Vo-tech students create device for wheelchair-bound man to play with dog

EAST BRUNSWICK – Advanced manufacturing majors in the Middlesex County Vocational and Technical Schools (MCVTS) are taught to identify a problem and then seek a solution.

A recent problem involved a disabled man who wasn’t able to exercise his service dog with a simple game of fetch. Students on the MCVTS East Brunswick campus made a device that enables the man to toss a ball from his wheelchair for the dog to retrieve.

“The beauty of this is that we have a real client with a real need,” advanced manufacturing instructor Stephen Mercadante said in a prepared statement. “There’s nothing better than advanced manufacturing students experiencing that. And the kids felt really good about what they did.”

Project Delbert produced a prototype for Javier Robles of Edison, a board member of Canine Companions for Independence, that allows him to toss a ball for his service dog, Delbert, to fetch. The dog responded enthusiastically during a test.

Using a multi-disciplinary approach, sophomores Joseph Castranova of Monroe, Andy Galvin of Old Bridge, Lucy Beauchamps and Jose Del-Cid, both of Perth Amboy, and Matt Kopelakis of Sayreville, and juniors Wesley Banks of Woodbridge and Dan Daly of East Brunswick, made a device that can be attached to a wheelchair that throws a tennis ball more than 15 feet.

The skills involved included electrical design and wiring, computer-assisted drafting, drilling and tapping, which is adding threads to allow pieces to be connected, according to the statement.

Mercadante said a 3-D printer was used to make the gears for the device, which is capable of 2,100 revolutions per minute. The dog returns the ball to a tube that feeds it back into the machine.

“We used all the aspects of our shop,” Mercadante said, adding that other East Brunswick campus shops that assisted included machine tool technology, which bent the bracket and used a lathe to make bearings; building services, which provided an enclosure; and digital film, which is making a documentary about the project.

“The beauty of this school is that everyone is so willing to help, so you can pull in the rest of the departments and really attack a project,” Mercadante said.

Mercadante’s students used a ShopBot with computer numerical control to carve “Delbert” and a paw on the cover.

Now the students are working on an improved version for Canine Companions that would be lighter and would throw the ball farther with greater flexibility to direct the angle and arc, according to the statement.

The advanced manufacturing major – also called pre-engineering – was instituted last year with the advice of a committee of employers and academics. Areas of concentration include mechanical technology, electronics, and pneumatics and hydraulics, with instruction on tools, materials, production processes, machine operations, automated line operations, technical and quality control, engineering analysis, instrumentation, programmable logic controllers, process control, computer-aided design, computer-aided manufacturing and robotics.


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