At the start of the semester, I was not exactly sure what I had gotten myself into for this course. With very little experience in 3D printing, I was nervous that I would not have the proper tools for navigating this semester, let alone an entire weekend of just making things! Thanks to my team, mentors, and professor I had a great semester and learned more than I could have hoped! Check out my journey below!
To start our semester, we dove right into empathetic human design. What can we learn from those who are different from us in order to create a product that will benefit their lives. Immediately, we were introduced to the Illini Service Dogs, a variety of members from the wheelchair racing team, and others who were willing to help guide us through this process. I found this intimidating because I did not know what I was expected to know or understand about wheelchairs and how they work or how it makes someone feel..the truth was, I did not know anything, and that scared me. No, I was not familiar with the lifestyle of someone who lives in a wheelchair, and I had no intention of trying to tell each user that I knew how they felt because I did not. But, I was willing to ask about how they felt, how they moved, how they lived, and suddenly, I realized not knowing was the best mindset to have when it was time to learn. And with that, I met and learned about some of the most inspiring on this campus.
Luckily, I was placed on a great team with my teammates for the semester, Maryam and Kate. We hit it off right away and were very pleased with our first assignment of creating a team name and logo. Upon deciding our mentor to be Arielle, we wanted our group name to reflect she had done with her own company Ingenium when taking the class. With that being said we decided to choose another Latin word, Evinco, meaning overcome. And with our team name, followed our opportunity statement: Increase a wheelchair racer’s grip in undesirable weather conditions.
Although this opportunity statement changed over the course of the semester, we had a large task at hand because Adam, the coach of the wheelchair team here at Illinois, said this is a feat he has been trying to overcome for years. We only had one semester to find a result and that was a daunting thought as the weeks passed.
We had the opportunity to tag along with Arielle to an 8am practice (which my senior year 11am class schedule did not prepare me for), where we observed exactly how wheelchair racing works, the break down of a racing wheelchair, and how athletes attempt to combat poor weather conditions. Each of these lessons brought us closer to understanding how we could improve the racers’ experience. While we were learning about the makeup of the chair, we learned how much work individual athletes have to put in in order to create their own equipment. For example, handrings need to be replaced every 3-4 months depending on how often the athlete practices and how much force is put on the handrail. In order to replace these handrings, the athletes need to use a heat gun to warm up the concrete glue enough so the worn rubber will come off of the aluminum rail, cut up a bike tire, and then glue the new bike tire onto the aluminum. The entire process can take up to 3 or 4 hours. From my knowledge, no other olympic sport requires its athletes to actually MAKE their own equipment. Understanding the “behind the scenes” of what it is like to be a paralympic athlete in wheelchair racing, our opportunity became two-fold: Find a better way to cover handrings in preparation for the race.
Over the next couple of weeks, we learned Fusion 360 software, brainstormed how we could accomplish our goal, and had the opportunity to be guided by individuals who work in the Fabrication Laboratory (FabLab) on campus. These weeks were used to help us better understand the resources that were available to our class and how we could use them in order to complete a prototype by the end of the Make-a-thon.
Iterate, Iterate, Iterate
The Make-a-thon was whirlwind of iterations. Every step along the way we faced a new challenge or found something that did not quite work for our team. We ordered three materials in preparation for the Make-a-thon: bath mats, yoga mats, and snap screws. We had to find a way to add this material to the handring in order for it to become more water resistant and withstand large amounts of force from athletes. Unfortunately, after simple testing, the yoga and bath mats were unable to withstand even light force. They began to pill at the first sign of light force.
After this we were on the hunt for the right material within the FabLab. T-shirts, nylon, and corduroy were a few fabrics that we were able to test for process improvement as well as durability.
We borrowed PlastiDip from another group, which is shown in the photo below. Vishal was also able to find PlastiDip Aerosal which was more of a spray compared to the initial yellow dip which we were able to use as a paint.
After the Make-a-thon, we finally had the opportunity to finalize a prototype. We used the Plasti-Dip Aerosol to coat the aluminum hand ring in 3 layers of paint. With an even spray we had confidence that this would uphold against an athletes’ training.
Learn from Failure
Moving forward, we are aware that three coats of spray were unsuccessful when working with Joey. It peeled off much too easily for someone who is applying an incredible amount of force for a long period of time. Although this solution did not work, we received some positive feedback. Joey was able to reach 1mph faster than he had in the past and he was impressed with the level of stickiness the coating had throughout his practice. He was excited to keep testing and working with us, in order to find a solution that could be used world wide in the Paralympics.
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Gies College of Business