A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
May 12, 2005 Volume 35 / Number 8


Wheelchair Wins Grand Prize

Manufacturing technology students won the grand prize at the prestigious WESTEC Manufacturing Challenge April 4 for building a lever-operated wheelchair incorporating three speeds and brakes.

CSU, Chico bested a field of collegiate competitors that included Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, San Diego State, Washington State, and Oregon Institute of Technology. CSU, Los Angeles took the first-place award, followed by Brigham Young University in second and Cal Poly Pomona in third.

A design created by Bryan Hilton, an industrial technology student in the 1980s who died from a brain aneurism before he could graduate, was used for the wheelchair. Hilton designed and built a special lever and ratchet mechanism that delivered power on both the push and pull strokes. His components were also used in a human-powered vehicle competition.

CSU, Chico students worked with construction management student Amy Jones in designing the wheelchair. Jones, who uses a wheelchair, tested some of the modifications and provided feedback to the students. The challenge was to create an alternative to the hand and arm wheel turning that propel traditional chairs. The motion is tiring to the arms and limits speed.

The students took an off-the-shelf wheelchair and retrofitted it with 30 custom parts and bicycle components, including Hilton’s.

CSU, Chico won grand prizes at WESTEC in 1991, 1992, and 2003, and first places in 1987, 1993, 1995, and 1998. The Manufacturing Challenge is held on opening day of the WESTEC Expo, the largest annual machinery show in North America.

“WESTEC is the largest manufacturing competition west of the Mississippi,” said Dirk Vanderloop, coordinator, CSU, Chico manufacturing technology program. “We compete against the top technical universities, and serious rivalries keep things lively. There is a third-place award, but I do not think we have ever received it.”

The Expo and Manufacturing Challenge are sponsored by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), which has more than 400 professional and school-based chapters worldwide. CSU, Chico’s manufacturing technology program has an SME chapter and 85 student majors.

Vanderloop said the WESTEC manufacturing project was much more than a classroom exercise. “Our students came up with an innovation that may offer lasting benefit to real people,” he said. “At first I thought what they had proposed was too ambitious. But they didn’t know it was ‘impossible’ to get it done, and proceeded.”

Dean Ken Derucher received a letter from Dale Grant, account manager at San Francisco Direct Sales, Mazak Corporation, in which Grant wrote: “I had the pleasure of watching the Chico State students’ presentation at WESTEC. Their presentation was the most professional I have ever seen.”

—Joe Wills