01 Aug Engineering the Crab Feast
Early in July, Key Tech hosted our annual crab feast on a farm north of Baltimore. This event started more than a decade ago when the company had less than 10 employees, and now hosts nearly 100 employees (current, past, and future), family, friends, clients, and vendors. For those readers not familiar with a traditional Maryland crab feast, the event typically occurs outdoors at tables covered with newspaper, accompanied by beer and corn on the cob. Picking crabs is a laborious task, at best calorie neutral (not including the beer), and the real focus of the event is the socializing that occurs over a pile of crab carcasses.
Over the years, Key Tech’s crab feast has evolved from a simple, traditional Maryland crab feast to an event that provides us with a creative outlet for our engineering minds. A few of these engineering inspired activities are described below:
- Early in the evolution of the Key Tech crab feast, a ~1000ft zipline was built that carries screaming participants from the top of a hill, over pastures, fences, and farm animals, and eventually threads its way between trees before stopping short of a large tree deep in the woods. Prior to purchasing the wire ripe, trolleys, and harnesses, a number of calculations were performed to size the rope, estimate speed, and ensure that riders would stop prior to meeting that large tree at the end of the line. After installing the line, a test dummy (consisting of a 5-gallon bucket of rocks) was launched down the line to test cable tension, the droop in the line, and other critical aspects of the installation. The bucket hit the tree at the end of the line with such force that rocks were thrown literally hundreds of feet in all directions. After a few minor adjustments and tests, the zipline was deemed ready for use and has been a source of great entertainment ever since.
- Dry ice (frozen carbon dioxide) is a fun and fascinating substance that has made appearances at several crab feasts over the years. Mixing dry ice and water causes the dry ice to sublimate (turn to gaseous carbon dioxide) at a rapid rate, and this behavior provides fodder for several fun activities. It turns out that dry ice makes a great propellant for makeshift rockets fabricated from 2-liter soda bottles. The momentum transfer calculation to predict the speed and altitude of the soda bottle is straightforward; however convincing a soda bottle to travel in a straight line is a challenge. We are still working on improvements to this design – comments and suggestions are welcome. Dry ice, water, and soda bottles can also be combined to generate very loud and powerful explosions. Indeed, explosions fueled by dry ice can lift metal trashcans many feet in the air. We also learned the hard way that a dry ice explosion can actually blow ceramic tiles off of the side of a swimming pool!
- Over the years, several massive devices were built and tested at the crab feast for the purpose of launching fruit and vegetables into the woods that surround the fam. Watermelons, cantaloupes, pumpkins, and potatoes are a few examples of the organic materials launched by multiple potato cannons, giant slingshots, and a 30’ tall trebuchet designed and built by Key Tech employees for entry into the 2001 and 2002 Pumkin Chunkin contests held every fall in rural Delaware. The trebuchet project alone provided many hours of engineering distraction for our employees, with design, analysis, fabrication, and testing activities.
There are many other activities that provide enjoyment at the Crab Feast (Zorb ball, jousting on a huge inflatable mat, volleyball, frisbee, and swimming to name a few) but the activities that inspire us the most are those that push us to exercise our engineering minds in the preparation and implementation of those activities. And we derive the most enjoyment when we can share these activities with our friends and family on a beautiful afternoon in the picturesque farmland of Baltimore County.