Mechanical Pill Crusher Competition to Lead Engineering Exhibits

ORONO — Six teams of UMaine mechanical engineering technology (MET) students will square off for competition Wednesday, April 27, to see which of six distinctive pill-crushing devices work best, as part of an annual Senior Design Competition.

The exhibition of design projects by MET seniors begins at 8:30 a.m. in the Barrows Hall Engineering and Science Research Building lobby. Design presentations will be held in Barrows’ Hill Auditorium starting at 9 a.m. The public is invited to see and hear about research by UMaine MET students at the free event, showcasing a year of student creativity in mechanical engineering technology.

The pill-crushing devices were designed to be used in homes, hospitals or nursing homes and long-term care facilities, according to MET Professor Herb Crosby. At 10 a.m., a panel of nurses and professional engineers will evaluate the four pill crushers, followed by a pill-crushing competition at 10:45 a.m. Awards will be presented at 11:30 a.m.

The object of the pill crushers is to pulverize pills into the tiniest particles to facilitate dissolving in liquids for people or patients who have difficulty swallowing pills.

“The MET capstone projects in particular are often aligned to improve a specific product for handicapped individuals with limited mobility, loss of extremities, or a number of other various products designed to improve the quality of life for members of society,” says Ryan Keezer, the student whose wife suggested the pill crushers. “The capstone projects are what the MET program is all about.”

Crosby’s students determine their project at the beginning of the school year, when they select a topic from the pool of ideas Crosby receives from the public and class members. Ideally, Crosby says, each project has a real-life client who can be consulted to help students understand the need.

“You have to think, ‘There must be a better way,’” says Crosby, whose hope is for his students not just to build something for a grade but to build something that works and has a real-world application.

Students agree.

“That act of providing a product which is designed to help others feels great and is very motivating, knowing that someone is excited to see what the teams create,” says Justin Hagelin, an MET senior in Crosby’s capstone class. “It gives teams experience dealing with the consumers and users of its product, which is often the hardest obstacle to overcome in a design.”

And if the projects help students gain a greater understanding of the world around them, all the better, adds Crosby. With the 2009-10 tricycles for land mine victims in Mozambique, for instance, Crosby says developing and testing the designs helped students put their own struggles in context. “We tend to feel sorry for ourselves,” he says. “Well, we have no problems at all.

“I think it speaks well of the students to pick something like this,” Crosby says of the humanitarian projects. Class members care more about the projects because they have final say on the topic. “Often, these are underserved people who the big companies don’t cater to.”

Companies do offer, however, offer support in the form of donations. In the past, such businesses as NH Bragg of Bangor, Lemforder of Brewer, GE Bangor, Old Town Canoe, Rose Bike of Orono, Lane Supply and Home Depot have donated materials for the projects. For the Mozambique tricycles, Walmart even donated bicycles that students could dismantle and reconfigure.

With a $200 budget goal the past two years and no taxpayer money involved, the students rely on donations, and each group does all the work in soliciting its own materials. The groups then list sponsors on brochures detailing their projects. “I’m amazed at the generosity,” Crosby says. “Part of it is that the projects are worthwhile.”

Detailed designs of some of the pill crushers and a list of prior year projects are listed on the mechanical engineering technology website.

Contact: Herb Crosby, (207) 581-2134; George Manlove, (207) 581-3756

Photographs of students working on their projects are accessible in a Picasa web album.