KINGSTON, R.I. -- May 15, 2001 -- Five University of Rhode Island mechanical engineering students teamed with staff from Meeting Street Center to design and build an assistive device in which clients are positioned horizontally and slowly moved into an upright position. They took the current design of a supine stander and adapted it to better meet the needs of the children at Meeting Street Center.
Based in East Providence, Meeting Street Center provides education and therapy for children and adults with physical and developmental disabilities.
Because of the height of the original supine stander, two people were often needed to position clients in the device properly. A priority feature in the new design was an adjustable height mechanism to ease the transfer and positioning of clients.
"In our Special Problems course, we try to find real-world projects that students can work on as a team to design, develop and construct," explained Martin Sadd, URI professor of mechanical engineering and project advisor. "My wife works at Meeting Street Center, and weve talked for several years about various pieces of equipment used at Meeting Street that could be redesigned by mechanical engineers."
Beginning in 1999, Sadd and several URI students met with Meeting Street Center physical therapists Karen Scarborough, Tracy Moura and LeAnn McCrary to come up with a list of potential projects. The supine stander project was selected because its complexity matched with the number and abilities of the engineering students.
The students then began to identify Meeting Streets needs and specifications and developed several conceptual designs. By the end of the fall semester, they had assessed the advantages and disadvantages of each design and selected the best one.
"The design the students chose is a structurally sound lifting device that is relatively easy to manufacture," said Sadd. "They determined that the other designs were potentially unstable or were too difficult to construct."
According to Meeting Streets Scarborough, children who cannot stand on their own receive several benefits from using the supine stander.
"Placing clients in a standing position strengthens their bones and helps improve blood flow and digestion," she said. "And important psychological benefits result from being able to stand alongside peers in the classroom."
The supine standers at Meeting Street Center are a fixed 32 inches high when in the horizontal position more than a foot taller than a wheelchair.
"Lifting a larger person onto the old stander was very difficult on the caregivers," notes Scarborough. "Now that the stander can be placed at the same height as a wheelchair, its much easier for us to transfer clients."
The URI students designed a new stander that can be raised or lowered to allow easy client transfer. It incorporates a scissors-like device that raises the horizontal board on which clients are placed from about 19 inches the typical height of a wheelchair to 32 inches. A separate mechanism then rotates the board from a horizontal position to a vertical standing position.
Once the overall design was selected, the students and Meeting Street staff divided the project into several component segments and worked in teams to complete the final design and construction of each component.
"The students used a variety of computer-aided software tools from their previous courses, and created a virtual stander model, which allowed them to test various component designs without having to actually build a physical model," explained Sadd. "This proved to be very useful in developing and modifying designs for the raising, lowering and rotating mechanisms, and for conducting stress analyses of the structural elements."
While the students were building the structural and mechanical elements of the project, staff at Meeting Street Center developed the components needed to safely position and align the children in the stander.
"We handled all of the items that position the client securely, including the board they lay on, the padding and straps," said Scarborough.
The participating students were Charlie Chaponis of Vernon, Conn., Jim Mathieu of North Kingstown, Wes McGuire of Wakefield, David Ruggieri of Cranston, and Eric Weimer of Warwick. Materials for the project were donated by Peerless-Winsmith, Inc., Central Scale Co., and George H. Dean Steel, Inc.
Additional details on the project may be found on the Internet at www.mce.uri.edu/courses/spring00/projects.
For Information: Martin Sadd (URI) 874-2524, Todd McLeish (URI) 874-7892, Karen Scarborough (MSC) 438-9500