The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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MIE Students Show off Senior Designs on April 29

On Wednesday afternoon, April 29, 19 student teams from the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department and College of Nursing will demonstrate their brilliant, useful, and humanitarian inventions. Their fascinating innovations include a new and improved walker for a patient suffering from debilitating rheumatoid arthritis, a more efficient and economic device for farmers to remove seeds from squash, an ergonomically correct apparatus for pulling beer kegs off storage racks in a warehouse, and a dynamometer to help rehabbing patients assess the proper positioning of their damaged knees.  

The event is a showcase for the MIE capstone course, “MIE 415: Design of Mechanical Systems,” which is considered “the integrative culminating experience” of the education in the MIE department. It will take place from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. in the Gunness Student Center of Marcus Hall on the UMass campus. See video from last year’s Senior Capstone Design Event.

“This is our capstone design project,” said MIE Professor Sundar Krishnamurty, the spring-semester instructor for the course. “The students are all seniors, so…everything they learn in their engineering curriculum and their Gen Ed courses come together in real-world projects.”

This capstone course acts as a proof of concept for the whole MIE curriculum. The course demands that students use the knowledge and skills they have developed during their entire undergraduate education to design a utilitarian product, build a prototype, summarize the project with a poster, and finally make a verbal presentation to judges.

During the event, creativity will be on tap. Take the “Yankees Wayfarer,” a much improved walker for a lady with severe rheumatoid arthritis. To create the best possible assistive technology in her walker, a student team from the MIE department and College of Nursing performed an interview with the lady, gave her a head-to-toe physical examination, and created a functional assessment of the patient. The resulting device catered to her most crucial needs, a walker that would give her added freedom and mobility and would be equipped with an extendable grabbing tool to allow her to retrieve dropped items without overexerting her limited upper body strength.

This project was funded by a $125,000 grant from the National Science Foundation obtained by Professor Krishnamurty, MIE Professor Frank Sup, and Professor Cynthia Jacelon of the UMass College of Nursing to support “Integrative Capstone Design Experiences for Engineering and Nursing Students to Enable Independence for Older Adults.” The purpose of the grant is to develop assistive technology that helps older adults, facing age-related disabilities, maintain their quality of life.

A tool of a completely different kind is the so-called Pressure Squasher, a device created for a large-scale Hadley squash farmer to reduce the cost of crops by efficiently removing the seeds from the vegetable. To do so, students designed a rig to secure pressurized air and water nozzles, separate the seeds, membrane, and water, and make the operation safe and clean for operators. Pressurized air is used first to remove seeds from the membrane, and then pressurized water removes the membrane.

Another team of enterprising students have invented a Beer Keg Flow Rack End Stop, which improves the ergonomics of pulling kegs off the racks in a beer warehouse, automatically tracks the number of kegs removed from the rack each day, and improves worker productivity. Sponsored by UMass alum Jeff Slater, president and CEO of International Strategy & Consulting Inc., the device addresses the continuing problem of beer distribution center employees who suffer repetitive stress injuries. Companies must then pay for both workers’ compensation claims and hiring and training replacements. The answer to this issue is a modular end stop consisting of a spring-returned, lowering end gate, and resistive brushes.

Dr. Katherine Boyer from the Kinesiology Department at UMass specifically requested a Low-Tech Knee Proprioception Dynamometer for her biomechanics lab. Proprioception is a person’s ability to sense of the body's position by responding to stimuli from within the body, an ability that is often impeded in patients with damaged knees. Professor Boyer asked our students to develop a small, effective, low-tech machine for her biomechanics lab that provides quantitative data about subjects’ proprioception with regard to their knee placement. Our student team came up with just such a machine that can be used in a clinical setting and possibly for rehab or “practicing” proprioception of the knee.

Besides these four intelligent designs, some other clever inventions include the Quick Release Step-In Snowboard Binding, SnoTrak Bike System, Assisted Shower Chair, Automatic Compost Turner, and Bathtub Transfer Bench.

If you are intrigued, then show up at the Marcus Hall Gunness Center at 5:00 p.m. on April 29 to get a peek at the MIE seniors peaking at just the right moment. That’s also when four years of hard work, study, and sweat equity will converge into a perfect storm of timing, knowledge, execution, and peak performance. Come see for yourself! (April 2015)