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“Making the Difference: An Industrial Engineering Capstone Design Experience to Benefit Adults with Disabilities”  is a project sponsored by the National Science Foundation under the CBET program (Grant #1403753). The research team is composed by Mayra I. Méndez Piñero, Principal Investigator (PI), Cristina Pomales-García, Co-PI and María de los A. Irizarry, Co-PI

Mayra Méndez, PhD, Principal
Mayra Méndez, PhD, Principal
Cristina Pomales PhD, Co-PI
Cristina Pomales PhD, Co-PI
Maria Irizarry, PhD, Co-PI
Maria Irizarry, PhD, Co-PI

PROJECT BACKGROUND

The 2010 U.S. Census Bureau (2010 Census Data, 2012) statistics revealed the U.S. had an average of 11.9% of people with disabilities. The same statistics show Puerto Rico with a 19.7% of people with disabilities. These numbers position the island as the U.S. territory with the highest percent of individuals with disabilities. Adults with disabilities have numerous special needs and are a community with low visibility and in occasions unattended. Based on the Census Bureau statistics, Puerto Rico’s reality offer great opportunities to make significant contributions to the population of adults with disabilities.

The research work presented herein has been funded by a project consortium founded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) that seeks to benefit adults with disabilities. The project Making the Difference: An Industrial Engineering Capstone Design Experience to Benefit Adults with Disabilities was designed to give industrial engineering senior students a unique design experience nurturing their understanding on the contribution industrial engineers can have on the quality of life of humanity.

INDUSTRIAL ENGINEERING CAPSTONE DESIGN COURSE

Capstone design projects at the Industrial Engineering program at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez (UPRM), are normally focused on service or manufacturing industries searching to optimize productivity and/or quality of services. This research work entails a significant change in the focus of IE capstone design projects at UPRM. Through the research work performed in this project students are given the opportunity to interact with health care professionals; increase their knowledge in the legal and ethical issues related to the design process; and gain awareness, sensibility and knowledge on the needs of adults with disabilities, therefore broadening their IE knowledge.

The identification of special needs in adults with disabilities throughout this research work is done in collaboration with nonprofit institutions that offer services or provide employment to the adult population with disabilities. These are the Mayaguez Association for People with Disabilities-Center for Sensorial Stimulation and Passive Recreation (AMPI); the Puerto Rico Assistive Technology Program (PRATP); the UPRM Dean of Students office; and Puerto Rico Industries for the Blind (PRIFB). Senior students design and build prototypes focused on the identified needs to: foster independence and self-care; improve the safety and quality of life of these individuals; augment their functional capabilities; develop and enhance therapeutic devices, and/or increase productivity for the blind or visually impaired workers.

A particular characteristic of these design projects is that they are worked by two senior industrial engineering students balanced in gender, with the collaboration of a graduate student as mentor from mechanical engineering who becomes part of the prototype design process. In one instance senior students interacted with high school students to gather ideas in the development of a prototype design. Another objective of this research work is the involvement of high school students to promote the industrial engineering program.

Students tackle the capstone design project following the systematic engineering methodology described in Figure 1 consisting of the following eight steps:

Figure 1. Systematic Engineering Approach for Design Projects
Figure 1. Systematic Engineering Approach for Design Projects
  1. Identification of a problem focusing on the needs of an individual with disabilities and clearly stating project objectives.
  2. Research and data collection. The problem then needs to be justified using three basic perspectives: observations, expert interviews, and literature review.
  3. A quantitative engineering analysis of data collected.
  4. Development of design alternatives. These are evaluated by team members and experts (i.e. mechanical engineer, physical therapist, occupational therapist, psychologist, neurologist, speech pathologist among other clinical specialist, etc.) using multiple criteria such as cost, feasibility, usability, fit, durability, among others.
  5. Construction of a prototype.
  6. Implementation and design refinement.
  7. Prototype validation.
  8. Documentation of results.

CAPSTONE COURSE PROJECTS

This research project started in August 2014. Throughout the past two years four project have been totally completed and one project has been worked up to phase 4. Based on experts’ and end users’ evaluations, results have been highly successful and gratifying to all parts. Links with descriptions of each project and its authors, the final project poster and available drawings and user manual for each design are provided below.

Spring semester 2014 – 2015

Design of an Ergonomic Tool for People with Upper Limb Prosthesis (Project Poster & Drawing and User Manual)

Design and Construction of a Prototype of a Gait Trainer (Project Poster & Drawings and User Manual)

Fall semester  2015 – 2016

Design of a cost-effective therapeutic cross-body movement and sensorial therapy system for adults with special needs (Project Poster)

Spring semester 2015 – 2016

Design of an Ergonomic Knife for People with Disabilities (Project Poster & Blueprints and User Manual)

Design of a Sensory Stimulation Equipment for Adults with Disabilities (Project Poster & Blueprints and User Manual)