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Professor, College of Engineering at CSULB Work with Local Businessman to Design, Build Improved Rodder Machine

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The College of Engineering at CSULB has unveiled a newly designed and fabricated rodder machine — a large apparatus used to clean/clear sewer systems — that was built by faculty, staff and students in a partnership project with a local businessman.

Image of Rodder Unveiling

Those involved with the development of the machine believe this updated and improved sewer rodder, which has several unique and important advanced features, is more efficient and easier to use than those currently being used by municipal sewer departments and contractors.

"The success of this project shows that the university can work closely with business and industry to help make improvements, break new ground and develop bigger and better mousetraps, as it were," said Forousan Golshani, dean of the CSULB College of Engineering. "Many local and small businesses don't see the university as this kind of resource, but with the completion of this project, we've certainly shown what is possible."

Two years ago, CSULB Engineering Professor Parviz Yavari was contacted by businessman Neil McDowell, the 91-year-old owner and operator of The Max Factory in Stanton, who was interested in building a better rodder machine.

Having been in the business of selling rodder machines, rods and tools for cleaning sewer systems for more than 50 years, McDowell knows the ins and outs of the work and its equipment. He also believes he knows how to improve on what is currently in the marketplace.

Still, when he decided he wanted to build a better rodder machine, he didn't exactly know who to go to for help. That's where Professor Yavari and a group of students from the College of Engineering came into the picture.

"I wanted to make a machine, but I didn't have the talent to do it. I'm not an engineer. I'm a lawyer who got hooked into selling sewer machines, and I love it," McDowell pointed out. "It never occurred to me that the university would be a source for making the kind of machine we had in our minds. But, a couple of friends of mine introduced me to Dr. Yavari and we made an agreement to build this machine."

Combining the experience and industry knowledge of McDowell and the engineering skills and available resources of CSULB, the result of the collaboration is, they believe, an updated and improved rodder machine, which McDowell has dubbed "Mighty Max Model 007."

"Working with Mr. McDowell, we knew what the shortcomings of the current rodder machines were," said Yavari, a mechanical engineering professor who also worked with retired aerospace mechanic and friend Joseph Wardell on the project. "So, we designed Mighty Max with those in mind and have built a machine that is an improvement over what is currently out there."

Truck-mounted rodding machines have a reel that holds a long, continuous wire, and the reel is mounted on a rotating carriage that provides lateral rotation. A mechanical drive pushes the wire in/out of the sewer line and has a significant amount of power for pushing and pulling. An assortment of tools can be attached to the end of the continuous wire for removal of stoppages, grease and roots in sewer lines. Operators must learn the various types of stoppages and the appropriate tools to use.

Weighing about 1,800 pounds and affixed to a truck, Mighty Max was about 18 months in the making. It has 2,000 feet of continuous wire on its larger, newly designed reel, which means a trained operator can bypass manholes (which are generally 300 feet apart) and save substantial set-up time and remove or break up any stoppage, except those due to a broken pipe. Already tested, the Mighty Max can clean/clear 1,000 feet of sewer pipe in less than 10 minutes and has the power to pull some 11,000 pounds.

"When we finished building the machine, we got permission from the City of Stanton to take it out and put it to the test," Yavari noted, "and it performed beyond our expectations. Mr. McDowell is extremely satisfied with the results."

The Mighty Max rodding machine includes several innovative or improved features, including:

  • Larger Continuous Wire Reel Mighty Max was built with a continuous wire reel that is 75 inches in diameter, more than 20 percent larger than those on other rodding machines. The larger the reel diameter, the less the wire is compressed while on the reel. Compressed wire gradually crystallizes until it eventually becomes brittle and worthless. Although impossible to tell how much longer the wire will last, with time the advantage will become apparent.

  • Heavy Duty Spring Compression Six custom-made drive gears (three upper and three lower) have continuous wire grooves. The wire travels through these grooves. Competitors use hydraulic pressure on the lower three gears to drive the wire in/out. The experience with hydraulic pressure, however, is that frequent pressure adjustment is necessary to maintain driving force. Mighty Max uses three super heavy duty springs to compress the gears, and these springs are guaranteed for a service life of five years.

  • Electronic Footage Meters Instead of inaccurate friction-type meters, Mighty Max has electronically driven meters that are accurate to .1 percent. Three separate footage meters provide the following information: Tool Location If the cleaning tool encounters a broken pipe, or a stoppage impossible to break, excavation is the only alternative. Inaccurate location can cause a re-dig or a wider excavation to the depth of the pipe. Re-digs vary in expense depending on location and pipe depth. On those occasions when the wire breaks, the operator can record the footage of the wire pulled out. He then uses a special pick-up tool on the end of the repaired continuous wire and speedily goes through the sewer to the break. By rotating the pick-up tool, he is able to retrieve the broken wire and cleaning tool. Accuracy of the tool location can save considerable time and expense when dig-ups or tool retrieval become necessary; Daily Footage A separate meter records daily footage cleaned. Total Usage Just as total car mileage is recorded, this meter records the total footage cleaned.

  • Advanced Hydraulic System An advanced hydraulic system has been deployed on this machine. Speeds are controlled electronically. A joystick controls the rotational and "in" and "out" speed. The pressure requirements are controlled and optimized automatically. This reduces the energy consumption and wear on machine components.

Because rodder machines exist in a couple of different forms, Yavari said he cannot patent the entire machine, but the innovative aspects of the design and fabrication can and will be patented, including the new electronic footage meter, fast-lock coupling system that attaches the tool to the rod and the "special design of a bolt and springs for load application."

In addition to Yavari, eight CSULB students were involved with the project in design and fabrication. One of the students used his work as the basis of his final project submission en route to earning his master's degree in aerospace engineering. Another was able to use the experience to find a job right away, according to Yavari.

Image of Engineering Group with Dean Golshani

"That was another successful aspect of the project for the university. The experience our students received was incredibly valuable, and their exposure to these types of projects can be very beneficial, especially in the job market," Yavari said. "Actually, one of the biggest challenges of this project had to do with the electrical system, and one of the students working on the project ended up solving the problem."

Yavari credited the project's success to "the hard work of a group of dedicated people despite a limited budget, very tight schedule and a limited amount of equipment to work with."

With all of the documentation, drawings and specifications in hand, McDowell is heading into the production aspect of this venture, and he estimates that his company should have machines ready to deliver in about six months.

He said he has found five different manufacturers that can produce the various components that make up the Mighty Max rodder machine. "Dr. Yavari designed this machine in components — the frame, the carriage, the drive and so on," McDowell pointed out. "So, we can have each of those components manufactured outside, and we can bring them to our factory and assemble the final product and make sure the machines are working properly."

The Mighty Max will sell for about $130,000 to $140,000 complete (rodder machine and truck), and McDowell said he has a target of selling 10 machines in the first year.