DECI Box Builders

Developers:  Lindsay Hulley and Yasiel Trujillo

Advisors: Tara Moore

Supervising Professor:  Kevin Caves

Mary is an adult female with mild intellectual disabilities, and Mark is an adult male with multiple physical and cognitive impairments. Both Mary and Mark are employees at DECI, a non-profit vocational rehabilitation program, where they currently do simple jobs such as labeling and counting packages. However, their supervisor wants them to move on to more complicated assignments, including folding and taping cardboard boxes. At the moment, they cannot perform this task due to their cognitive and physical impairments. To address this issue, we developed a system that makes folding and taping of cardboard boxes easier and with better accuracy. We created a 3D structure made out of plywood, composed of an outer frame, interchangeable bases, a top base with a sliding track, and sliders that accommodate for boxes of different widths and lengths. These sliders have “L”-shaped swiveling pieces on top that hold the flaps of the box while also guiding the user in the taping stage as they provide a virtual “line” for them to follow as they tape the box.

Introduction and Background
The Durham Exchange Club Industries (DECI) is a vocational rehabilitation program that serves adults with a wide range of disabilities in Durham, NC. Our clients are two employees of this company: Mary is an adult female with mild intellectual disabilities, and Mark is an adult male with multiple physical and cognitive impairments. Mark has spina bifida [1,2], a condition that affects the spinal cord and nerves and can cause motility and learning disabilities. He also has cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that affects his motor function [3,4]. As of now, both Mary and Mark do simple jobs in the company such as labeling and counting packages, but their supervisor wants them to do more complicated assignments, including folding and taping cardboard boxes.

The box-folding job starts with a flat box (Figure 1) that needs to be expanded to form a square (Figure 2). The user then folds the smaller flaps in (Figure 3) before proceeding to fold and hold down the larger flaps (Figure 4). He finally applies the tape using a tape dispenser along the line formed by the larger flaps (Figure 5). After one side is completely folded and taped, the box is moved to another station to be filled and closed on the opposite side, which has to be verified by a supervisor.

Currently, Mary is unable to perform the box-folding job due to the complexity of the process. She has trouble judging the quality of her work, and sometimes struggles folding the flaps in the correct order and taping in a straight line over the center of the box. Mark has more significant physical problems which hinder his ability to perform the box folding process. He uses a manual wheelchair which restricts his ability to work for long periods of time on the long, tall work table. In addition, he has poor coordination and weak muscles due to his cerebral palsy, which make it difficult for him to hold the box flaps and place the tape at the same time. Because this is a hard task, there are only a few employees that are capable to work as box builders and if they are absent, then it is difficult to find a replacement.

There are several commercial devices sold online that perform the entire box-folding process automatically or semi-automatically [5,6,7], with minimal to no input from the employee. However, the company has made it very clear that they have no intention in replacing their human workforce with electronic machinery, and that our job is to build something that will help the employees but not replace them.

Project Goals
The goal of this project is to develop a system that makes the folding and taping of cardboard boxes easier and with better accuracy, allowing more people to perform this job. The device must be easy to learn and easy to use, and it must accommodate boxes of different sizes. Because Mark is in a wheelchair, this device needs to be adjustable and portable so that it can be moved to a table that accommodates him. This device must decrease the number of boxes being built incorrectly, and ultimately it should help anyone, such as someone only using one hand, easily and accurately build boxes.

Design and Development
Overall Box-Folding Steps
Before the device can be used, it must be set up by a supervisor to adjust for the size of the box they will be building that day. They need to add the correct base made for that specific height and adjust the sliders to the correct length and width. After the device is set up, the user can then use the device by first placing the flat box with the bottom facing upwards on the top base. The user then uses the handle to push the box into the corner and open it into a rectangular prism shape. In this process, the box is being pushed into the box side holders as well, which help keep it steady during the following steps. The user then folds down the inner flaps and uses the swivel pieces to hold them down. The user repeats this step with the outer flaps by swiveling the piece back and forth again. Finally, these swivel pieces act as a guide to help the user tape the box shut. The device consists of four main components: the outer frame, the height-adjusting interchangeable bases, the sliding track on the top base, and sliders with the ‘L’-shaped swivels on top (Figure 6).

Figure 6. Overall device components: frame, interchangeable bases, sliding track, and sliders. They combine to form the completely assembled device.

Outer Frame
The frame is made up of two arm ‘h’-shaped pieces and a bottom base. The ‘h’ shaped pieces are glued and securely fastened together and are 12.5” by 14” made for the length of the box and 15” by 14” made for the width of the box. The bottom base is glued and attached by metal brackets to the arms, and it measures 15” x 13”. Underneath this base there is a silicone non-slip mat that increases the friction of the device and greatly increases its stability.

Figure 7. Outer frame from a back view (a), a front view (b), and a bottom view (c) showing the non-slip mat placed underneath.

Adjustable Bases (Height)
In addition to the outer frame, there are 9 adjustable bases that accommodate the entire height range (boxes from 4” to 7” in height). The interchangeable bases all have the same width and length (14.5” x 12.5”) but different heights. The bases are labeled with numbers from 1-9, and the following table is provided to the supervisor as a legend, allowing him/her to quickly identify and select the appropriate base for the day.

Top Base with Sliding Track

The top base is designed to be placed on top of the height-adjustable base, which is placed on top of the bottom base. This top base has a 14” full extension ball bearing side mount drawer slide that allows the user to push the box into the corner without having to hold the box himself. As the user pushes the slide in using the handle, the corner plywood piece located on the slider catches the corner of the box and pushes it in, opening it into the desired shape.        This top base contains two stoppers at the bottom, which effectively lock it in place when it is inserted on top of the height-adjustable base.



Figure 9. Top base with sliding track. (a) slider closed, (b) stoppers located at the bottom, (c) flat box put in position, (d) box after slider is pushed in.

Width and Length Adjustability Sliders         

The device is adjustable in length and width to account for different sized boxes from the smallest box (8”x6”x4”) and the largest box (12”x10”x8”). This range of box sizes was given to us by the supervisors at DECI. The mechanism used to adjust both the length and width is the same: sliders that are placed on top of the “h”-shaped arms.


These sliders, probably the most important piece of our design, are made from Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethene (UHMWPE) [8] and measure 2.5”x2”x4.5” with a .5”x2”x1.5” slit cut through the bottom to accommodate the frame arm. The slider can be moved to the left or right depending on the size of the box the user is building that day. When the slider is at the correct location, the knob, which is attached to a screw that goes through to the base arm, can be tightened to secure the slider to that place. On each slider, there is a box holding bracket (side holder), a metal piece that holds the box securely in place from the sides while it is being folded and taped. In addition, in each slider there is an ‘L’-shaped swivel piece that helps fold and hold the flaps down. Finally, a 90° limiting mechanism was implemented to ensure the correct positioning of the swivels once the user has closed the flaps. By using this 90° stopper, the user creates a “guide” for him to place the tape accurately in the middle of the box seam.


Figure 11. (a) Sliders positioned in place, (b) front view, (c) slit that allows the slider to sit on top of the arm, (d) top swivel with 90° stopper.

‘L’-Shaped Swivels


The two ‘L’-shaped swivels are securely attached by screws to the top of the sliders. These swivels are first used to hold down the inner flaps by having the user push the flap down and then swiveling the corresponding piece over to hold that flap down. This process is repeated for the outer, larger flaps. The device then looks like Figure 12b below.  These pieces hold the box flaps down securely, so the user can then tape without needing to use one hand to hold these flaps down.  As the ‘L’-shaped swivels are holding the flaps down, they are also acting as guides for taping (Figure 12c).


Figure 12. (a) Swivels holding inner (small) flaps, (b) Swivels holding outer (large) flaps, (c) Virtual line that guides the user where to place the tape.




The device was thoroughly evaluated with clients and supervisors to ensure it meets the need that we identified at the beginning of the semester. From our testing, we saw that the device significantly improves the holding of the box and the folding of the flaps, which used to be an issue with both Mark and Mary. The device was evaluated against our design specifications and performance criteria by two methods: verification testing in the lab and with fellow students, and validation testing with our client using the device to fold boxes. Some of our requirements included the ability to hold boxes of different sizes, the device being easy to carry and easy to set setup, easy to learn and use, its ability to be operated one-handed, and the flap-holding mechanism not interfering with the taping process. To test the setup-related requirements, we had the supervisor perform a variety of task such as setting up the device for multiple box sizes and carrying it to/from workstation. Afterwards, the supervisor completed a survey where she agreed that the device met all of the requirements and performed as intended. The one part where our device falls short is taping: despite it holding the boxes in place and providing a guide to tape the boxes, the clients still have problems placing the tape accurately. However, the supervisor believes the problem consists of the lack of training with the tape gun, which they will be providing soon to our clients.


Discussion and Conclusion

The device we have developed works as intended in making the folding and taping of cardboard boxes easier and with better accuracy. Throughout our testing, the clients became very experienced at using the sliding track and swiveling mechanisms to push the box into position and fold the flaps down. However, since they still have to use commercial taping guns to tape the box shut and they do not have much experience working with those, the last stage of the process, taping, is still an issue for them. The supervisor assured us they would be providing training with the tape gun soon, and she believed that the problem would be easily fixed after such training. The final price of building our device was $196, which is  39% of our $500 budget and cheaper than most box-folding devices available in the market. This device provides aid to the users without taking away the autonomy of their jobs and the satisfaction of feeling useful in their workplace and community.



  1. The Spina Bifida Association. What is Spina Bifida? bifida/
  3. “Cerebral Palsy: Hope Through Research.” National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
  4., Definition of Cerebral Palsy. definition
  5. CE-12 Box Erector (n.d.). Retrived September 12, 2017, from
  6. Globe Guard Box Former (n.d.). Retrieved September 12, 2017, from
  7. Cardboard Box Folding Machine. 2017. Retrieved September 20, 2017 from https://
  8. McMaster-Carr.




We would acknowledge the Duke Biomedical Engineering Department, as well as Professor Kevin Caves and TA Paul Thompson for their help in completing this project. We would also like to thank Tara Moore and the DECI staff for their availability and honest feedback.


First Author Contact Information

Lindsay Hulley

(978) 482-5518

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