By: Cassie McClure
Published in Las Cruces Sun-News 6.26.22
College life is sometimes detached from the world that students encounter when they graduate, especially when working with clients on real-world solutions. Senior students from New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (NMT) worked with Las Cruces Utilities (LCU) for their final projects, working on challenges that if solved, could increase efficiencies, and save money for LCU’s customers in the long run.
“The difference between classroom education and real-world problems is that in class we tend to idealize things and ignore a lot of real-world messiness,” said Dr. Subhasish Mazumdar, who along with Dr. Frank Reinow, guided the students through their computer science capstone projects, reminding them to keep in mind the business aspects to their future work.
“They had to consider macro questions that are specific to their client's needs,” said Mazumdar. “The idea of developing questions might not come as naturally since you're not in the mind of the person who's going to use it, but these conversations are the few ingredients that give the students a taste of what it’s like to get in the mindset.”
Students worked with staff in different lines of business, including Water, Administration, and Natural Gas and Energy:
Kevin Helfert worked on a work order scheduler that can be flexible with day-to-day operations and unexpected events.
Spencer Merrill worked on accurately tracking runtimes for water pumps to determine when maintenance, like oil changes and lubing, may be needed instead of doing the maintenance on set time intervals.
Joseph Sarvash worked on predictive gas purchasing to develop more in-depth and formal predictive models to assist future gas business analysts in decision-making that works with external data, such as historical and current weather information.
Both Helfert and Merrill explained that “scope creep” – a situation where enthusiasm might overshadow what can be done in the time and resources available – was a good first work situation to learn to manage.
“It’s a matter of vision of what we want and whittling down refinements,” said Merrill. Helfert added, “We kept in mind what our professors preached: leaving the control of this application to the client. The point of my project was just to ensure that they could keep their day-to-day operations running a little more smoothly, especially with events like COVID, which threw a wrench in the works.”
“Working with Kevin was great – he came up with an out-of-the-box solution to a problem we’ve been facing for some time in our work order system,” said LCU Business Systems Analyst Jeff Dillard. “It provides an easy, user-friendly, web-based way to help our Wastewater staff better manage their periodic maintenance needs for the facility.”
“I felt fortunate to be part of a student’s senior project. Joseph was enthusiastic and curious throughout the project,” said LCU Gas Business Analyst Mario Puentes. “Plus, during the process, I was reminded to document certain weather and market conditions that influence natural gas demand to keep for institutional knowledge for LCU going forward.”
LCU Deputy Director Water Ronald Borunda said that savings might be hard to calculate now, but it’s in the future that LCU might see the actual benefits.
“This project allowed us to look at all of our pumps and motors and shined a new light on how efficiently we were operating and how we could improve,” he said. “We should see savings when we implement some of the schedules that coincide with accurate runtimes for the pumps.”
Dr. Reinow explained NMT provides these services at no cost to public and nonprofit organizations as a way to give back to the state and welcomes other organization to contact him for projects that his students could work on in the future. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 575-835-5459.
LCU – Your Utility Connection. Customer Central can be reached at 575-541-2111 from 8 a.m. - 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. LCU provides clean, safe, and reliable services to Las Cruces residents and businesses. Learn more at: las-cruces.org/180/Utilities
For emergencies, call Dispatch at 526-0500.
PHOTO 1: If more processes at LCU can be automated, instead of driving out to the location as LCU Water Production Operator Horacio Palacios does weekly, it could save LCU and ratepayers money. Collaboration between NMT students and LCU employees explored savings through new systems that could schedule maintenance, decrease manhours, and evaluate historical data for analysis.