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#TGW: Racketeering

Jan. 12, 2014

By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word

Juan Melian graduated last month, and while he’s not sure what he’ll do with his mechanical engineering degree from Georgia Tech, he has options.

Maybe he’ll be a weaver, an inventor, an entrepreneur or perhaps all at once.

The story behind these suggestions begins with a passion for tennis. Melian played two years for the Yellow Jackets after transferring from Georgia Southern, where he was 2011 Southern Conference Player of the Year.

At Tech, his singles record was 39-27 through last spring, and more importantly he acquired knowledge and built relationships on the Flats.

There was (is), for example, Guillermo Gomez, the outstanding former Jacket tennis ace who like Melian happens to be a Spaniard.

So they were commiserating a while back about one of their shared pains – stringing tennis racquets – and they got to thinking.

“We were talking last year about how nobody has invented a string machine that does it by itself,” Melian said. “There are so many amazing machines out there, like a Space Shuttle, and somebody has to be able to design a racquet stringing machine.

“It can take 35 or 40 minutes to do all the cross weaving. Think about a tennis shop doing a bunch each day.”

The idea just kind of hung in space until Melian began his final semester.

In his Capstone Design class, where students are tasked with forming teams which in turn design and build something, the racquet stringer was made and it won the mechanical engineering prize in the Capstone Design Expo at semester’s end.

Actually, as Melian gathered with fellow students Gowtham Govind, John Coker, Dhrumil Desai, Michael Fogg and Jordan Thomas-Green, the stringer was not a slam dunk choice to be their project for the semester.

“We thought through a few ideas that that everybody had,” he recalled. “One of them was a faster way to take the cork out of a wine bottle. Another one was a device to do chest workouts.

“But there were very similar things on the market already. We also thought of a detection device for potholes in streets.”

Finally, the group landed on Melian’s racquet stringer idea and they came to call themselves the Stringineers.

With their own money, they built what they called the Rambler Tennis Weaver, although that name may not stick. The goal is to at least partially automate a process typically done by hand.

“It is a device that attaches to current string machines [which hold steady a raquet], and it helps with cross strings. You can do the verticals pretty fast,” Melian said. “We came up with a device that you clamp to the machine, and it splits the vertical strings to create a channel so the weaving is easier.

“The current machines don’t do much for the stringer. It saves time. That was what I think won us the prize.”

Where the product goes from here, if anywhere, is unclear.

All six Stringineers graduated, and there is flux aplenty.

Although their device won the Expo award, it fell short of the group’s original plans. They would like to create a device that strings an entire racquet, but time and budget constraints limited the group as the semester wound down.

Similarly, there are issues slowing the notion of taking the project forward.

“It’s called the QuickString, but it doesn’t work the way we want. Some parts are made of plastic,” Melian said. “It needs a lot of improvements to be on the market . . . more development. We need to look for investors. We have to get a solid team.

“Three others and I are willing to meet, but I don’t think the four of us is enough to make a fully functional product. We need to find a way to manufacture these parts. We didn’t have enough time to make all those parts out of metal.”

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