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Mechanical engineering students demonstrate designs that create for good

Megan Reed | Apr 3, 2017
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Mechanical engineering students demonstrate designs that create for good

Megan Reed | Apr 3, 2017

Ohio University’s mechanical engineering seniors showcased their yearlong design projects, which address problems faced by individuals and companies both in Athens and around the world, this weekend in Stocker Center and the Academic & Research Center.

Students enrolled in the “Designing to Make a Difference” senior capstone course were paired with a client in August and have worked since then to design creative solutions to unique problems. The 14 projects include a low-cost fence to keep out deer, an oven accessible for wheelchair users, a tool for harvesting microgreens, and a log hauling device that minimizes forest impact.

“The project increases student motivation, broadens student perspectives, and gives students a chance to be of service to others in a professional sense, using their creativity and engineering skills,” Robe Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Designing to Make a Difference creator Greg Kremer said. “In interacting with the employees with disabilities and nonprofit partners, the students also develop empathy, listening skills, prototyping and testing skills, communication skills, project management skills and teamwork skills.”

Team “Say Yes to the Press” worked with SW Resources, a nonprofit in Parkersburg, West Virginia, that provides employment for individuals with disabilities. Employees at the facility often assemble products for other companies, but they lack the proper equipment to complete certain tasks efficiently.

“With the hand tools that they were using, it became very tedious and required a lot of dexterity,” team member James Brewer said. “We wanted to make it easier for them to use and have it require less strength, as well as increase usability.”

The students designed a press that helps employees attach a plastic base to a vinyl tube. Before the project, only two to three percent of employees were able to assemble this product because it required a high amount of physical strength. However, with the press the students created, 100 percent of employees can now participate in the assembly.

Team Say Yes to the Press is a finalist in the SourceAmerica Design Challenge, which tasks students to provide assistive workplace technology that employees with disabilities greatly benefit from but often don’t receive. The final results will be announced on April 7 in Washington, D.C., at the Challenge's championship event.

Another team, the “Mean, Green, Modeling Machines,” worked with Ohio University Facilities Management, to evaluate current models for energy efficiency in buildings on campus. The students focused on Sowle, Tanaka and McCracken Halls, as well as the Living and Learning Center, and found that the models the University was using were not accurate. In collaboration with Claire Naisby, building systems integration manager, the students created new models to help the University save both energy and money.

Team member Rowan Grebeck, whose model for Tanaka Hall would save about five percent annually, said the students found relatively simple changes that can make a large impact.

“The changes that we thought to implement – changing air filters, cleaning coils, changing light fixtures – all saved energy and saved money,” she said. “Even with the cost to implement them, they have a net savings.”

Team “The People’s Stander” collaborated with an Ohio University faculty member to create a standing frame that will be used at the Mariri Child Stimulation Centre in Botswana. Janice Howman, assistant clinical professor and academic coordinator of physical therapy, asked the students to create a low-cost standing frame to use with physically disabled children so they can gain muscle strength.

“Children with disabilities need to spend time in a standing position to develop muscle tone, circulation, and just overall wellness as a child,” said team member Steven Wise. “In the United States, we have standers that most families might be able to purchase, and we have insurance companies that can help families with the cost. In Botswana, this is not the case.”

The team’s solution costs under $200 and is made from South African pine, which is readily available in Botswana. The device can change position from 45 to 90 degrees and be wheeled around, allowing the child to change location while staying in a standing position.

Students will spend the rest of the semester perfecting their designs, and many teams will enter their projects into national competitions. Mechanical engineering students have been awarded more than $100,000 from the contests in recent years.