Dalhousie engineering students use SOLIDWORKS to redesign parathlete’s throwing chair

Article by Karen Majerly updated May 15, 2017


When an instructor at Nova Scotia’s Dalhousie University mentioned to the Javelin team that he was looking for real life design projects for his first-year engineering students, they had the perfect suggestion.

Pam LeJean, one of Javelin Technologies’ sponsored athletes, is among the best track and field parathletes in the world, but does long for a few improvements to the unique chair/cart she sits on when she trains and competes in shot put, javelin, and discus.

One of her wishes is to have a better storage system for the items she carries – one that will keep her towel dry in wet weather and keep her shots securely in place when in transport. The second problem Pam has identified is instability. She would like to reduce the rocking when she’s throwing.

Robert Warner is a senior instructor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Dalhousie. He says the redesign of Pam’s chair is part of an ongoing commitment to give students a chance to work for actual clients who have real criteria and constraints. In this case, Robert was able to borrow Pam’s throwing chair and bring it into the lab. The students measured, did hand sketches, and designed the existing chair in SOLIDWORKS®. Then they came up with ways to improve the design, without adding too much weight.

“It went really well,” Robert says. “The students enjoyed the project because they appreciated that there was a real problem to solve. That motivated them to do their best.”

Javelin’s sponsored athlete Pam LeJean impressed by problem-solving designs

All first-year engineering students take the Design 1 course, developing skills in designing by hand and in computer aided design using SOLIDWORKS. They learn about the design process and how to use leading edge software as a design tool. Robert says it was valuable for them to have a realistic design project in which they could generate possible solutions and present their concepts.

Using PowerPoint presentations, each student group showed their SOLIDWORKS designs to their classmates and instructors. When Pam viewed some of the detailed assembly and part drawings of possible new storage and stability systems for her chair, she was impressed.

“It was surreal to see my throwing chair being analysed by so many super smart brains,” Pam says. “It was really flattering and unbelievable. To see everything broken down into such detail using SOLIDWORKS was awesome. I’d never seen anything like that before and I thought the ideas were great, especially considering these students aren’t even working in the field yet.”

Pam will continue using her existing chair for the 2017 competition season but is considering a redesign in the post-season. She says she’ll be looking at the students’ ideas for inspiration.

Dalhousie students use SOLIDWORKS to redesign parathlete’s wheelchair

Pam Lejean at Javelin

Industry standard

Dalhousie University is a long-time customer of Javelin Technologies, having purchased their first SOLIDWORKS research license in 2008. In 2012, they purchased 1,500 education licenses to use at Dalhousie and five feeder universities across Atlantic Canada. To learn more about Dalhousie’s Faculty of Engineering, visit www.dal.ca/faculty/engineering.html. Pam LeJean’s profile is online at paralympic.ca/pamela-lejean.

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Karen Majerly

Karen Majerly is a communications specialist who helps remarkable people tell rich stories. She has been working with the TriMech Group of companies since 2013.