Intern invents computer program to improve safety

Erick Schimnowski, computer engineering major at the University of Minnesota and an intern at Great River Energy, solved a problem that saves hours of work time.

What used to take four months of an intern’s time now takes 10 minutes.

“Interns used to be assigned to manually run calculations on our lines to determine the incident energy for transmission line arc flash hazards,” said Melissa Phillips, Great River Energy engineer and intern mentor. “These reports would take a typical intern four months to complete, due to the manual calculations.”

But Erick Schimnowski, a computer engineering major at the University of Minnesota, is no ordinary intern. Thanks to his ingenuity, those calculations now take a fraction of the time. He worked with Aspen, Great River Energy’s short circuit model vendor, to write software code that eliminates those manual calculations and spreadsheet creation.

The software can compute the safety information now in 10 minutes. With interns manually calculating the safety ratings of lines and configuring worse-case scenarios, it used to be very time consuming. The Java program is in the process of being finalized, and new arc flash reports will be released upon completion of the final details for the reports.

“I thought this work could be automated,” Schimnowski said. “And I wrote the Java code with Aspen so that the work could be more efficient and more accurate as it avoids manual data entry.”

“Not only does this reduce the time it takes, it also provides us with a completer and more accurate list of our safety information,” Phillips said. “It also allows us to update that safety picture more frequently. Before, we’d update it every year or two due to the labor it took to obtain those numbers.”

Schimnowski has been an intern with Great River Energy for two years.

“My long-term internship with Great River Energy gave me the opportunity to work on meaningful projects which utilized the skills and knowledge that I developed in my coursework,” he said.