Montana State University students engineer efficient snowplow route improvements in Bozeman

Senior engineering students collaborating on a capstone design project analyze local snowplow routes to enhance efficiencies

Author

Carl Nelson

Contributors

Susan Gallagher, Marshall Curry

Metrics

Community
Bozeman, Montana
University
Montana State University
Program
Community Engaged and Transformational Scholarship (CATS)
Years
2018-2020
Case Type
Project Stories
Discipline
Engineering
Region
EPA Region 8, USA

Located in southern Montana, the City of Bozeman is home to approximately 50,000 people. The Gallatin County seat offers a thriving arts scene, cultural festivals, farmers’ markets, and excellent outdoor recreation in nearby Paradise Valley, Yellowstone National Park, and the Gallatin Mountains. Local officials and residents value a sustainable, equitable, and participatory approach to community planning across a range of focus areas.  

Snowfall presents seasonal city management challenge

Each winter, the Bozeman Streets Department has difficulty clearing snow and ice from city roads. As population and density steadily increase, so does the demand for snowplowing. While new routes have been added, they are not necessarily optimized to accommodate this growth as efficiently as possible.

Snowplow innovation from concept to detailed systems design

City Streets Superintendent John Van Delinder partnered with the Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering at Montana State University through the Community Engaged and Transformational Scholarship (CATS) initiative to help the city optimize snowplow routes and maximize efficiency.

Students in the Industrial Management Systems Engineering 499 senior capstone course created a route simulation model and researched improved communications systems for safe and efficient snowplow operations.

Data-backed route improvements 

The final report and presentation outlines the design process and provides recommendations for system-wide route optimization. Participants developed a working simulation model which determined ideal routes and priority streets based on key variables and constraints. 

Students ultimately identified seven connected routes requiring an average of 4.5 hours each to complete, a 6% improvement from existing plowing times. They also identified a driver communication system that uses in-vehicle GPS units with audio direction to enhance efficient tracking and coordination between snowplow operators.

The eighteen minutes the students optimized routes managed to shave off current plowing times has the potential to improve commuter convenience and save the city money longterm. Plow managers have the chance to move beyond mathematical calculations and test the model during the snowy season.

Read the full story of the partnership.

Read the final student report delivered to the local gov/community partner.