Monday, October 18, 2010

Spectrum Industries and UW-Stout Collaborate to Innovate!


Menomonie, Wis. – A versatile, ergonomically correct work station designed by a University of Wisconsin-Stout specialist and an alumnus could change the way a broad spectrum of people learn, conduct research and perform tests and other tasks.

The prototype tabletop station, 5-feet-6 inches long and 2-feet-7 inches wide, primarily was designed for people with disabilities. Portable and height-adjustable, it fits work station needs for people with a variety of physical limitations.

Because of its versatility, the design also breaks new ground as an ergonomically correct work table for the general population, from children to adults, for use in schools, institutions, industries and businesses.

The inventors are Jeff Annis, a Stout Vocational Rehabilitation Institute designer, and Brad Stafford, a 2005 UW-Stout graduate and product designer for Spectrum Industries of Chippewa Falls.

“With the disabled population as our focus, we came up with a universal design that provided access for all people,” Annis said. “This could be used in school and business science labs, on an assembly line, as a craft table, in assisted living and in commercial kitchens.”

The work station will be unveiled at an open house from 8:30-10:30 a.m. Thursday, June 3, at SVRI, 221 10th Avenue E. The open house will include tours of SVRI’s assistive technology labs.

UW-Stout Chancellor Charles W. Sorensen recently committed funding for prototype testing and refinement, which is ongoing at UW-Stout.

Funding for the design and construction of prototypes also was supplied by UW-Stout, Spectrum and WiSys, or the Wisconsin System Technology Foundation, which handles marketing, licensing and other issues for all UW System schools except UW-Madison.

The public-private project was funded in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation through the Midwest Alliance in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics at UW-Madison. The NSF is concerned about a low percentage of students with disabilities pursuing math and science careers, Annis said.

Sorensen said the work station reflects Annis’ wealth of experience with adaptive technology and the type of innovative applied research being conducted at UW-Stout, Wisconsin’s polytechnic university. “The intuitive design brings work station technology into the modern age and makes science and research more accessible. It’s an exciting leap forward as a tool for many people,” Sorensen said.

“We are proud to support this research, which represents the quality of work being done by students and faculty across our campus and in collaboration with private industry.”

WiSys recently applied for a patent. Spectrum has the first right of refusal as the manufacturer. Royalties from product sales would be split between WiSys, UW-Stout and Spectrum.

Stafford, who majored in industrial design at UW-Stout, is a product designer for Spectrum, which makes technology-based furniture. Spectrum President Dave Hancock also has acted as an adviser on the project.

“We achieved the core goal so that students with special needs can participate in science experiments, but this product also pushes the envelope of what a work station can be,” Stafford said. “It meets the needs of a high percentage of people.”

“Some schools already have expressed interest, so we anticipate selling these in the future,” Stafford added.

Production could begin once field tests, including at school and other science labs, are complete.

Work station features include:

• Adjustable height with the push of a button, from 24.6 inches to 50.6 inches, using a linear actuator and a digital display. Height settings also can be customized.

• Mirror images on both sides, making it accessible for up to four people simultaneously.

• A beveled edge, which contains spills and prevents items from falling off.

• Portability, with castors on wheels that lock with the push of a button. It can be moved around a classroom or work space for easier access or to access other equipment, such as a sink or gas valve. “In a science lab, you could configure them any way you want — in a circle if you prefer,” Annis said.

• A pull-out shelf, which can hold a microscope, laptop or other equipment.

• Two movable gantry arms with LED lights to suspend tools or research items.
Most work stations in labs are stationary and not ergonomically correct, Annis said. “The design looks good, it’s functional and I think there’s a market for it,” he said.

Three UW-Stout students helped during the design phase, Casey Nugent of Fredonia, Jason Burbank of Menomonie and Mark Fladeboe of White Bear Lake, Minn. Annis also credited Mike Gove and Gene Gove of Imperial Counters in Hastings, Minn., and Dan Sembach of the SVRI fabrication lab with design support.

In his 34-year career, Annis has designed hundreds of pieces of equipment, most for the disabled through SVRI. About four years ago, Annis also designed an adjustable cooktop, which recently received a patent. The work station is an offshoot of that design, Annis said.

Annis and Stafford, a former SVRI employee and native of Eden Prairie, Minn., have spent about two years on the design and are working on a third prototype of the work station at Spectrum.

For more information or to schedule an interview and see the prototype, contact Annis at 715-232-1164 or To attend the June 3 open house, contact Jennifer Gundlach Klatt at 715-232-2236 or

For details, contact:
Doug Mell
Executive Director of Communications and External Relations

Friday, October 1, 2010

What's in a name?

At Spectrum Industries, just like many manufacturers, we address the question "what should we name the new product". The most recent meeting started me thinking, where did names and phrases originate from.
Doing a little research (very little), turned up explanations for a few common phrases:

Early furniture references:
Stone-age furnishings -
When people learned to farm and lived in permanent settlements they began to make furniture. In Europe some of the earliest known furniture comes from a stone age village at Sara Brae in the Orkney Islands in Scotland about 2,000 BC. The stone age farmers lived in stone huts with roofs of whalebone and turf. Inside they made stone furniture such as cupboards and beds.

American style -
Mission furniture is heavily associated with Gustav Stickley -- the "father" of the American Arts and Crafts and Mission movement. These two styles are closely related. The Mission style was originally associated with the Spanish missionary work done long ago in the North American Southwest. The hallmark features of both styles are: straight lines, simplicity of design, and mortise/tenon joinery.

1771 - The first car accident:
Nicolas Cugnot who designed the first car in 1769 made another steam-driven vehicle two years later, also at the Paris Arsenal. The machine reportedly ran quite well, although on one occasion it ran into a wall, thus recording the world's first motor-accident. The vehicle may still be seen today in the Conservatoire Nationale des Arts et Metiers in Paris.

"The good old days" Facts about phrase origins from the 1500s:
Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and they still smelled pretty good by June. However, since they were starting to smell . ..... . Brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor.
Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the Bath water!"

Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw-piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof... Hence the saying "It's raining cats and dogs."

There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That's how canopy beds came into existence.

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying, "Dirt poor." The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way.
Hence: a thresh hold.

Getting quite an education, aren't you?

In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme: Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old. Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, "bring home the bacon." They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and "chew the fat."

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the upper crust.

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whiskey. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a wake.

England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift.) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be saved by the bell or was considered a dead ringer.

And that's the truth....Now, whoever said History was boring!!!

Of course none of this will be used in the naming of new products on the web site or in the catalogs but it will make you think.