Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Technology education students design prosthetic leg for dog

Students in Montana State University’s Department of Education technology education program tackled a new and challenging project last semester when they were tasked with designing and engineering a prosthetic leg for a dog.

The students’ professor, Lidia Haughey, challenged nine students in a senior capstone class, “Manufacturing and Designing,” to design and fabricate a prosthetic hind leg for Anni, Haughey’s Doberman pinscher. In the process, they learned valuable skills that should provide benefits in their future jobs, Haughey said.

Students divided into three groups for the project and examined the project from different angles. For example, students in one group explored the biomechanics of the dog’s stride. They observed how Anni walked and compensated for the lack of a hind leg. The students also measured the compression on Anni’s joints to see how much the prosthesis needed to bend.

Ben Butts, a senior from Kalispell, said when one plan didn’t work, they would re-evaluate and try something else.

“The hours that we spent just looking at other types of dog prosthetics and making changes to our original design on paper was huge,” said Butts. “Then we moved into creating a tangible leg and made modification after modification to ensure comfort, while making sure the leg still worked correctly.”

What’s more, the project stuck with the students, even outside of class, one of them said.

“Sometimes I would wake up in the night trying to figure out a problem,” said student Mike Robbins.

Haughey, who is an assistant teaching instructor of technology education at MSU, said the students collaborated extensively.

“At first students worked exclusively in their teams on designs and production, but as the semester moved along, they began sharing ideas and collaborating more on materials and ideas with the other groups,” she said.

Haughey noted that when students worked together, they began recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of each other’s designs. In manufacturing, she said, employees must collaborate in order to be successful.

The teams used different materials to construct their products, including a variety of metals, plastics, shocks from bicycles and remote control cars, and straps from backpacks and harnesses. Businesses in the community, including REI and Bangtail Bike and Ski, donated some of the materials.

The students also used skills and equipment they had learned about in previous classes, including 3D printers, modeling software, lathes, mills and drills.

And, because it was a marketing and design class, students treated the project as a business venture, Haughey said.

“Each group had to research what was already out there (animal prosthetics), create a business plan, talk to experts in the field, and finally create the prosthesis,” she said.

She added that the experience provided a real-life industry setting where the students had to solve problems.

Haughey said a final challenge is determining how to keep the prosthesis attached to the dog. Haughey plans to challenge her next capstone class to continue the project and find a solution.