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#IamACE – Patrick Council – USBR

Tell us a little about yourself

I am a recent Electrical Engineering graduate from the Colorado School of Mines where I graduated “Magna Cum Laude”. I won third place in the Senior Design Trade fair, and won third place in the Crutches for Africa wheelchair design competition for Mines. When Im not working or studying, I spend some time playing video games that require critical thinking, creative design, and incorporate engineering into the game. The other portion of my free time is spent designing solutions for the home, building circuits or woodwork, composing music, game programming, and playing the violin with my wife. I am currently working on my Master’s of Science in Electrical Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines.

When you started in your position was it what you expected?

I came to intern with the Bureau of Reclamation expecting to do power system analysis like we have been doing in our classes, but I was quickly taken in to do more hands-on tasks that I was not necessarily expecting to do given what I have learned in college. I quickly became familiar with the Machine Condition Monitor cabinet which was designed to take in and record real-time hydroelectric generator vibration and shaft displacement.

What were some other duties that you took on in your internship?

In addition to vibration monitoring, the cabinet recorded its power output, voltages, current output, and much more familiar electrical properties. These cabinets I have been building are shipped to hydropower plants around the Western United States to provide operators necessary information about the operation of their generators to prevent excess vibration that causes mechanical stresses on components holding the generator and turbine in place during operation. The 2009 Sayano–Shushenskaya power station accident is the main reason the Bureau of Reclamation started monitoring vibration to prevent catastrophic failures of hydroelectric generators.

Beyond assembly of these cabinets, I have had the opportunity to go to hydropower plants to witness these cabinets in action. I have helped upgrade existing cabinets and helped General Electric connect to Reclamation’s cabinets to collect data. Some upgrades to the cabinets included replacing input cards with custom input cards designed by Reclamation’s Electrical Engineers. One of my tasks was to solder components on these boards and test them. I learned how to surface mount components on a printed circuit board.

Patrick (left) and EPIC Director, Shane Barrow (next) with the USBR team

Patrick (left) and EPIC Director, Shane Barrow (next) with the USBR team

How have your responsibilities grown as you developed your skillset?

Closer to the end of my internship I have been given the task to help update and redesign an accelerometer driver to monitor vibration inside the air housing of generators. This involved using what I have learned in college and resulted in being a great learning experience. During prototyping, I have learned that the world of operational amplifiers is beyond anything they could teach in undergraduate studies. Experimentation led us to a better design. I designed a printed circuit board layout for the first time after the design was finalized which is in the processed of being reviewed before being mass produced. The accelerometer driver design also led me to finding and recommending less expensive accelerometers to be used to help save Reclamation on their project costs.

What are you proud of with your work and what are you looking forward to?

The final stretch of my internship will involve soldering components onto the printed circuit board I designed, finishing up two more cabinets, testing the new accelerometer that I found, and going to another power plant to implement the accelerometer driver and accelerometers for permanent installation and data collection. This internship has been very involved and it has taught me that electrical engineers do much more than what we are taught in the class room. In the end, I am proud of my work because I know it has an important place in the power industry.

Patrick (second to left) and USBR team at Glen Canyon.

Patrick (second to left) and USBR team at Glen Canyon.

 

 

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