Senior Design team uses lasers to cut waste in credit card production

When operational, this device uses lasers to detect mistakes in the placement of a magnetic stripe on credit cards. (Heidi Hall/Vanderbilt University)

Place the magnetic stripe on a new credit card a single millimeter too high or too low, and it’s worthless. Multiply that mistake by thousands of cards, and companies are stuck footing the bill for stacks of product headed for the trash bin.

The problem is called magnetic float, and the answer, a winning Senior Design team found, lies in lasers that assure the stripe is placed within half a millimeter of the optimal location. Their research was for sponsor Fiserv, a financial services technology company.

Mechanical engineering majors Kevin Groll, Olivia Hurd, Nathan Chan and Adam Rubinsky explained that credit cards are PVC with a plastic overlay that includes the magnetic stripe, or magstripe. The stripe is applied at Fiserv, and then the finished cards are shipped on to be encoded with information. They said Hurd came up with the idea of using lasers for the magstripe measurement task.

The team poses for a photo. (Heidi Hall/Vanderbilt University)

“Last year, my mechatronics project was to build a laser harp that used lasers and photoresistors, with the lasers sending out certain frequencies that made specific sounds when they were covered,” Hurd said. “It was the first thing that came to me when I was considering the alignment problem.”

In addition to learning more about credit card technology and lasers, team members said they learned about barriers encountered during research.

“The difference between what we theoretically wanted to do and what we practically could do was difficult to overcome,” Chan said. “We had to come up with some crazy ideas in the beginning. As the problem went on, we got a lot better at anticipating what problems we were going to face.”

The team was honored by industry sponsors, School of Engineering faculty and their peers for all of their hard work. Judges from the first two groups selected the top three Senior Design projects to present to students, who chose the winner by applause. After three sound level checks, the Fiserv project tied for the top spot with one titled Pressurized Prophylactic Treatment Delivery Device for Vascular Bypass Grafts. That team was biomedical engineering majors Kelly Hainline, Morgan Satterlee, Kevin Humphrey and Cortnee Weinrich.


Heidi Hall, (615) 322-6614
On Twitter @VUEngineering