August 10, 2011

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By Kathryn Kopchik

LEWISBURG, Pa. — A lightweight stove developed with the assistance of recent Bucknell University graduate Brent Noll has won an OutDoor Industry Award.

The award was presented in July in Germany to Vargo Outdoors, a Lewisburg-based company founded and owned by Brian Vargo. Noll assisted in creating the CAD rendition of the stove that Vargo designed.

The OutDoor Industry Award is an endorsement of a product's creativity, innovation and quality by an international jury of industry experts and gear aficionados. A total of 301 entries were submitted from 23 countries from around the world in the competition; last year there were 328 entries from 28 countries.

Hexagon Wood Stove
Noll, who completed his requirements for a mechanical engineering master's degree from Bucknell this summer, began working with Vargo on his Hexagon Wood Stove two years ago while employed as a student consultant at Bucknell University's Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

"The stove is made of titanium, like most of Brian's product line of outdoor gear," said Noll. "He came up with a sheet metal design of how he wanted it to be made, and he put it together to give me the basic idea.

"I took that back to the SBDC office in Dana Engineering and worked on a hinged design, attaching a hexagon bottom. The panels alternated so it would overlap on itself and fold up about as flat as a CD case.

"I did some Solid Works design modeling using CAD, a computer-aided design software program and modeled everything in 3D so I saw how the hinges worked. The stove is ultra-light: it weighs just a little over four ounces and can be used with an alcohol burner, twigs or with fuel pellets. It took about a year to come into production and be offered for sale."

SBDC consultation and product development
"Brian Vargo approached the SBDC seeking assistance product development for his stove, and I matched him with Brent because of his outstanding mechanical design and CAD skills," said Steven Stumbris, assistant director of technical consulting with the Bucknell Small Business Development Center. At the time, Noll was pursuing an undergraduate degree in electro-mechanical engineering at Penn State.

"Brent is one of more than 30 students the SBDC and in particular, our Engineering Development Services, engage each year to help small businesses start, grow and prosper. These students gain invaluable experience as they assist entrepreneurs in solving real-world problems and designing innovative new products," said Stumbris.

Adam Andersen, one of Noll's classmates, also worked with Vargo Outdoors to design another product recently launched to market, a Titanium Pot Lifter. Andersen, who graduated from Bucknell in 2010 with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and management, is pursuing a master's degree in mechanical engineering at Bucknell with plans to graduate this spring.

A more recent SBDC engineering project of his helped Telepole Manufacturing of Muncy bring a new and improved telescoping flagpole to market, increasing sales by more than $59,000 this year. Bucknell junior Li Xiaolong, a dual major in civil engineering and economics, and 2010 mechanical engineering graduate Scott Bevan also assisted Telepole by researching materials and assembly methods to help make their flagpoles not only easier to manufacture, but also more durable and aesthetically pleasing.

"Working at the SBDC was my first engineering design experience where I worked with the customer and created a product that was actually going to be used," said Noll. "It was a great experience working there, and I would recommend it to other engineering students. You get experience communicating with a customer and it's exciting to know that the product is going to be delivered to the public. You have to make sure it's going to work; it's your first test to see if your engineering education is actually going to work for you," he said.

Drag racing and a robot arm
A native of West Milton, Noll initially heard of the SBDC three years ago through a local contact with Steve Shooter, professor of mechanical engineering. He encouraged Noll to seek an internship with the Center even before he came to Bucknell to pursue his master's degree in mechanical engineering, where he would work in Shooter's lab.

Noll's interest in lightweight materials began with making cars lightweight and fast using carbon fiber or aluminum, for example, Ferraris and Corvettes that use honeycomb aluminum frames instead of steel frames which makes them extremely lightweight.

He's also keen on racing cars, saying, "I drag race a full body 1972 Dodge Demon at Beaver Springs dragway, so I was interested in making the stove as lightweight as possible. And I had worked with Brian before on some other projects so we had developed a really good relationship."

Noll's thesis, supported by a grant from the Office of Naval Research and advised by Shooter, involved the development of a humanoid robot arm for use in an urban environment. "There is a walking robot in Pensacola, Fla., at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition. They developed a bipedal walking robot and I was to design the arm for it to facilitate operations in an urban environment. My thesis demonstration had the arm pouring a glass of water and opening a door."

Noll has begun working at Corning Glass in process development on "innovative new products and processes that they want to further develop. I'll be working with a lot of different groups in their research sector," he said.

Contact: Division of Communications