Student Redesigns Casing for Deodorant, Wins
News Office staff
Nearly two years ago, Mechanical and Industrial
Engineering student Nathaniel Mulcahy bumped into the bathroom
sink, and his Mennen Speed Stick smashed to the floor. "What a
lot of bits of plastic," the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering
senior thought as he cleaned up the mess. Then he decided to build
a better deodorant stick. Mulcahy's resulting "Speedy Speed Stick"
led him to win the student contest at the 1999 International Mechanical
Engineering Congress and Exposition in Nashville, Tenn., late
Mulcahy bought two cases of Speed Sticks --nearly 300 of them
-- and handed them out among "friends, teachers, and strangers"
in the College of Engineering. He needed to determine what the
"wear patterns" were after real people used the sticks. Two weeks
later, he collected the deodorants and found that there were three
primary categories of wear that occurred on the surface of the
deodorant, depending on the position of the arm under which it
is applied. Using what he learned in professor Byung Kim's manufacturing
processes class, he began his design by hand, then moved on to
3D computer modeling for more specific images and structural analysis.
The process took about a year.
Mulcahy also evaluated the usefulness of each part of the deodorant's
plastic casing. He found that the separate inner cap, which gives
the deodorant a rounded top edge, is used only during the assembly
process. It is intended to be thrown away as soon as the consumer
opens the package. Mulcahy considered this needless waste. In
the re-design, the inner cap has become a curved inner surface
of the outer cap. In all, 11 original parts have been reduced
to four. Mulcahy realized that jobs could be lost as the number
of parts in the design was reduced, so the parameters of the project
grew to include not only a reduction in the plastic parts of the
package, but also zero loss of manufacturing jobs among the people
making those parts.
G. Albert Russell, associate professor in the Mechanical and
Industrial Engineering Department, suggested that Mulcahy enter
his designs in the contest sponsored by the American Society of
Mechanical Engineers (ASME) being held in the Campus Center at
the time. His "Speedy Speed Stick" won locally, and Mulcahy was
invited to compete at the ASME Regional Student Contest in Dartmouth
last spring. "I was shocked to win," said Mulcahy, who entered
engineering school after a 10-year career as a teacher. "I was
up against some amazing designs." Mulcahy went on to compete in
the national competition in Nashville in November 1999.
Mulcahy is now finished with his deodorant project and is focusing
on his applications to graduate schools. If there is any money
to be made from his deodorant design, it will be donated to the
Lemelson Assistive Technology Development Center, a division of
the Lemelson National Program at Hampshire College. The center
provides students with the opportunity to design, develop, and
make available equipment for people with disabilities. Mulcahy's
donation would fund projects aimed at helping disabled children.
He plans to keep just $500, to cover the costs that went into
his research project. "It's not right for me to make money off
an accident," he said. "It was a gift to me and it will be a gift
to the foundation if someone buys the rights to the research,"
Mulcahy said. "I don't feel it is my right to keep it."
After graduate school, Mulcahy aims to found a company that would
produce affordable prosthetic limbs for children. These prostheses
often cost as much as $48,000, because they must be custom-designed.
Many insurance companies won't pay for the devices because children
outgrow them so quickly, he said. Hence, these children never
develop the upper-leg muscles that would allow them to wear prostheses
as adults. "We're condemning generations of people to live in
wheelchairs, and it doesn't have to be that way," he said.