CULLOWHEE – Western Carolina University’s engineering and technology department recently provided a shoulder to lean on for a Haywood County artisan whose livelihood was threatened by a shoulder injury.
After Brad Dodson, owner of Mud Dabbers Pottery and Crafts on U.S. Highway 74 near Balsam, suffered a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder, he found himself unable to manually operate a press that compresses the clay that he then molds into artistic creations.
That’s when Western’s department of engineering and technology came to the rescue. The department learned of Dodson’s plight through Ken Burbank, director of Western’s program in electrical engineering, who paid a visit to the Mud Dabbers shop and talked with Dodson about his situation.
Building upon some preliminary work by then-undergraduate Jim Davis of Robbinsville as part of a senior project, Aaron Ball, associate professor of engineering and technology, brainstormed with graduate students Chris Rudisill of Canton and Preston McCrary of Hendersonville to fabricate a solution to the potter’s problem – a pneumatic device that literally has taken the pressure off of Dodson’s shoulder.
“It was difficult to get my work done because I’m pushing 1,200 pounds per square inch to push the clay through the cylinder, and my shoulder just wasn’t up to it anymore,” Dodson said. Through the device created by Rudisill and McCrary, he uses a foot pump to activate a pneumatic mechanism that does the hard part for him.
“It’s great. I can push it with the foot pedal, and now I have two hands free to work the clay,” he said. “I’m actually able to do more work and to do more unique work, and it’s saved my shoulder.”
Mud Dabbers Pottery is a family-owned business that originated in Brevard. The company, which began as a “mom and pop operation” more than 15 years ago, today employs 16 workers at two locations. The company also purchases many of its supplies from local distributors, Dodson said.
The project is another example of on-going efforts by Western’s department of engineering and technology to assist local business and industry by providing technical expertise to solve problems, said Duane Dunlap, department head.
“We are here to share the intellectual resources of our faculty and students to help local businesses stay in business,” Dunlap said.
It took Rudisill and McCrary about six weeks to produce the device, which the university provided to Dodson for only the cost of materials.
“When Mr. Dodson came to take it back to his shop, it was kind of like watching a child leave home,” said Rudisill.
A 1999 graduate of Pisgah High School, Rudisill is the son of Mike and Carolyn Rudisill of Canton. McCrary is a 1990 graduate of Hendersonville High School and is the son of Robert McCrary of Horse Shoe and Sandra Taylor of Mill Spring.