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Design, Build, Celebrate

U of I cross-college and campus collaboration brings 150 LED triangles to Vandal Marching Band’s 100th anniversary halftime performance

The University of Idaho Vandal Marching Band didn’t settle for 100 candles on its birthday cake. The band’s 100th anniversary included loud music, lots of dancing and bright lights — about 1,125 LEDs to be exact.

The band’s Homecoming football game performance included 150 new percussion triangles that light up when played, an engineering and design feat from a half a year’s worth of collaboration among three U of I colleges and hundreds of volunteers.

U of I Band Director Spencer Martin was the first to pitch the idea to the U of I College of Engineering to design a rebar triangle that could not only light up but be easily mass-produced.

Mechanical engineering and computer science students were tasked with bringing a complete prototype to life over the short summer session as their Senior Capstone Design Project.

“Not only was the short timeframe a factor,” said mechanical engineering graduate Bryce Dinger ’19. “We also needed to come up with something that could be put together by volunteers who might not be engineers themselves.”

Dinger said the team planned to build a tool to bend the metal, called a jig, which could cut down on triangle manufacturing time. But rebar bent cold and past a 90 degree angle cracks, forcing the team to use a torch to heat and bend the metal. Dinger said the process added about a minute and a half to the manufacturing process on both corners of the triangle, which quickly adds up when you’re creating 150 pieces.

Much of the summer was spent on the design of the handle to make it comfortable to hold and easy to use. Band members needed to be able to hold the triangle and grab it with the same hand to mute it.

“None of us even knew how a band member held a triangle or even used it,” Dinger said. “We went through seven or eight iterations, gathering input and user experience the whole way. We put those triangles into as many band member’s hands as possible.”

Engineering graduate student Selso Gallegos said it took more than 20 hours to laser cut the five-piece handle in order to prep it for assembly. Marching Band members volunteered weekends to help assemble the handles using a stacking method and attaching mounts for the striker and researchable battery.

Anyone who has ever seen a Vandal Marching Band performance knows band members are very active, so holding a triangle while running across the field wasn’t going to be feasible.

The team collaborated with U of I College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Apparel, Textiles and Design faculty and students in the to design a hip belt that band members could wear to hold the triangles.

With a group of volunteers and three hours, the team had about 100 belts created.

“Even coming from very different backgrounds, from engineers and the apparel side, you can really see the similarities between how we come up with and execute a design,” Baughman said. “Our commitment to testing and attention to detail to create a quality product is the same.”

U of I Coeur d’Alene master’s student Nancy Ripplinger and associate professor Bob Rinker designed the custom circuit boards to control the LEDs.

Ripplinger, who is also a professor at North Idaho College, developed the processor used to program each of the microprocessors installed in the boards on each triangle. Volunteers helped prep and solder components on the board.

“With so many people working on this project, we all started to think on the same wavelength,” she said. “We all worked well together for a common goal.”

band member using triangle
CALS students designed belts to hold the instruments.
marching band assembling triangles
Students and volunteers assembled the triangles.
triangle diagram
The triangle design consists of a 5-piece handle
triangle manufacturing
Rebar was heated to bend the triangles into shape
triangle manufacturing
Rebar was heated to bend the triangles into shape

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