OU Students Win National Engineering Competition

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For their senior capstone class, four engineering students at Ohio University developed a contraption called the EZ Squeeze that not only increases productivity for workers with disabilities, it also won them $10,000.

“It was a lot of fun,” said student Mitch Harble, who worked with Jeremy Ruff, Rob Garlock, Devin DeBoer, Mitch Harble and Juncheng Yao. “It was a pretty challenging design. It helped me to gain knowledge of what to expect in the workforce and how to go about designing and working in a team.”

The team won first-place in the AbilityOne Design Challenge, an annual national contest that challenges engineering students to develop assistive technologies for people with disabilities. The awards were announced June 19.

The team chose to work with SW Resources, a nonprofit based in Parkersburg that contracts with other companies to create employment opportunities for adults with disabilities.

For one of SW Resources contracts, they must transfer polishing liquid from a 32-ounce bottle into smaller sample-size containers. Before meeting the students, the transfer process was laborious and inefficient. It required one person to manually squeeze the bottles, which was difficult for the higher viscosity liquids. Because of the physical demands of the task, only two of the agency’s 144 employees were able to do it.

Enter the EZ Squeeze. Through the machine’s use of air injection, the employee can complete the liquid transfer with the simple push of a button. 

The device made it possible for 140 employees to perform the task. Previously, employees could finish one bottle in one minute. Now, they can complete five in the same amount of time. It also reduces waste. Before the employees could only squeeze out about 25 ounces, now they’re able to capture about 30.

Developing the device was a yearlong process that incorporated regular feedback from SW Resources, explained Harble. The experience, he said, gave him a real-life engineering project just before graduation.

And that’s the idea, said their professor Greg Kremer.

“It’s as authentic an experience as you can get,” Kremer said. “We’ve found students get more creative if you don’t give them something that’s well-defined. This gives them a problem and gives them a real person to talk to.”

Since 2008, mechanical engineering students have been expected to participate in this special capstone project that follows the general theme of “designing to make a difference,” explained Kremer.

Competing is also required for the class. Ohio University students have won first-place three times going back to 2009.

As for what they’ll do with this year’s prize money, Yao said he and his teammates haven’t decided yet. He said he’s still in shock for winning first-place.