Spectrum Industries And Uw-stout Collaborate To Innovate!

Posted: October 18, 2010


Menomonie, Wis. – A versatile, ergonomically correct work station designed by a University of Wisconsin-Stout specialist and an alumnus could change the way a broad spectrum of people learn, conduct research and perform tests and other tasks.

The prototype tabletop station, 5-feet-6 inches long and 2-feet-7 inches wide, primarily was designed for people with disabilities. Portable and height-adjustable, it fits work station needs for people with a variety of physical limitations.

Because of its versatility, the design also breaks new ground as an ergonomically correct work table for the general population, from children to adults, for use in schools, institutions, industries and businesses.

The inventors are Jeff Annis, a Stout Vocational Rehabilitation Institute designer, and Brad Stafford, a 2005 UW-Stout graduate and product designer for Spectrum Industries of Chippewa Falls.

“With the disabled population as our focus, we came up with a universal design that provided access for all people,” Annis said. “This could be used in school and business science labs, on an assembly line, as a craft table, in assisted living and in commercial kitchens.”

The work station will be unveiled at an open house from 8:30-10:30 a.m. Thursday, June 3, at SVRI, 221 10th Avenue E. The open house will include tours of SVRI’s assistive technology labs.

UW-Stout Chancellor Charles W. Sorensen recently committed funding for prototype testing and refinement, which is ongoing at UW-Stout.

Funding for the design and construction of prototypes also was supplied by UW-Stout, Spectrum and WiSys, or the Wisconsin System Technology Foundation, which handles marketing, licensing and other issues for all UW System schools except UW-Madison.

The public-private project was funded in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation through the Midwest Alliance in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics at UW-Madison. The NSF is concerned about a low percentage of students with disabilities pursuing math and science careers, Annis said.

Sorensen said the work station reflects Annis’ wealth of experience with adaptive technology and the type of innovative applied research being conducted at UW-Stout, Wisconsin’s polytechnic university. “The intuitive design brings work station technology into the modern age and makes science and research more accessible. It’s an exciting leap forward as a tool for many people,” Sorensen said.

“We are proud to support this research, which represents the quality of work being done by students and faculty across our campus and in collaboration with private industry.”

WiSys recently applied for a patent. Spectrum has the first right of refusal as the manufacturer. Royalties from product sales would be split between WiSys, UW-Stout and Spectrum.

Stafford, who majored in industrial design at UW-Stout, is a product designer for Spectrum, which makes technology-based furniture. Spectrum President Dave Hancock also has acted as an adviser on the project.

“We achieved the core goal so that students with special needs can participate in science experiments, but this product also pushes the envelope of what a work station can be,” Stafford said. “It meets the needs of a high percentage of people.”

“Some schools already have expressed interest, so we anticipate selling these in the future,” Stafford added.

Production could begin once field tests, including at school and other science labs, are complete.

Work station features include:

• Adjustable height with the push of a button, from 24.6 inches to 50.6 inches, using a linear actuator and a digital display. Height settings also can be customized.

• Mirror images on both sides, making it accessible for up to four people simultaneously.

• A beveled edge, which contains spills and prevents items from falling off.

• Portability, with castors on wheels that lock with the push of a button. It can be moved around a classroom or work space for easier access or to access other equipment, such as a sink or gas valve. “In a science lab, you could configure them any way you want — in a circle if you prefer,” Annis said.

• A pull-out shelf, which can hold a microscope, laptop or other equipment.

• Two movable gantry arms with LED lights to suspend tools or research items.
Most work stations in labs are stationary and not ergonomically correct, Annis said. “The design looks good, it’s functional and I think there’s a market for it,” he said.

Three UW-Stout students helped during the design phase, Casey Nugent of Fredonia, Jason Burbank of Menomonie and Mark Fladeboe of White Bear Lake, Minn. Annis also credited Mike Gove and Gene Gove of Imperial Counters in Hastings, Minn., and Dan Sembach of the SVRI fabrication lab with design support.

In his 34-year career, Annis has designed hundreds of pieces of equipment, most for the disabled through SVRI. About four years ago, Annis also designed an adjustable cooktop, which recently received a patent. The work station is an offshoot of that design, Annis said.

Annis and Stafford, a former SVRI employee and native of Eden Prairie, Minn., have spent about two years on the design and are working on a third prototype of the work station at Spectrum.

For more information or to schedule an interview and see the prototype, contact Annis at 715-232-1164 or annisj@uwstout.edu. To attend the June 3 open house, contact Jennifer Gundlach Klatt at 715-232-2236 or gundlachj@uwstout.edu.

For details, contact:
Doug Mell
Executive Director of Communications and External Relations

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