By Spencer Elliott
A mechanical engineering team from the Russ College of Engineering and Technology at Ohio University has won the $20,000 first-place prize in a competition for designs that assist people with disabilities.
Team "Lean on ME" won the National Institute for the Severely Handicapped (NISH) National Scholar Award for Workplace Innovation and Design, a competition intended to enhance employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The two-part honor awards $10,000 to the mechanical engineering department and $10,000 to the students.
Another team, "Chaos Theory," garnered an honorable mention.
The teams' work is the result of a comprehensive capstone course that runs the entirety of the students' senior year. Comprising six or seven students, each team created practical innovations for individuals with disabilities.
Department Chair Greg Kremer, who teaches the senior design course, said he sees the recognition, in part, as recognition of the entire class' efforts. "All eight teams did really good work, and it's hard to separate, from my perspective, this team from the other teams," he said.
A member of the winning Team Lean on ME, Jeremy Spivack, agreed on the overall quality of the projects.
"All the reports our class wrote were pretty good, and I was really surprised when we won," Spivack said.
Team Lean on ME, composed of Thomas Burke, Brady Doudna, Matt Hinssen, Chuck Lampp, Luke Lindsey, Adam McNally, and Spivack, designed an assembly jig for putting together soda machine nozzles.
Team Chaos Theory, made up of Ryan Lynch, Chris Dodd, Nick Stewart, Grant Honroth, Dan Stockton and Dan Held, was awarded honorable mention for their design of an adult tricycle, to be used by a woman with arthritis to take her baked goods to and from a local market.
To find appropriate projects, the teams partnered with agencies that employ or assist individuals with disabilities in the Appalachian region around Ohio University, including ATCO, the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission, Tri State Industries, and SW Resources. Teams worked with the employers and individuals to find areas where engineering could better their life and work.
"We're working with people with disabilities in the workplace and either trying to improve their job for them or get people who can't necessarily go into the workforce yet, get them into the workforce," said Nikki Blackmore, one of the participating students.
The teams were responsible for nearly every aspect of their product's development, from finding a customer with a suitable need through its conception, design, construction and testing.
"Basically, it's taking everything we've learned in engineering in our first three or four years in college and applying it to a single project," said Jonathan Robe, whose team worked on a device that would assist in the installation of o-rings on soft-drink machine syrup dispensers.
"We have to create everything," Robe Said. "With our prototype, we have to act as though we are in the real world."
Once the teams built their product, it was sent out to the workplace for testing. Blackmore, whose team worked on a device that allows workers to sort and bag small parts without the need for high dexterity or counting skills, said her team is already getting positive feedback from their customer.
"We've had a couple of guys who couldn't do the job before -- they did it first time." Blackmore said. "It's a really good feeling to know that you're helping people already."
All teams displayed their work at Walter Hall on Saturday, showcasing their talent and the contribution mechanical engineers can make to improving the life and work of people with disabilities.
The students will spend the rest of their senior year producing manufacturing drawings and plans for the products and assess their patentability and production possibilities, so that others with disabilities might benefit as well.
Financial support for the projects was provided by Belcan, the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, and the American Society of Engineering Education's Design in Engineering Education Division.