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Say Yes to the Moments

March 6, 2018

To experience moments that matter and feel fulfilled by your work, you sometimes have to take those jobs that make you pause. You have to say yes to the job that may not initially bring in the most money. You have to leap at an opportunity to make an impact. Why? Because like our moms told us, it’s always good to be nice and take risks that matter. Your life and the lives of the people around you will be fuller because of it.

Progressive Stamping & Fabrication

You may not know that we have a sister company, Progressive Stamping & Fabrication in Oklahoma City. The company helps customers that need stamped or fabricated parts with hot/cold rolled steel, stainless steel, galvanized and galvannealed steel, copper, brass and aluminum in both coil and sheet stock. The company can also process plastics and even some wood components. It’s a cool company that had a business opportunity walk through the door one day last year. Yes, it was one of those moments—for the guys who got to work on the product and ultimately for the end users.

VisuALS

The business opportunity walked into the office in the form of two engineering graduate students from Oklahoma Christian University in Edmond. They had invented VisuALS, an affordable assistive communication/eye-tracking device that allows disabled people to communicate and stay connected with their world by using only their eyes. They originally invented the system for a man with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), which is how it got its name.

The device was ready to go to market after several semesters of work, but beta testers told the team it wasn’t very sturdy when mounted on a wheelchair.  The students approached Progressive Stamping & Fabrication to manufacture a metal bar for the mounting apparatus. You guessed it—the company jumped at the chance.

“Our team is always up for a challenge and an intriguing project,” said Tim Hughes, outside sales representative for Progressive Stamping & Fabrication. “We were really excited about this opportunity that could change the daily lives of people living with ALS and other disabilities.”

According to Steve Maher, chair of the Graduate School of Engineering and Computer Science and associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at OCU, VisuALS started as a laptop with a gaming gaze tracking bar. Students assembled the system with off-the-shelf parts and wrote the software, which made it affordable. Carl Phelps, a man from Chickasha, Okla., who learned about VisuALS at a support group meeting, became the first beta tester. Phelps began showing symptoms of ALS in 2014 and could no longer speak, type or sign his words to his family when he met the OCU students. Two weeks after the January 2017 meeting, Phelps was given the device and told his wife he loved her via VisuALS. Phelps professed his love for VisuALS, too, and he offered the students advice for improvements. In particular, Phelps said the device worked well on a table, but he needed more stability when it was on his wheelchair.

“Once Carl put the device on his wheelchair, he never took it off. Carl used a rubber band to attach the system on a wheelchair, and I knew we could do better than this,” Maher said. “For the gaze tracking to work properly, it is important for the bar to stay relative to the screen, so we needed to create one concise assembly.”

The team developed a 3D plastic stand in May 2017, which improved the stability when placed on a table. They were investigating 3D plastic printing options when metal was recommended as a lightweight, sturdy option.

“We met with the people at Progressive Stamping & Fabrication, and we went with them because metal is a good long-term option. They took the 3D print and turned it into a metal design for a case. We attach a magnetic bolt clip to the back of the case.With that clip, you can attach a table stand and a table clamp, and you have at least two options for attachment to a wheelchair.People can choose which assembly they want based on their physical capabilities and needs,” Maher explained.

The device costs just under $3,000, in comparison to $10,000 to $15,000 for a similar product. VisuALS launched on Sept. 1, 2017, and the device with the metal stand became available in October 2017. VisuALS can be purchased at https://visuals.tech.

The Impact

“The OCU students and professors should be commended for what they have done for people living with ALS and other disabilities,” Hughes said. “Our contribution is such a minor component in their years of effort. We at Progressive Stamping & Fabrication are nonetheless humbled to be part of VisuALS, and we hope the stand changes the way people communicate and live.”

As your schedule for the year gets fuller and the phone continues to ring with projects or ideas, remember not to walk away from an opportunity that seems simple but could bring great value to you and others.

Carl Phelps’s story is available at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByIsuz6XVq05aG0xRUpVckV4WmM/view?usp=sharing

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