A newsletter for alumni, students, and friends of the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Product Design Class Project Leads to Child's Adaptive Device

When Meriter Hospital Physical Therapist Cheryl Appel needed some specialized equipment for one of her young patients, she knew who to ask. She approached Associate Professor Frank J. Fronczak who was happy to present the project idea to his Product Design class last fall.

The challenge? Design and build an adjustable seat and play table for little Christian Reese who was born with osteo genesis imperfecta, brittle bone disease. Christian, who is now two years old, suffers frequent fractures and cannot tolerate the weight stresses of a regular chair. Christopher's mom, Jenny Reese, also asked that the device look appealing and not like the "torture device"-style equipment otherwise available for kids like Christian.
Baby with new play table

Physical therapist Cheryl Appel and Jenny Reese show Christian Reece his new play table. Because of his recent leg fractures, he had to wait a while to try it out. (31K JPG)

So the class of seniors and graduate students in ME 549, an elective, agreed to take on the task. They met with Appel, Christian, and his mom to find out exactly what they needed and then they starting developing design concepts and prototypes. By the end of the class, they had a detailed design ready. During their winter break, a student team that included Scott Adler, Brian Magnus, and Dan Olis began looking for materials and began fabrication. By the end of spring semester, they were finished.

Adler explained that the key to the design is a seat that Christian could be placed into safely. Because holding the boy under the arms could break his ribs, the group decided Christian should be cradled and placed into the chair when it is in a reclining position. The students adapted a child's car seat so that it could recline and then be rotated into an upright position. The seat also has a height adjustment--a part from an office chair--that also lets the seat rotate.

Next the students bought a commercial children's plastic play table made by Little Tykes and modified the table legs to telescope for height adjustment. They used the chairs that came with the table for material. The table top was cut into a shape to fit around the seat. To cover the cut edge, they glued on a Styrofoam® "noodle." Both table and chair were then attached to a base for stability.

Christian has had a chance to try out the seat and chair, and, according to his mom, "He loved the thing, he got real excited." In fact, his excitement showed that the seat needs a bit of modification: the padded pommel between the boy's legs proved to be too short to keep the wiggling child on the seat, so Adler will be correcting that.

Adler reflected on the experience, "We got more attached to the project than most because we knew there was a user who really needed this project. When we visited the family, we really saw the need, so our goal became more than just a class project." And Cheryl Appel, the physical therapist, spoke highly of working with the class: "The students were very responsive and enthusiastic. This was a terrific community-university collaboration."

ME Newsletter is a periodic publication of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Mechanical Engineering. Correspondence should be sent to the address below.

ME Newsletter
Department of Mechanical Engineering
University of Wisconsin-Madison
1513 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53706-1572

      Editor: Gail Gawenda

Designer: Lynda Litzkow

Last Modified: Monday, 15-Feb-1999 12:00:00 CST

DECEMBER 1998 Contents