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Reggie Showers relishes life like few others. He’s a two-time world motorcycle drag racing champion, a pilot, a rock climber, and a certified snowboard instructor. “Every day I wake up is a beautiful day,” he says. “Even when the sun’s not shining, it’s still shining in my life.”
As a two-limb bilateral amputee, Showers has learned to take little for granted, embracing a life of adventure, nature, and … technology.
Until recently, it might have seemed counterintuitive to think of a double amputee living as actively and fully as Showers. But technology innovators like College Park Industries, a Metro Detroit-based company, are quickly changing those perceptions. Today, Showers wears two highly sophisticated artificial prosthetic feet, which allow him to do things any other healthy person does.
And for that, he says, he’s grateful. “My hat’s off to all the engineers, all the prosthetists, and everybody involved with building a foot that allows me to go out and live a better life.”
Founded in 1988, College Park Industries looked at the prosthetic industry and asked “what’s missing?” The company’s original innovation, the Trustep foot, changed how the industry thought a prosthetic foot could function. Since then, College Park has consistently identified and invented products that celebrate human diversity through custom built prosthetic feet, sophisticated dynamic response systems, superior range of anatomical motion, and the use of high-tech composite materials.
“What really drives innovation for us is our connection with the end user,” says Mike Leydet, director of research at College Park. “When we see somebody who’s dealing with limb loss and some of the challenges that they confront, both physically and emotionally, it drives us to develop the best we can for them. We want to give them superior performance products. And that’s based on product excellence and the engineering behind it.”
One way that College Park fosters design breakthroughs is its use of a nontraditional approach to concept design. Anyone, not just the engineering department, can propose ideas. “PTC Creo enables us to quickly take any new concept to the market.” says Leydet. “We take ideas or sketches, create 3D models within days, review the industrial design aspects, tweak them, and then prototype it all in PTC Creo.” The team shares digital 3D models or physical prototypes with customers to gather initial feedback to the different concepts. “Sometimes we’ll look at ten or more varying concepts in a prosthetic foot design,” says Aaron Taszreak, engineering manager at College Park. “We’ll refine the 3D models and optimize them, making sure they meet the design requirements.”
Then, the engineering team presents the concepts to the management team, which decides whether to pursue the product design or not.
College Park customers are each unique. The level of the patient’s amputation, obviously, needs to be accommodated. But there are many other factors built into a life-changing prosthetic. “We consider the person’s age, foot size, side, level of activity, impact level,” says Taszreak. “This leads to hundreds of thousands of product combinations.”
One product line alone, the Trustep foot, has over 400,000 viable combinations that allow the foot to be custom-built for each person. That’s part of the reason College Park uses PTC Creo to design and model its products. “With the parametric design approach provided by PTC Creo, the team can scale the design for sizes, stiffness, and other parameters,” says Taszreak. “As the flexing force changes with each combination, we can account for all that in our designs, and our tooling, and our assembly processes.”
Taszreak adds, “Using PTC Creo, we can simulate and predict stresses and strains within the 3D models we’ve designed, finding failure modes without building physical prototypes. That cuts many months off the typical design timeline.”
Beyond parametric design and simulation, the College Park team uses several other apps across its whole product development process: testing, tooling and molding design, and manufacturing. PTC Creo is used to design and manufacture the jigs, fixtures, tools and mold assemblies needed to manufacture all the components.
“PTC Creo provides tailored apps for all the key team members and roles across the product development process, in the same software family,” says Taszreak. “There’s no down time and no data translation. It’s a seamless transition through every stage, from first concept to full production."
PTC Creo helps make College Park more competitive. In a recent redesign of the company’s Soleus line, College Park developed and introduced a new product in record time. “We wanted to get the product to market fast and make sure it was as durable and light as possible,” says Taszreak. “With PTC Creo, we optimized the design to reduce weight and also increase strength, cutting weight by 10% and upping strength by 40%.”
The result is the Soleus Tactical, specifically engineered for extra agility and durability.
And while that’s important, it’s not the result that matters most in the end. “We’re successful anytime somebody like Reggie Showers goes rock climbing or snowboarding, and we know our product helped make that possible,” says Leydet.