The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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New Capstone Projects Strike a Blow for Ingenuity, Creativity, and Engineering Knowhow

Top Sponsored Project Team

Top Sponsored Project Team

Top Student Concept Team

Top Student Concept Team

On December 8, the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department’s 415 Senior Capstone Design course, taught by MIE Professors Frank Sup and Bernd Schliemann, held its fall-semester poster contest, and the three winning teams produced a trio of brilliant and practical inventions aimed at solving significant engineering problems. During the semester their engineering ideas went from the concept stage to the actual fabrication of three ingenious proof-of-concept prototypes, chosen as the top projects: a device to measure the tissue forces acting on an instrument during arthroscopic surgery; a sub-occipital release device for relieving neck tension; and a hands-free foot-pedal mechanism for operating a toilet seat.

12 teams (60 students) presented their semester’s work during the poster competition, and top teams were chosen in three categories. Two of the best projects where selected by the judges, and the top popular vote was selected by attendees of the event.

The Top Sponsored Project, supported by the global medical technology company of Smith and Nephew PLC, is a force-measuring device for the arthroscopic surgical tools, an apparatus designed by the team of Gabriel Kornilowicz, Alexandra Ly, Nathan Malast, Mark McGrath, and Kevin Moran.

The goal of this project is to measure and record the location, magnitude, and direction of the tissue forces acting on Smith & Nephew’s arthroscopic surgical tools during surgery. Smith & Nephew wanted to gain a better understanding of these forces in order to optimize their tools and thereby reduce their overall size, which would make the surgery less invasive and more cost effective.

The team’s prototype consists of strain gauges placed along the long axis of the tool where it bends. The strain gauges are interfaced with a data acquisition board, which transfers readings to LabVIEW, a system design software, and then the data are exported to Excel for analysis.

The Top Student Concept is the sup-occipital release device to relieve neck tension, a mechanism designed by the team of Micaela Morelli, Ben Groleau, Paul Tobin, Kris Horn, and Jordan Hanahan. The goal of this project is to relieve the kind of neck tension typified by the discomfort many of us feel after a long day of working at a computer. The team designed a portable sub-occipital release device that physical therapy patients can use in the comfort of their own homes.

The prototype is an adjustable, easily raised or lowered support platform for the head and neck. While lying on his or her back, a user can rest the head upon this device, pillow-like, as it gently stretches the neck. A hand pump actuates radial support motion to allow for smooth and simultaneous vertical and horizontal motion. Radial motion successfully activates the stretch, and the hand pump works well to the move the support platform with little user input.

The sub-occipital release device is capable of being independently operated by the user, is adjustable to fit a variety of head shapes, and is comfortable to use, straightforward to learn, and simple to operate.

The Popular Vote at the poster contest went to a team composed of Thomas Brennan, Peter Manning, Travis Marks, Shashaank Umesh, and John Walder. They call their concept P-Pedal – a hands-free foot pedal to raise and lower the toilet seats in public restrooms and thus improve sanitary conditions.

The P-Pedal improves bathroom hygiene by mitigating the act of touching the toilet seat – one of the most germ-laden areas in the room – and the user thereby achieves a much cleaner and more pleasant restroom experience. The device is designed as a retrofit to existing toilets, and the user simply steps on a foot pedal, which lifts or lowers the toilet seat. The P-Pedal is designed to be intuitive, easy to use, and easy to clean.

The poster contest was the culminating event of the senior design course. The one-semester course demands that students use all the knowledge and skills they have developed during their undergraduate education and apply them to resolving topical problems of the day. During the course, mechanical engineering students must design a utilitarian product, build a prototype, summarize the project with a poster, and make a verbal presentation to judges. (December 2016)