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Mechanical engineering seniors win national design competition

A team of five senior mechanical engineering students from Ohio University's Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology has won first place in the national 2011 Ability One Network Design Challenge.

The second Ohio University team in three years to come in first, "Frapptastic Five" took home a prize of $10,000 to split and another $10,000 for their department, for their design to improve assembly of valves for McDonald's frappe dispensers.

Founded by the national nonprofit NISH and open to any college student or team, the contest encourages the development of creative technological solutions for issues that prevent disabled individuals from entering or advancing in the workplace.

"It was a great chance to learn about new manufacturing and design technology -- and it was done to help those in dire need," said team member Michael Koh.

Two Ohio University teams that had developed a solution as a part of their yearlong mechanical engineering senior design experience submitted their projects.

Working under the theme "Designing to Make a Difference," nine total teams delivered working prototypes to local clients in need – ranging from a girl with cerebral palsy who wanted to play boccia ball more independently, to a local farm co-op that wanted a better way to pop amaranth grain in support of the local food economy.

The Frapptastic Five – Kyle Royer, Broc Pittenger, Logan Dobrovich, David Few and Michael Koh – worked with Parkersburg, West Va., company SW Resources, which employs disabled workers.

They improved hand tools for higher functioning employees and also designed and produced a mechanical valve assembly press that provides better alignment, as well as a mechanical advantage, to make the frappe valve assembly task possible for severely disabled employees.

The result? Work is now safer and easier for the disabled employees and productivity improved -- more than 100 percent.

"Our clients work more efficiently, and they are now able to do the job, whereas before they weren't," said Michelle Hayes, production floor supervisor at SW Resources.

According to the team's report, the valve assembly task had been handled by higher functioning employees because of the amount of physical strength and accuracy needed. Now, those who could not originally perform the task and were frustrated by the prior method enjoy using the press. 

 "The design involves more disabled workers in the frappe valve assembly task, reduces the chances of repetitive motion injuries, increases production rates, and increases take-home pay," said Department of Mechanical Engineering Chair Greg Kremer, who oversees the capstone course. "But the project also helps SW Resources keep their contract. Without a contract, these individuals don't have jobs."

The department will use the $10,000 prize to support the Designing to Make a Difference capstone course and expand the reach of future projects.

For Pittenger, what mattered most was seeing what hard work could do.

"I took what I learned in school and found a solution for someone who may not be capable of finding their own. Knowing that we made an impact on our customer has given us a great sense of accomplishment," he said.