I recently had the honor of being selected to serve as a judge in the IAPD Plastics Application Design Competition (IAPD is the International Association of Plastics Distribution, but you already knew that). The competition featured companies that found innovative ways to use plastics, specifically “to help solve problems, conserve energy, and provide better and healthier products.”
The judges were asked to narrow down the entries to three finalists. There were definitely more than three that were worthy of being named as finalists. In the eyes of complete transparency, one of the entries that I voted for as a finalist was not selected among the majority of the five judges.
The three finalists were invited to come to the IAPD annual convention and present their entries in front of the live audience. That audience then voted on the eventual winner. I admit that I was in complete agreement with the final winner. It was pretty amazing.
A group of undergrad and grad students from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell developed a very inexpensive prosthetic arm, using plastics. The device is aimed at children in third-world countries; hence the need for it to be very inexpensive. Here’s a video describing their effort.
The project began as a Capstone project for the MEs among the group, and grew from there. Initially, the intention was to use some type of aluminum, but when the folks in the school’s plastics department got wind of the project, they weighed in with what turned out to be the winning material. In the end, Nonspec sourced their material from IAPD member Total Plastics.
The group has won other awards in addition to that of the IAPD. One was the Grand Difference maker, and another was the College Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
“We needed to do it on a student’s budget, and that was a key design constraint,” Jonathon de Alderete, one of the group’s members, told Design News. “What we ended up with is a low-cost device that could really take a beating.”
The group is now known as Nonspec, and they hope to form an LLC in the near future. They’re also trying to form a 501C non-profit organization called Give a Hand. (Note that this name comes from the fact that they were looking for help on this project, rather than designing a robotic hand.) The goal is to eventually expand development into other areas, including designing prosthetic legs.
Nonspec is receiving help and advice from various sources, including some professors at UMass. One professor in particular had already done some research into founding a medical device company, so that research came in very handy. “Even though we have some industry experience, we’re still just students,” Katherine Cain, another of the group’s members, told us. “So while we have a few people helping us from a business perspective, we’ll take advice from anyone who will give it.”