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 Career Insider: Mechanical Design students make work better at ASPIRO


 Casey Fryda


Class design teams adapt equipment for accuracy, accessibility

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Mechanical Design students have designed several gadgets to help workers with disabilities achieve more on the job.

The students designed devices that will allow Aspiro to assemble and package more goods and to employ individuals with a wider range of physical abilities. One proposed modification will help ASPIRO employees measure cotton more quickly and accurately, increasing Aspiro’s productivity. Another will allow them to operate sewing machinery without the need for foot pedals and at two different heights, opening those jobs to people with limited use of their legs.

VIDEO: Mechanical Design students talk about their collaboration with ASPIRO

“I loved working with the team and customers in industry, getting more experience,” said Alexi Her, 20, of Green Bay. “My favorite part was going and meeting the customer, to see where they were working and how we can make it better.”

ASPIRO provides vocational training to adults with cognitive disabilities, who perform contract manufacturing, assembling and packaging services. For students, working to improve ASPIRO's workplace made this one of their favorite assignments.

“When I found out we were helping people get a job and a wage…I felt compelled to do the project,” Lucas Brackett, 24, of Green Bay, said. “I felt more a part of the company. We didn’t just produce something to make money; we also gave someone with a disability a chance to work.”

"NWTC is known for engineering, one of the top schools around for that. I’ve loved every moment of it.” -- Alexi Her, Green Bay

Paul Cantwell, vice-president of manufacturing at Aspiro, said one of ASPIRO’s goals is to support development of devices that help their employees on the job. Based on a recommendation from an ASPIRO board member, the organization also thought the collaboration would be an appealing challenge for technical students. He said the results exceeded their expectations.

“ASPIRO has been very impressed with the engagement of each of the student design groups and the professional completion of their detailed design presentations,” Cantwell said. “This service learning concept has allowed each of the students to showcase their talents and skills, and to prepare for real world applications. These students were professional, studious, asked the necessary questions, completed proper follow-up, and showed a true desire to accomplish a goal by working in a team environment.”

The plan is for the Mechanical Design students to come up with acceptable designs, and for Machine Tool students to create the needed parts in order to contain costs for ASPIRO. That presents its own challenge, Her said. “We don’t know if the other class can make it; if they can’t, the whole design is a total fail.”

But Her said he has enjoyed learning process for the entire two-year Mechanical Design associate degree program. “In high school I saw how fun it was to design with computers. When I was looking for a career, NWTC was the best option. NWTC is known for engineering, one of the top schools around for that. I’ve loved every moment of it.”

ASPIRO considers the current project just the beginning. “Our initial thought was that this would be a one-time project,” Cantwell said, “but as the first design application progressed, it was quite apparent that both NWTC faculty and ASPIRO desired to maintain an ongoing collaboration in which a new project, or multiple concepts depending on complexity, would be added each semester. The students were very professional with high quality skill sets and positive attitudes.  I would highly recommend then to other organizations that would like to utilize students who can work independently and ‘think outside the box’ in developing a desired solution.”