Sunday, Oct 22, 2017

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Senior Joe Feck (far right) and his team, Just A Lil' Pick ME Up, demonstrate their pool lift system

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Mechanical engineering students unveil assistive designs

Senior mechanical engineering students from Ohio University's Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology presented their assistive design projects Saturday.

At the "Designing to Make a Difference Project Demo Day," nine teams exhibited their unique designs, which the students spent the entire year developing. The projects, which benefit local businesses, the elderly and the handicapped, ranged from a lift system that enables disabled children to safely enter and exit a swimming pool, to an automated amaranth popper.

Assisting those in need was the idea of Department of Mechanical Engineering Chair Greg Kremer, who heads capstone project, after he watched great designs go nowhere once the year ended.

"We wanted to take the energy of the students and put it toward something meaningful," Kremer said.

Students were required to find a client with a unique need they could solve with a mechanical engineering design. Each team of five or six students then worked closely with its client throughout the entire design process, from their first sketches to final tweaks on the products they built.

Team Just A Lil' Pick ME Up worked with a local mother who hosts pool parties for her handicapped daughter's sports league and has struggled to get the children in and out of the water.

Team member Joe Feck said designing the pool lift system was rewarding every step of the way.

"Designing early on and solving certain problems, like finding strong enough hinges, was a lot of fun," Feck said. "But actually finishing the project and seeing everything you designed work the way it should was really great."

Team APD's client, Appalachian Staple Foods Collaborative, wanted to promote the nutritional and agricultural benefits of amaranth, a local grain that is undergrown.  Amaranth can be eaten popped, like popcorn. However, traditional popping methods are labor intensive, and high popping temperatures can cause amaranth to burn easily.

The team developed a fully automated popper that will allow producers of the grain to pop five pounds an hour just by flipping on a switch – in contrast to popping one tablespoon a time over a hot stovetop. The machine uses circulated hot air and a system of ducts to heat and pop the grain to prevent burning.

APD team member Danny Young said the team had to think outside of what they traditionally thought of as mechanical engineering because their design was actually fairly simple when finished.

"We discovered there's more to mechanical engineering than just a bunch of moving parts," Young said. "There were a lot of fluid dynamics and air flow concepts we had to consider."

Thanks to APD's popper, local farmers can now increase production of amaranth, which can be grown cheaply and survive in extreme conditions.

"By going through the whole process of finding and working with a client, the students really learn what the real world is like," Kremer said. "They are now engineers solving real problems for real people."