Who knew there were so many ways to make dog biscuits?

That’s the question I found myself asking while students from Penn High School and Mishawaka High School gave presentations to a small panel of judges for the 2016 Penn-Mishawaka Innovation Challenge on Thursday, April 27.

This is just the first stage of judging for these students. After this, the field will be narrowed from 77 teams to 10. These 10 teams will go on to build prototypes of their ideas to be presented to a judging panel of local manufacturing experts at ADEC Industries on Monday, May 22.

ADEC challenged these students to examine vocational options at our day services to discover how to efficiently transfer them to a manufacturing environment at ADEC Industries. Many of the students decided to focus on one of these three categories –

Bake – ADEC’s Bow Wow Dog Biscuits are our most popular product. They sell out faster than we can produce them. We’d like to industrialize this process so we can meet the demand and create new vocational opportunities for our clients.

Build – ADEC clients make and sell sturdy furniture a few times a year. The process is very timely because it takes a lot of one-on-one work.

Balance – ADEC clients have great success selling their CNC products, however, the process of locking in the wood is timely and confusing for some.

Several students visited ADEC Day Services at Bristol at the beginning of the project to see clients in action as they worked on vocational activities.

“As I watched the clients make dog bones, I noticed that the roller fell off easily so I thought it would be good to focus on that,” said one student during his presentation.

Another student said, “This has really taught me to design for a specific audience.”

Don Wierenga, director of ADEC day services and assistive technology, noticed a big difference between students who visited ADEC and interacted with the clients and those who relied only upon videos taken of each process in action.

The ones who worked with the clients noticed the unique issues and supports that exist and innovated projects better tailored to their needs. The same was true for groups who spent time with special education classes to understand the limits, as well as the tremendous abilities of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“I am trying to put myself in their shoes and figure out how to make the process work for them,” said a student.

As these students continue to refine their products and explore how they can help ADEC clients, we look forward to seeing the final presentations and how these solutions might make vocational work at ADEC Industries more rewarding.