Western Engineering students design innovative solution for local community organization


Michael Marcarian (right) with LifeSpin's Jacqueline Thompson (left) and Debbie Ratz


In a testament to Western Engineering’s commitment to producing graduates whose education and leadership serve the public good, recent graduates from the department of mechanical and materials engineering (MME) have collaborated with local community organization LifeSpin on a transformative capstone project. 

Recent Western Engineering graduates (L-R) Colin Woodside, Michael Marcarian,
Samson Wu, Marshall Lozon (Submitted photo)

Michael Marcarian (pictured right with his team) shared insights on how they addressed a critical issue affecting the organization, emphasizing the significant impact of engineering on the community. 

 “LifeSpin was faced with a recurring challenge: moving boxes of essential supplies from their basement to their main level by manually carrying them up and down the stairs,” says Marcarian, who graduated earlier this year. 

“This labour-intensive task was physically taxing and inconvenient for their volunteers. LifeSpin needed an affordable solution to streamline the transportation of supplies for their team." 

The primary objective was to devise a cost-effective solution, staying within an $800 budget sponsored by Western’s MME department. 

Innovative engineering in action 

This is where the engineering students' ingenuity came into play. Marcarian explains, "We initially explored solutions involving hoisting the boxes upstairs, but these proved costly and subject to additional regulatory requirements. To stay within budget, we employed selection methods learned in our coursework and devised a tri-wheel dolly system.” 

The student team, supervised by MME professor Daniel Langohr, conducted meticulous calculations and simulations to ensure the design met its performance objectives without exceeding the budget. The final result was a hybrid solution that incorporated an off-the-shelf dolly fitted with a custom tri-wheel rim made of steel to support the dolly and its cargo. 

An electrical control box was integrated, complete with a motor and battery, enabling easy operation. The motorized dolly effortlessly ascended and descended stairs, all while recharging with its onboard battery. An unexpected feature was its ability to tilt and lock at various angles, enhancing its versatility on flat surfaces.

A transformative impact 

Marcarian underscores, "The tri-wheel motorized dolly significantly reduces the physical strain on individuals responsible for transporting boxes up and down stairs. It mitigates the risk of injuries and strain-related issues, such as back pain, by shifting much of the manual effort to the machine. This, in turn, enhances overall well-being and reduces the likelihood of accidents during the transportation process. Moreover, the motorized dolly has notably improved task efficiency and speed." 

The impact of this innovation is most pronounced among LifeSpin's employees, who can now securely and efficiently move their supplies, ultimately enabling them to serve the community better. 

"We thoroughly enjoyed working with the Western Engineering team last year," says Myrna Pronchuk, executive assistant at LifeSpin. “They were professional in every encounter and provided us with a regular update of their process, so we always felt informed along the way."  

"The problem of lifting heavy objects up our narrow stairwell was solved in an ingenious way and we really appreciate the team's efforts to make our jobs easier."    

Engineering with a purpose 

In reflecting on his involvement in a community project, Marcarian shares his enthusiasm, stating, “I thoroughly enjoyed being part of a community-focused initiative. While studying engineering, I've sometimes found myself immersed in theoretical calculations solely for academic purposes. However, this project has reinforced that the hours invested in problem-solving can translate into real-world benefits for individuals and the community." 

In the course of this project, students acquired both hard and soft skills. He adds, "Our educational journey in mechanical engineering equips us with hard skills, including knowledge of material properties, shaft design, gear ratio calculations, torque considerations, and electrical circuitry. Additionally, soft skills like comprehensive report writing, time management, leadership, teamwork, and effective public speaking are cultivated. These soft skills, not explicitly taught, have proven invaluable in various aspects of my daily life." 

As a parting message to prospective engineering students, Marcarian offers encouragement, saying, "If you relish unravelling the mysteries of how things work, tackling complex problems, and contributing to positive change in the world, engineering is the ideal field for you. It's a journey marked by hard work, dedication, and perseverance, but rest assured, you'll have a supportive team alongside you. Remember, engineering is a collaborative endeavour." 

The Stair Assist project is one of 23 capstone projects completed by MME students this year, including four sponsored by community partners like LifeSpin. Western University's engineering students have demonstrated the profound impact of their skills and knowledge on the local community by providing an innovative solution for LifeSpin. This motorized dolly not only eases the burden on volunteers but also serves as an inspiring example of the tangible difference that engineering can make in the world.


Learn more about the Mechanical and Materials Engineering Capstone Design Project