Recent graduates from the department of mechanical and materials engineering (MME) in the Faculty of Engineering have collaborated with local community organization LifeSpin on a transformative capstone project.
“LifeSpin was faced with a recurring challenge: moving boxes of essential supplies from their basement to their main level by manually carrying them up and down the stairs,” said Michael Marcarian, who graduated earlier this year.
“This labour-intensive task was physically taxing and inconvenient for their volunteers. LifeSpin needed an affordable solution to streamline the transportation of supplies for their team.”
The primary objective was to devise a cost-effective solution, staying within an $800 budget sponsored by Western’s MME department.
Innovative engineering in action
This is where the engineering students’ ingenuity came into play.
“We initially explored solutions involving hoisting the boxes upstairs, but these proved costly and subject to additional regulatory requirements. To stay within budget, we employed selection methods learned in our coursework and devised a tri-wheel dolly system,” said Marcarian.
The student team, supervised by MME professor Daniel Langohr, conducted meticulous calculations and simulations to ensure the design met its performance objectives without exceeding the budget. The final result was a hybrid solution that incorporated an off-the-shelf dolly fitted with a custom tri-wheel rim made of steel to support the dolly and its cargo.
An electrical control box was integrated, complete with a motor and battery, enabling easy operation. The motorized dolly effortlessly ascended and descended stairs, all while recharging with its onboard battery. An unexpected feature was its ability to tilt and lock at various angles, enhancing its versatility on flat surfaces.
A transformative impact
The tri-wheel motorized dolly significantly reduces the physical strain on individuals responsible for transporting boxes up and down stairs. It mitigates the risk of injuries and strain-related issues, such as back pain, by shifting much of the manual effort to the machine.
“This, in turn, enhances overall well-being and reduces the likelihood of accidents during the transportation process. Moreover, the motorized dolly has notably improved task efficiency and speed,” said Marcarian.
The impact of this innovation is most pronounced among LifeSpin’s employees, who can now securely and efficiently move their supplies, ultimately enabling them to serve the community better.
“We thoroughly enjoyed working with the Western Engineering team last year,” said Myrna Pronchuk, executive assistant at LifeSpin.
“They were professional in every encounter and provided us with a regular update of their process, so we always felt informed along the way.”
Engineering with a purpose
Marcarian says he thoroughly enjoyed being part of a community-focused initiative.
“While studying engineering, I’ve sometimes found myself immersed in theoretical calculations solely for academic purposes. However, this project has reinforced that the hours invested in problem-solving can translate into real-world benefits for individuals and the community.” – Michael Marcarian, Western engineering grad
In the course of this project, students acquired both hard and soft skills.
“Our educational journey in mechanical engineering equips us with hard skills, including knowledge of material properties, shaft design, gear ratio calculations, torque considerations and electrical circuitry,” said Marcarian.
Additionally, soft skills like comprehensive report writing, time management, leadership, teamwork and effective public speaking were cultivated.
As a parting message to prospective engineering students, Marcarian offered encouragement.
“If you relish unravelling the mysteries of how things work, tackling complex problems and contributing to positive change in the world, engineering is the ideal field for you,” he said.
The Stair Assist project is one of 23 capstone projects completed by MME students this year, including four sponsored by community partners like LifeSpin.