Senior engineering students at Montana State University's (MSU's) Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering recently debuted an automated assembly machine to solve a production bottleneck for the Miles City-based manufacturer Cat's Claw Fasteners. The students were tasked with the assignment as part of a capstone project, which pairs real-world industrial sponsors with teams of student engineers to solve a technology problem.

Cat's Claw developed a unique fastener solution for installing barbed wire fencing for ranching and husbandry applications. Barbed wire is traditionally attached to wooden fence posts with steel staples that must be hammered in by hand. Ultimately the single-use staples rust, give out after surface wear or damage to the post, can be difficult to install and do not permit relocation of the staple and wire.

The Cat's Claw is a washer with protrusions that grasp the barbed wire against the fence. Paired with a self-tapping hex-head screw and a weather-resistant coating, the fastener has been a welcome improvement for ranch hands.

Cat's Claw fasteners are manually assembled overseas, but this as led to challenges keeping up with demand amid supply chain issues. Curt Almy, inventor of the Cat's Claw, turned to MSU for help.

"I said, 'There has to be a better way. Someone has got to be able to make a machine that could do this,'" according to Almy.

The student engineers relied on their new education in technical principles to problem solve and develop an automated assembly machine. They conceived of a vibrating tray where screws are loaded, organized and then fed into rails, where they are then loaded into a Cat's Claw washer. The students said they relied on their knowledge of vibration and structural engineering to design the solution.

The students passed their capstone project and gathered skills to apply in their new jobs after graduation. And Almy gets a manufacturing prototype, which will be refined by another capstone team or professional engineering service.

Working with a capstone team "is a wonderful opportunity if someone has a problem they think needs some engineering," said Almy.

Source: MSU engineering students help Miles City business with manufacturing

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