Hanging with DECI

Designers: Caitlin Koehler, Rhianna Lee, Courtney White

Advisor: Mark Pennington, Julie 

Supervising Professor:  Kevin Caves

Abstract: DECI is a Community Rehabilitation Program located in Durham, NC that employs people with a variety of disabilities. Our team has been working with DECI throughout the semester and has been modifying two of their work tasks in order to make them more accessible to employees who only have the full use of one hand. Straightening wire coat hanger and opening prescription pill bottles were modified in order to expand the tasks to those who cannot currently perform the job. Three devices were made in order to address the project goals.


Community Rehabilitation Programs (CRPs) seek to diminish the number of unemployed adults in the United States with disabilities, providing vocational opportunities to people with disabilities through fair pay and standard working conditions [1]. One such company is Durham Exchange Club Industries (DECI), a manufacturing center that employs over 250 people through jobs ranging from packaging, inventory management, and sorting, to food services, janitorial, and patient escort services [2, 3]. Because DECI employs people with many types of disabilities, ranging from developmental delay to traumatic brain injuries, jobs must be able to accommodate a range of abilities. Two tasks where this is currently an issue are in the pill bottle sorting line and in hanger straightening.

DECI Hangers 2015 Fig 1

Figure 1: Tabbed bottle opener

In the case of pill bottle sorting, employees must remove lids from pill bottles with a range of sizes. Lids have either “push and twist” tops or are only removable with the depression of a side tab. Then, bottles and lids are sorted by size. The job requires a good degree of physical dexterity in the task of lid removal and decision making with respect to finding how to open each lid and how to sort them. Of these requirements, that of the mechanical removal of the lids is of the greatest concern.

In hanger straightening, employees are tasked with organizing and straightening racks of bent hangers. Hangers must be pulled off of the original rack, straightened, and placed on a new rack with their hooks in the same orientation. The task requires physical dexterity to remove and replace hangers from the racks and to straighten them, and it requires decision making and focus in the determination of when the hanger has been returned to its proper shape.

Project Statement

DECI aims to expand the employee base capable of performing each job by minimizing task requirements of decision making and the use of both hands. The goal of the “Hanging with DECI” group is to meet these needs by re-engineering the tasks of opening and sorting pill bottles and of straightening bent hangers. Devices must be safe for a workplace environment and accessible to people using wheelchairs as well as be designed for one-handed use. Because of space limitations, devices must not occupy much table space or ground coverage.

Design and Development

DECI Hangers 2015 Fig 2

Figure 2: Modified arbor press device

In order to meet the goals of the project, the “Hanging with DECI” group developed several specialized devices. Removing the lids of the tabbed pill bottles works through the application of a shear force about the axis of the lid, so the team designed a board against which employees can generate adequate force. Opening the “push and twist” pill bottles requires force to be applied normally to the lid, so the group modified an arbor press with a spinning base for the purpose. Finally, observation and communication with DECI employees revealed hanger straightening to be a process primarily dependent on the application of pressure to the hanger’s base, so the team developed a simple tabletop press for the task.

Tabbed Bottle Opening: Figure 1 shows the device for opening the tabbed pill bottles. It consists of a wooden board topped with a layer of Dycem, a sticky polymer sheet which provides friction. A thin offset plate of polyethylene sits atop the base board and is also covered in Dycem. In operation, an employee takes a bottle and depresses the tab with his or her thumb, then slides the lid across the board, using the step to support the stepped shape of the lid. The Dycem on the board generates enough friction when pressed against the lid to effectively turn the lid and remove it from the bottle. Figure 1 shows the tab being depressed and the bottle being slid across the device in the direction of the arrow to remove the lid.

Push and Twist Bottle Opening: Removing the lids of the “push and twist” bottles requires much more force to be applied to the lid than does removing the tabbed versions, so for this purpose, the team adapted an arbor press. An arbor press uses the mechanical advantage of a gear system to translate the rotational force of a pressed lever into a greater downward press of a rack, shown in Figure 2. Modifications were made in three areas: the base, the rack, and the lever.

The overall device is operated through several discrete steps. The lever of the press is raised, causing the back to stick to the bottom catch, and the pill bottle is placed in the center of the spinning plate. The lever is then switched to the down position to apply pressure to the lid, and it is caught by the second catch. The spinning plate is then spun by the handles in a clockwise direction for one quarter turn, untwisting the bottle lid. Finally, pressure is released by returning the lever to the up position, and the bottle is removed. At this point, the lid can be easily removed.

Base and Spinning Plate: First, a base with a spinning plate was made to allow for the twisting motion of bottle opening, shown in figure 2. A base piece was machined out of HDPE, a material easily cut but able to withstand significant compressive strength, such that can be pressed to fit into the base of the press, below the rack. Into this base, a bearing was fit, able to spin around a vertical axis centered with the rack. Into the free-spinning part of the bearing was fit the plate piece, which consists of two flat disks of HDPE with cross bars cut out of the center. Into these slots are fit metal crossbars, as shown in Figure 2, and the entire assembly is held together with screws.

Sections of a wooden dowel were screwed into each of the four protruding metal crossbars to create handles for the spinning plate. Trimmed bicycle handle grips were fit over these wooden dowels for a comfortable hold. Lastly, a piece of Dycem, as used in the tabbed bottle opener, sits on top of the plate to hold the bottle into place when it is spun.

Cap Press: Modifications to the rack of the press were made to more uniformly apply pressure to the top of the pill bottle. An attachment was 3D printed out to fit around the end of the rack, and screws were tightened on each of the four sides of the rack to hold the piece in place. Like on the base, Dycem was placed on the bottom side of the piece to keep the pill bottle lid from rotating with the bottle during operation.

Lever Management System: The last components modified on the press deal with the lever. HDPE plates and clamps were used to support magnets that act as catches for the steel lever. They allow the lever to be held at fixed positions so that the pill bottle can be removed or spun on the plate under the correct level of pressure. A top stop holds the bottle lid under pressure to allow opening, and a bottom stop holds up the rack to allow for the placement of the bottle.

DECI Hangers 2015 Fig 3

Figure 3: Device opened to receive bent hanger, closed to apply pressure to hanger, open with straightened hanger

Hanger Straightening: The hanger straightener is designed as a tabletop press. To operate the device, slide the moving component out, place a hanger in the designated area, and slide the moving component in to apply pressure to the hanger by the wooden frame. After one iteration of operation of the device, the hanger is straightened. This device was constructed from hardwood plywood, a drawer slide, metal pins, and a wooden dowel covered in a rubber grip acting as a handle for the user (Figure 3). A base of wood has a mounted slide attached to a small plastic platform with a handle, and in a position where this small platform is slid towards the center of the board, it meets installed wooden contours that act as stops. The pieces are contoured to the shape of a hanger and apply pressure to the sides and base of the hanger during operation. The sliding platform is also contoured to apply pressure in an arc to the base of the hanger. The outline of a straight hanger is drawn on the base to provide a reference of comparison for processed hangers.


Each of the devices is designed to be fully operable with the use of one hand. Furthermore, they lessen the number of actions an employee has to do at once in order to complete a task, diminishing cognitive requirements. Devices are small enough to fit within existing table space and can be operated while using a wheelchair. Keeping hands and other body parts removed from the mechanisms providing pressure, devices maintain DECI workplace safety standards. Overall, the designs meet the requirements outlined by DECI and the project, ultimately widening the number of employees able to perform each task.


  1. Community Rehabilitation Programs. (2009, July 1). Retrieved September 15, 2015, from http://info.dhhs.state.nc.us/olm/manuals/dsb/vr/man/Community Rehabilitation Programs.htm
  2. Production Services. (n.d.). Retrieved September 15, 2015, from http://www.deci.org/production.html
  3. Vocational Services. (n.d.). Retrieved September 15, 2015, from http://www.deci.org/vocations.html

Comments are closed.