CLEARFIELD -- Three Weber State electronics engineering technology students used their senior project to make work easier for employees at Pioneer Adult Rehabilitation Center.
PARC employs disabled adults to sort, assemble and package products for delivery to clients. The nonprofit's 82 employees are paid by the number of units completed. PARC also has a contract to distribute paper products to 600 locations at Hill Air Force Base.
But PARC had a problem: Because it could not afford an expensive scanner system, the business wasted time counting products by hand. And without a scanner for the delivery truck, inventory control relied on a driver remembering to write down every box delivered to every stop at the Air Force Base.
PARC contacted the WSU Engineering Technology program, and three students took on the design task.
"I wanted to pick a project that I would find fulfilling in my career as a college student. This one sounded right up my alley because I would be able to use my technical and research abilities along with being able to help out the community," said Chris White, 24, of Clearfield.
Also on the project were Clyde Conley, 33, of South Ogden, and Zachary Lowder, 25, a Kaysville resident. Conley and Lowder both had worked in delivery, so when a professor pitched the project idea, they thought it might be too easy.
"We had worked for large companies, able to spend millions to see their plans come to fruition," he said. "We had to do this on a shoestring budget. We had no idea what a challenge it was going to be."
The students talked to PARC supervisors, and learned the most user-friendly system would be the best. Conley and Lowder spent time in the warehouse, observing workers and how products moved from place to place.
"They had a few managers trying to keep up with the inventory by hand," Conley said. "It wasn't effective, and without reliable records it is difficult to negotiate contracts with the government."
White rode with a delivery driver.
"By the end of the day, the driver had written down what he had delivered to some buildings, but not others," Conley said. "Our task was to make sure we could monitor and control everything, to time-stamp everything and mark where it was and where it was delivered, in real time."
The students bought scanners with large, color-coded buttons, using a $3,000 grant from the Alan E. and Jeanne N. Hall Endowment for Community Outreach. But at that price, the equipment came without programming or instruction manuals, which the trio had to come up with on their own.
"The thing I learned on the project was teamwork," Conley said. "If any one of us had not been involved, we wouldn't have accomplished the task."
Lowder was the main computer programmer and wrote most of the code. White had a lot of creative ideas and was especially valuable in on-site research, Conley said. Writing the grant proposal and coordinating the project fell to Conley, he said.
In all, the students donated more than 1,000 hours of research and development to plan the project, write the programs, craft instruction manuals that could be easily understood, and get the system up and working.
"We put a lot of thought into making it easy for them," Lowder said. "When the time comes to renew contracts, they will have proof of their work, and will be able to keep employing people. It's very nice to be able to help people in the community, and it was also great to gain a better understanding of how much work goes into warehousing."
Jim Crosby, PARC director of operations, said the students' new system is a big improvement.
"They're fabulous," he said. "They've taken us out of the dark ages, so to speak. We used to do counting and recording by hand, but now we can take a person with a disability, and that person can scan all the materials and take them to Hill, and scan them into the buildings. We download it and have accurate information in seconds.
"Workers no longer have to stop production for 20 to 30 minutes so a supervisor can count products," Crosby said. "Employees can work uninterrupted, completing more units to earn more pay."
PARC has provided projects for willing Weber State students in the past, Crosby said. One was to translate manuals into Spanish, to make them accessible to Spanish-speaking PARC employees. Weber State students also have helped PARC rewrite other manuals, with more pictures and fewer words.
"PARC's mission is to promote people to be independent through work and training," Crosby said. "Weber State has helped us do that. It's a win-win situation for the students and for us."