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Mechanical engineering students take second place in national assistive technology competition

Megan Reed | Apr 10, 2017
Senior design team members demonstrating press

Mechanical engineering students take second place in national assistive technology competition

Megan Reed | Apr 10, 2017

A mechanical engineering senior design team won second place Friday in a national competition with their capstone project, which will help disabled employees at a nonprofit in Parkersburg, W.Va.

The SourceAmerica Design Challenge, which asks students to create assistive workplace technology recognized team “Say Yes to the Press” at the championship event on April 7 in Washington D.C., where students presented their project in front of judges and an audience. The team received $7,000, the Russ College $5,000, and the nonprofit agency $2,000.

The team -- James Brewer, Ethan Gerrard, Steven Hritz, Tyler Holcomb, and Derek Pierog -- began their year-long, design-to-build “Designing to Make a Difference” course project last August. Working with SW Resources, an organization in Parkersburg that employs individuals with disabilities, the team designed a press that helps employees complete a challenging task in the assembly of a drink dispenser - attaching a vinyl tube to a ribbed plastic base.

SW Resources employees often participate in assembly but don’t always have access to the equipment they need to perform these tasks easily and efficiently. In this case, the assembly task required a high amount of dexterity and physical strength, so only about three percent of employees could participate. But 100 percent of employees -- including those with severe visual impairments, physical limitations, and cognitive limitations -- who have tested the new, student-designed press can complete the task. This means more opportunities for employees at the company, which would not have been able to take on this assembly contract without the students’ help.

“Thanks to the students' device, we can meet customer demand more quickly and increase volume if needed,” said CEO Terah Klein.

Department Chair and Robe Professor Greg Kremer, who developed the capstone course, says the experience helps enable students to see the larger world around them, an aspect of the Russ College’s goal to develop meta engineers who are socially aware.

“Being able to contribute to society through meaningful work is so important for each person's self-respect and human dignity, so these programs that increase job opportunities for those of all abilities offers a wonderful win-win for all involved,” he said. “The student design teams deepen their compassion as well as their design skills as they develop solutions that enable people of all abilities to experience the joy and the dignity of good work,” he added.

Students have been awarded more than $100,000 from various national contests in recent years, having won Source America’s first place championship in 2009, 2011, 2013, and 2014; second place in 2015; and third place in 2012. Team winnings are applied to future capstone projects.