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rowing pains ME
December 20, 2022

Senior Design’s ‘Rowing Pains’

Written By: Caitlin Scott


It’s not every day that college students get to work with Olympians, but it was just part of the coursework for the ‘Rowing Pains’ senior design group.

UW Mechanical Engineering alumnus Grant James is a men’s rowing Olympian and an inductee in the UW Athletic Hall of Fame. For this senior design project, James was curious if a cost-effective crew shell (boat) could be 3D printed. The standard single shell boats are expensive and time consuming to manufacture, a limitation on any collegiate crew program. The goal of the Rowing Pains project was to provide crew coaches with 3D printed boats at a cost tenfold less than traditional boats.

ME senior design rowing pains
Rowing Pains team carries the boat across University Ave.

The jury is still out on costs, but the boat floats!

The team members transported the boat to the Porter Boathouse after the design symposium on Dec. 13th and it successfully floated and did not leak. The Boatman advised that the 3D printed prototype sits in the water similarly to a regular single scull.

Tim Osswald, Kuo K. and Cindy F. Wang Professor of Mechanical Engineering & co-director of the Polymer Engineering Center at UW-Madison, shared:

“The team was able to overcome process restrictions to manufacture a rowing boat that is 27 feet long using additive manufacturing. The innovative piecewise assembly and the modification of the AM machine allowed them to create the boat. The students were able to manage a new technology, machine breakdowns, bonding issues, warpage, and strength issues, to come up with a workable product. From the mechanics standpoint they were able to measure the two main strength parameters that allow construction of a failure criteria that can be used in design.”

ME senior design rowing pains
The 3D printed scull in the water at Porter Boathouse.

“Working with Prof. Osswald was an amazing experience and his lab was a great environment to explore a topic outside my comfort zone. I especially enjoyed learning about the printer and all the thought that goes into choosing the settings and geometry of a print,” shared team leader John Steinbergs. “My polymer processing coursework and mechanics of materials course played a major role in my own and the team’s ability to select a material and explain why we made that choice. Additionally, my exposure to SolidWorks throughout my undergraduate career was crucial for designing the boat hull and splitting it into printable STL files. Overall, our mechanical engineering courses lay a great foundation for problem solving and creative engineering.”

Team administrator Maggie Nunn and accountant Jack Zacher also found their ME courses very useful in preparing for this culminating project. “In general, skills like Solidworks, EES and techniques to approach a problem gained in all my classes aided in the project. Also having taken ME 449 – Redesign and Prototype fabrication was helpful as I was already comfortable in the Team Lab and Makerspace,” shared Nunn. “This project opened my eyes to real world challenges such as working on a team and of course supply chain delays. It was interesting to tackle a more open-ended design project without prepackaged assumptions that we mostly see in our coursework. I believe exposure to these challenges will help me in any career path I choose in the future.”

Team communicator Ethan Foley shared, “This project showed me how much I enjoy working with novel ideas and designs. In the future I hope to be at a job where I can encounter projects like this one every day.”

“I think that this project has taught me to not be afraid of just trying an idea even if I think it could fail. Often from coursework we learn that there are right and wrong answers, but when it comes to solving a complex fabrication and design problem those answers aren’t so clear and you can save yourself time by trying different ideas opposed to worrying about every small detail,” said Steinbergs.

Read more about the projects presented at the Fall 2022 Senior Design Symposium here.

ME rowing pains team
The Rowing Pains team received the ‘Outstanding Senior Design Team’ award at the Fall 2022 Mechanical Engineering Graduation Celebration luncheon. Pictured with Mike Cheadle.
ME senior design rowing pains
Ethan Foley, Maggie Nunn, Jack Zacher and John Steinbergs with their prototype.