sand dune and exposure of hazardous waste. Devon Quinn designed a sloped seawall revetment to reduce this risk.

Coastal erosion has also been a problem at Ringaringa Beach in Paterson Inlet, Rakiura. Loss of sand from the beach means the cliff is eroding, endangering houses and a community golf course. Cameron Sinclair recommended and designed a rock revetment to reduce risk. A groyne or plantings could help slow migration of sand southwards.

September 2022

Peristaltic pump design
A new open source design with readily available components will make it much cheaper to build a peristaltic pump.

A peristaltic pump has a rotating head that compresses tubing during its rotation, moving a fluid along the tube. This allows for sterile handling of liquids, as the liquid never leaves the tube. Commercial peristaltic pumps with high dosing efficiency, however, can cost upwards of $1300. A team of our Engineering Technology learners worked with Dr Martin Hohmann-Marriott of United Scientists CORE to design an open source peristaltic pump made with 3D printed components.

The learners, Angus Avery, Julian Knaf and Luke Patel, opted for an adjustable pump head design so that their pump could be used with a variety of tube sizes. Experimentation showed that a triangular shape for the pump head was best. The pump is electronically controlled by an Arduino Uno Microcontroller, with a user interface displayed on an LCD screen. Control software for the Arduino was written in C++ and allows for setting the pump's speed and dosage volume, amongst other features. A PCB enables easier assembly of the pump by avoiding the majority of wiring work.

The team was pleased to have a working prototype which they could test in order to improve accuracy. Having 3D printed parts meant they could implement design iterations quickly and test different prototypes simultaneously. The pump is reliable once calibrated and produces accurate, repetitive dosing operations, but the students have also have identified several areas for future exploration and optimisation.

June 2022

Test-tube shaker
An ingenious and practical engineering solution should make life easier for lab workers.

As part of the quality control processes in a dairy factory, the milk powder produced is sampled three times per day and its milk fat tested. This is done by shaking the samples with the testing agents back and forth in Mojonnier test-tubes. The shaking is physically demanding for staff, holding a rack of test-tubes and maintaining the movement for one minute. Complete consistency of movement cannot be maintained for the whole minute and from one staff member to another.

This is the issue which Mechanical Engineering learner Grace Beatson focussed on for a final year project, utilising our EPICentre workshop facility. Grace began by considering how to hold the rack of Mojonnier tubes securely inside the shaker, yet allowing the rack to be moved in and out of the shaker easily. The solution was a ratcheting lid design that would lock in place when pressed down. Under guidance Grace also built the electrical circuitry that would:

  • Rotate the stand of up to eight Mojonnier tubes end on end at 30 rpm;
  • Time the motion for one minute; and
  • Stop the motion with the test-tubes in an upright position for removal.

Grace developed skills with the water jet cutter to produce steel prototypes with a 3D printed plastic handle. Grace's final prototype is in stainless steel, with a steel handle 3D printed for the project in USA. It has passed initial testing in a dairy factory laboratory. 

July 2021

Road marking removal
There are many ways to remove painted markings from asphalt, but they are not equally effective.

Changes in street markings are needed from time to time, for example as lane changes and turning restrictions take effect. Removing the obsolete marking material can be challenging; on the one hand it could cause damage to the pavement, and residual "ghost" markings can cause confusion for drivers especially when it's dark or wet.

Civil Engineering learner Adarsh Malik investigated this issue for a final year research project. Adarsh identified and evaluated a range of pavement marking removal technologies, considering how complete was the line removal, what effect that had on an asphalt pavement surface, and how the costs of each method compared.

Adarsh concluded that grinding is effective where the surface is relatively flat. An alternative is to use a grinder to remove marking material above the surface then water/soda blasting to remove the remainder. Different blasting systems are available depending on the extent of work required. Adarsh recommended using stickers instead of paint for temporary road markings, to reduce the costs of removal and safeguard the pavement. Adarsh consulted with the Dunedin City Council in the course of this investigation. The Council is grateful for Adarsh's report and is considering the options proposed.

May 2021

3D printed gears
A team of our learners has won a national award for an industry project.

The project was funded and developed by German-born scientist Martin F. Hohmann-Marriott, of United Scientists CORE Ltd, which is based in Dunedin. Thomas Bullock, Joseph Hollebon, Arron Sangster and Christopher Baxter developed a range of solutions for gearing systems. Competing against entries from other institutions around New Zealand, their project, “3D Printed Gears: Modular, Versatile, Opensource”, won the Student Project Award at the New Zealand Diploma in Engineering/Bachelor of Engineering Technology forum held in Auckland recently.

Prof Hohmann-Marriott says:

“The award reflects the depth of thinking as well as the dedication of the students. The project satisfied a range of objectives. The first goal was to design modular gearing systems that could be 3D-printed and work reliably. It was also important to make the designs available for education, to build an open construction kit on which future technologies can be based. In this way, the project also gives back to the wider community.”


Prof Hohmann-Marriott says working with learners provided him with plenty of fresh perspectives. “Working with students is fun. I learned with them and from them.”

The project combined innovation, collaboration and a community-minded outcome. Otago Polytechnic Engineering Technology lecturer Adam Liberatore says the learners benefited greatly from the project. 

“Working with a client gives students a different viewpoint. They get to work in the ‘real world’. And, in doing so, they have a chance to show their skills and work ethic and perhaps turn such opportunities into employment.”


April 2021

Avalanche detection
Analysing a snow slope quickly and easily can help to identify and reduce exposure to avalanche risk.

In current years it has become more common for outdoor enthusiasts to venture into the back country during the winter months, to hunt, climb, or ski. Avalanches are a primary danger across all disciplines and can be fatal. 

Because of the relationship between terrain characteristics and avalanche zones, there are several tools used to minimise exposure to avalanche risk both above and below the snow pack. These range from primary devices such as compasses, to crystal cards and snow tools used to analyse the snow pack below the surface. These current tools, however, are all separate from one another, and it becomes difficult to manage several tools while quickly analysing a slope. 

George Early, one of our Bachelor of Engineering Technologies learners, developed a device that integrates three of the most commonly used tools for analysis of slopes above the snow - a compass, altimeter and inclinometer. The device needed to be user-friendly and to cope with cold temperatures and impacts. George used CAD modelling, 3D printing, CNC cutting and testing to create a prototype. It is ergonomically designed and the silicone case provides shock proofing as well. George is now looking to take his design to market.

March 2021

Construction working platforms
Otago Polytechnic student-made saw stools can be safely used to support a working platform.

Our carpentry learners build saw stools by hand and by machine as a learning exercise, and these are sold to cover the cost of materials. Timber saw stools are sometimes used to support planks for people to stand on while working. The required safety standard is that working platforms have to be able to carry a load of at least 240kg, but no one had tested the load-carrying performance of a saw stool.

Graham Burgess, Learning Leader for our Dunedin Carpentry team, worked out the specifications for a frame that would enable saw stools to be load-tested using our Dennison universal testing machine.  The steel frame was designed and fabricated by our Engineering Trades team including Tyler Benington and John Stocks. 

One of our Engineering Technologies learners, Xiu Zhen (Gemma) Huang, then used this frame to test 30 saw stools, both handmade and machine made. Pressure was applied to the centre of each stool until it cracked, at which point Gemma recorded the pressure level. Gemma's work was supervised by Engineering Technology lecturers Tony Green and Robert Cooke, and supported by a Timber Design Association research scholarship.

The saw stools all withstood pressure equivalent to more than one tonne of weight, and some up to nearly three tonnes, so they easily satisfy the safety standard for load-carrying to support a working platform. Gemma produced a user guide to help people identify whether the results apply to their own saw stools.

November 2020

Power generation
In future a portable power generator might use water to charge your phone.

Can the kinetic energy of flowing water be used to generate electricity on a small scale? That was the challenge Engineering Technology learner Charlotte Flaherty set herself for her final year project. The goal was to design and build a low-tech low-cost portable microgenerator that could charge a small battery.  This would reduce dependence on the national grid, and help people cope in an emergency affecting the grid such as storm or earthquake damage.

The key concept was using piezoelectric material, which generates an electrical current from  movement. Charlotte's project was supported by one of our Electrical Engineering staff, Mike Keppel, as well as her Mechanical Engineering supervisor Matt King. She also worked with our EPICentre technicians William Early, Ken Wyber and Neville Auton.

Charlotte's first design was a flow sock that would move like kelp in a stream of water, however she found that the sock's slow undulating movements were unsuitable because the piezoelectric material works optimally with faster movements. Charlotte then turned to consider several different paddle designs. Rotating like a waterwheel, the paddles repeatedly struck the strips of piezoelectric material. The electric current generated was very small so further development is needed to meet Charlotte's goal of charging a battery.

May 2020

Washbay design
Where do you go to clean large dirty vehicles?

Clearwater Civil Ltd is an Otago company which carries out earthworks and infrastructure projects such as roading, drainlaying, commissions of storm water, wastewater and water reticulation, and underground power, gas and telecommunication infrastructure. They have a large fleet of trucks and other heavy vehicles at their Green Island base of operations.

Civil Engineering learner Jake Samson identified that Clearwater Civil needed a wash bay and offered to design one for them as a research project. Jake's final design is for an unroofed wash bay located at the back of the Green Island yard. The slope and the raised bund ensure that water used in washing down vehicles will be captured in the waste water sump. A water blaster capable of pumping 900 litres per hour would take about 15 minutes to clean each vehicle. At an average of eight vehicles per day, the volume of waste water discharged would be well within the maximum daily discharge.

Clearwater Civil was receptive to Jake's proposal and he is hopeful that the wash bay will be constructed. 

April 2020

Manhole covers
A Civil Engineering learner's work experience inspired a practical research project.

Lucianos Marco Crudo has been working for a company undertaking road resealing. His job included adjusting the height of the manhole cover so that it would be level with the final road surface. The cover sits on a pre-cast concrete riser, and the height of the riser was adjusted using wooden wedges which are then concreted into place. The work was time-consuming and involved repetitive lifting of the riser, which weighs about 30kg. There's also a risk that the lid might move a little before concreting occurs, and some of the poured concrete can fall down the manhole.

For a research project for the final year of the Bachelor's degree, Luciano sought a better way to carry out height adjustment for manhole covers. Luciano designed and produced a set of steel pins with brackets to hold a cover. The pins have a thread which enables the height of the brackets to be adjusted by turning the pins. Once the concrete riser has been placed around the hole, the cover is positioned at the right height above it by winding up the pins. An adjustable steel skirt is then fitted inside the manhole temporarily while the concrete is poured and sets, to stop concrete falling into the manhole chamber below.

Luciano's trials with the prototype pins suggest that the task would be significantly faster, and this method also reduces manual lifting.  Senior engineers in three different organisations are interested in Luciano's initiative. Further trials are needed now, and a cost-effective way of producing the pins in bulk.

December 2019

Aviation fuel saving
Electrostatic forces might help improve aeroplane fuel performance.

How might the world make more efficient use of aviation fuel? Conor Lawrence, a Bachelor of Engineering Technology learner, has been researching this issue under the supervision of Senior Lecturer William Phipps. It's based on the basic principle called the Biefeld-Brown effect which creates movement due to an acceleration of charged particles.

During 2018 Conor built an ionic lifter to demonstrate the possibilities. A high voltage power supply is connected to a wire at the top of the device, turning the wire into a positive electrode. A strip of tin foil at the bottom, also connected to the power source, becomes a negative electrode. Electrons from air particles near the wire are attracted to the positive electrode, turning those air particles into positively charged ions. The ions are then attracted to the negatively charged tin foil below. The downwards movement of the ions creates a jet stream that is powerful enough to achieve lift off for the device.

After that success Conor has gone on in 2019 to apply the technology to a model of an aircraft wing. First he measured the performance of the wing, both drag and lift, in a wind tunnel, looking at different angles of the wing. Then he added the electrodes, with a wire on the front of the wing and the tin foil on the back. Tests showed an increase in lift and a substantial decrease in the drag force on the wing. The idea is that this kind of ionic propulsion could be generated by an aeroplane's on-board generators, and would reduce the fuel required, especially for take-off. 

Conor presented his research at the 7th International Youth Conference on Energy 2019 in Europe in July, and received the best presentation award, ahead of 67 Masters and PhD student presenters.

July 2019

Household fire risk
Lindon Keith's research project confirmed that imported multiboxes can overheat even when not overloaded.

The New Zealand Fire Service was aware that multiboxes (Electrical Portable Outlet Devices) can be a cause of electrical fires. Sometimes this was because they had been overloaded, but that did not appear to be the case always. They wanted to know whether multiboxes could be a fire risk even when not overloaded.

Electrical engineering learner Lindon Keith undertook evaluation of multibox reliability for a research project. A selection of brands available for purchase in New Zealand were used, including one New Zealand made brand and other brands that had been manufactured overseas. Lindon tested the boards at 90%, 100%, 110% and 120% of their rated capacity. All were reliable in overload protection performance, but Lindon found that every brand except that made in New Zealand could overheat in time, even when not overloaded. This was due to the entire current having to pass through a very small surface area.  

Further research is required now to identify the extent of the problem. What proportion of multiboxes in each brand are at risk of overheating? And how long would it take for them to overheat? That information will help the Fire Service to decide whether there is a need to set a minimum safety standard for multiboxes sold in New Zealand.

June 2018

Drone safety
An Electrical Engineering learner has invented a warning system to bring a drone down safely if it was at risk of catching fire.

Drones are commonly powered by lithium iron or lithium polymer batteries. A damaged battery can fail dramatically, heating up and then exploding. This will destroy the drone, and if it occurs in flight then the falling burning debris is also a fire hazard.

This Electrical Engineering learner was a drone operator himself and decided to address this problem. He identified that the battery will expand as it heats up before it explodes. He developed a working prototype of his innovative solution, which involved attaching a load cell and microprocessor to the battery. The load cell senses the expansion of the battery. The microprocessor reads that data and determines if the expansion exceeds safe parameters. 

If it does then the microprocessor sends an SMS message to the drone operator's phone, to alert the operator to the battery failure risk. The operator has time to bring the drone down safely and remove the battery before it explodes.

April 2018

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