Layton Crawford, Derek Kennedy and Lance Reeves are pretty serious outdoorsmen who try to work in bass fishing trips every available weekend.

They also happen to be seniors majoring in mechanical engineering at Louisiana Tech, and they got the opportunity to combine their passion for fishing and their love of engineering during a 9-month design project for Bill Lewis Outdoors in Alexandria, makers of the legendary Rat-L-Trap lure.

“They said they needed a more efficient way to paint lures,” said Kennedy, 24, of Monroe. “They actually used paper clips to work with the lures, which was kind of old school and pretty messy. They would actually hold the paper clip and use it to prop the baits up while the paint dried.

“They held on to the paper clip while they painted, and it was messy, and they’d get jumbled and stick together. It was a rough process.”

The team visited the production facility in Alexandria several times starting last fall as part of their senior design project in mechanical engineering, and started working on three different design options to increase production and make the lure decorating process more efficient.

Ultimately, they created the High Efficiency Lure Processing Platform, which features a base and 20 spring-loaded pegs that lock lures into a custom-designed plastic tip using one of the lure’s hook eyelets.  This way, workers can hold onto the pegs to decorate the lures without having to deal with paper clips, and the quick-release trigger on each peg increases efficiency.

With eight separate platforms, 160 lures can be quickly and easily prepped for decorating.

Wes Higgins, president of Bill Lewis Outdoors, was blown away by the students’ final design.

“It totally exceeded our expectations. They truly helped us out,” Higgins said. “Going into it, honestly, I figured we didn’t have a lot to lose because it was a minimal financial investment to participate in the program. But the kids were great to work with, and man, we got a lot out of it.

“I mean, 35,000 additional lures per year with no additional labor costs — that’s pretty serious.”

Kennedy, who will graduate Saturday in Ruston along with Crawford and Reeves with a degree in mechanical engineering, said workers in the decorating department love the new system.

“They’re ecstatic,” he said. “We talked to the people on the floor who actually paint and got their input for the design, and they got what they wanted and they love it.”

Higgins said the system, which also includes new racks that allow more lures to be clear-coated at once and transported between departments more efficiently, has been in use for about a week and time tests have been impressive.

“It works in the real world. We’re using it right now,” Higgins said. “One of they guys told me, ‘Well, Wes, I hate to admit it but we’ll really have to raise the (production) quota. I hit my one-hour quota in about 20 minutes.’

“The whole decorating process flows quicker, from the print pad machine to painting to clear coat. They’re able to get the baits through those departments a lot faster because they’re not getting bogged down with all that prep work, and taking hangers on and off.”

Higgins recommends other Louisiana businesses take advantage of Louisiana Tech’s program that partners teams of senior-level students with companies who could use some engineering expertise.

“The team showed pride in every detail of their work, not only in conceptualizing the design, but in executing it and delivering it on time,” Higgins said. “I also want to thank Dr. Henry Cardenas for not only introducing me to this program, but for heading up a great mechanical engineering program in our home state.”

If your company is interested in participating in the program, you can contact Dr. Henry Cardenas, chair of the Louisiana Tech mechanical engineering department, at 318-257-4600 or via email here.