A group of Texas middle school students solved a problem employees were having at the Brookshire Brothers Distribution Center.
Six months ago, the grocer’s Distribution Center Operations Manager Jay Jelinek never would have guessed that a sixth-grade 3D design class would have the answer to an obstacle he and his team were facing.
“We recently started to replace our older Vocollect wired headsets with new wireless technology. With the older wired headsets, our operators would keep the computer part of the equipment on a belt or in their pocket. However, because the new technology is wireless, it doesn’t have to be kept on an individual; it just has to be in close proximity,” Jelinek explained. “So, we started looking for something to help store the new technology on the electric transporter. We also needed to find something that would protect the new equipment from getting damaged.”
When Jelinek and his team were unable to find a solution in-store or online, night supervisor Mannie Flores stepped up to design a cardboard model that would meet their needs.
“Mannie’s very creative. If he can’t draw it, he’ll build it,” Jelinek said. “He fashioned it to go up underneath the handlebar on the pallet jack so you can stand and drive. It would be out of the way and protected, and it would still make that Bluetooth connection to the headset. You wouldn’t ever have to worry about putting it somewhere where it would fall off; you would just turn it on and go.”
The only question was, how could Flores’ design be manufactured so it could be used by employees of the Brookshire Brothers distribution center?
“One day I was at church with Chris Smith, a good friend of mine. He pulled something out of his pocket to show me: a plastic nut and bolt. I asked him how he did that and he told me 3D printing—something I’d never seen before,” Jelinek said. “That was on Sunday. On Monday, Flores’s cardboard creation was on my desk and the connection dawned on me.”
Smith introduced Jelinek to Stephen Matheny, a sixth-grade math and 3D design teacher at Hudson Middle School. Matheny turned the need into a class project for his students.
“The kids worked on the project for their nine-weeks major project,” Matheny said. “Up until this project, I’ve been very hands-on with helping them every step of the way with their work. This is the first project that I’ve just let them go, and I’ve been very impressed. They’ve actually given me some cool ideas that I would’ve never thought about.”
Using an animation software called Autodesk 3ds Max, the students added and subtracted shapes to produce a variety of designs similar to Flores’s original model. Part of the challenge was to also incorporate honeycomb patterns to minimize the amount of material used and keep production costs down.
After working through multiple designs, the class produced a prototype that Jelinek took to his operators to test on one of the transporters. According to Jelinek, the feedback was very positive and the people liked it.
With only one slight modification for added stability, the distribution center is moving forward to outfit all of the transporters with the final product. To show their appreciation, Brookshire Brothers is donating an extra $500 for the school to invest in programs like Matheny’s 3D design class.
“It’s exciting to know that there are sixth-graders in Hudson who are knocking it out of the ballpark,” Jelinek said. “We appreciate the effort they’ve put in to help us resolve a need on our part.”
Brookshire Brothers is an employee-owned grocer based in Lufkin, Texas.