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Design, Engineering Collaboration Puts A Shower In The Sky

Published: February 15, 2012

Gulfstream Aerospace’s newest executive business aircraft, the G650, will not only provide individuals with a state-of-the-art travel experience in its largest and fastest jet, but they may be able to enjoy a shower as well, thanks in part to design’s David Lee and Christiane Beyer of mechanical and aerospace engineering.

Primarily for an industrial design assignment, Beyer’s students were provided the same brief as Lee’s design majors to collaborate with Gulfstream in developing the first on-board showering compartment, which was part of the overall plan for the G650 from the beginning. The CSULB students were given an opportunity to provide an engineered approach and structured support for design concepts while, in the coming semesters, more collaboration will be encouraged to bring together these two disciplines.

Lee is a member of CSULB’s class of 1984 with a B.S. degree in industrial design who joined the faculty in 2010 and sees the shower project as representing a commitment to work together between the departments of Design and Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE).

“You have to want to make it work when you reach out,” Lee said. “When students see Professor Beyer and me working together, it becomes a wonderful role model. When they see faculty members reaching out, they see the synergy. There are no boundaries. We cross those boundaries. When students see this, they know they can cross boundaries as well. It also takes some of the pressure off the design students. After all, their MAE partners are just across the street. This was a chance to get help designing certain elements the design majors may have been uncomfortable with.”

Her MAE majors’ feedback after participating was positive, said Beyer, who came to CSULB in 2009 after 16 years teaching and designing in her native Germany. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Magdeburg.

“The students thought it was a great experience,” she said. “It was their first real-world project and they want to continue the experience.”

The project began last summer when Lee worked with Gulfstream on a separate project.

“I asked if they’d be interested in advising us on a project for senior design students and they agreed to work with design on a concept shower/spa compartment,” he said. “When they agreed to participate, Gulfstream arranged for a factory tour in their Long Beach facility. The students took the grand tour and saw the production of these private jets from the very beginning. They followed the process from the original design to manufacture. Then they brought this information back to the classroom and sorted through it.” Lee’s direct contact at Gulfstream Aerospace, Courtney Lombardo, is a member of the CSULB class of 2006 with a degree in interior architectural design.

Enter engineering. “I saw a wonderful opportunity at this point for an interdisciplinary project,” said Lee. “I wanted mechanical engineering to help the design majors with certain engineering aspects of the showering compartment.”

Beyer liked the idea of collaboration and volunteered seven students from her mechanical engineering class. “They worked on the project’s functional features such as the compartment’s sliding doors. “‘Could we use gray water? What about the water filters?'” she asked.

Students created life-size models of the showering compartment to acquaint the students with what it is like to work in a small environment. “Once they had a chance to live in this space,” Lee said, “it gave the students better ideas how to design for it.”

Faculty members and students found themselves with plenty of problems to solve. “Right away, we faced problems with the shower’s space,” Lee explained. “We looked at the issue of closure so that one space would not impinge on another space. There is another hull section with the same curvature mirroring the compartment on the other side of the jet. That was one of the first problems we had to solve.”

CSULB students working together on the construction of the shower.
CSULB students working together on the construction of the shower.

Beyer recalls her engineering students’ recognition of several other design challenges. “We looked at how the components were installed on site, then at the interchangeability of the shower panels,” she said. “We had to keep in mind the whole manufacturing process. The students had to think in curves and in flat sheets. All the parts had to curve in the same direction. The students looked at the compartment’s connectability. ‘Do all the parts fit? What is the best way to build it? Is there an easier way? There isn’t much space to work with. What about the water systems?’ They looked at potential problems with the drainage. ‘What is behind it? What is necessary?’ These are functional details every engineer must deal with.”

A standout feature of the shower compartment is its seat. “It is present in this design because of the limited head space,” Lee said. “We had to design a shower compartment that could accommodate passengers between five-feet-five inches tall and six-feet-four inches tall. We found the seated positions were helpful for several reasons. It not only accommodated tall people but various bathing rituals. Some need to clean their feet and others need to shave their legs. That led to extending the seating feature to include foot rests.”

Lee, a lecturer in the Design Department, has applied his training to projects from Alpine, Baxter, Bectin-Dickenson, Daewoo Electronics, Disney Consumer Products, Fujitsu, General Motors, Harman JBL, Hewlett-Packard, Motorola and Seiko Instruments. On a corporate level, he worked at Mattel Inc., as a senior project designer developing many preschool products under the See ‘n’ Say brand.

Beyer is an expert in product development design processes and cutting-edge technologies who first visited CSULB in 1998 and fell in love with Long Beach.

Beyer believes her participation in the shower design has made her a better educator.

“Even though I have run many similar projects in Germany, I never had as much fun with a project as I did here,” she said. “I’m impressed over and over with what students and faculty members here are capable of here. I learned a lot.”

Lee agrees that the project has sharpened his classroom skills, but it brought with it a gift that keeps on giving.

“Design has discovered a wonderful partner just across the street in mechanical and aerospace engineering that can help our design students make their products work,” he said. “It is a good idea to involve engineering from the earliest stages of the project. The cooperation is important. It grounds us. They make our ideas more viable. We look forward to working with Professor Beyer on many projects in the future.”