Giving Homes a Lift
Written by Cindy Bevington
When Tri-State University's first two graduate students presented their master's degree research projects for review this spring, they not only were defending their work toward their degree, but also were unveiling a new product for Vestil Manufacturing Corp. in Angola, Ind. Gordon Cooper and Troy Neuenschwander, both Vestil employees, received their master's of science in engineering technology at graduation in May. They teamed up in their Applied Research Thesis course to develop a residential wheelchair lift, including a full-size prototype of it as a collaborative between the University and Vestil.
"Basically, what the men did was modify an industrial lift that uses scissor action to lift the wheelchair," says Dave Wagner, director of the master's program and adviser to Cooper and Neuenschwander. "The industrial collaborative takes a full year to complete, and gives students a chance to try a new venture or to take an existing product and make it better."
Vestil already was building a standard scissor-style lift. But, the company was seeing an increase in requests for specially-modified versions that could be adapted for home use with wheelchairs.
"So we decided to create a lift specifically for that purpose, that could be manufactured at Vestil," Neuenschwander says. "Probably the most challenging part of the project was meeting all the standards for compliancy by the American Society for Mechanical Engineers."
Neuenschwander concentrated on the mechanical design; Cooper addressed the marketing.
"We already knew there was a market for it," Neuenschwander says. "We received about 50 orders this year to modify the scissors lift for a standard residential design, for example, a lift that allows people access to their porch or front stoop of their house without a long ramp. Our project then had to consider the manufacturing process and federal government requirements, along with the user."
Initial marketing response was so positive they began receiving orders for the lift even before they finished the research.
"They've come a long way," Wagner says. "It was a discovery-type thing, all trial-anderror, to eliminate the ramp in favor of the scissors lift. They not only went through a design entrepreneurial project, complete with surveys, demographics, manufacturing and assembly, but also are successful at marketing it."
"As a part of the graduate program, we are always looking for more topics like this that we can collaborate."
Wagner can be reached by phone, 260.665.4265, or e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org .