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Ryan Enzler has blended old-world knowledge with new world know-how to potentially solve a medical problem.
His idea also impressed a set of judges. The University of Wisconsin-Stout student has taken first place in the student Thermoforming Division of a Society of Plastics Engineers national competition.
Enzler designed Heal Guard, a pivoting plastic shield that fits under a patient's foot, heel and lower leg to help prevent infections.
A native of Rochester, Minn., Enzler learned about the problem from his father, a doctor who treats people with infectious diseases. Bed-ridden patients often develop callouses, and eventually infections, around their feet and ankles because of constant bed friction.
To reduce friction and chances of infection, Enzler came up with a way to protect the patient's skin. First he went back in time, more than 1,000 years to the days when soldiers wore flexible suits of plate armor for full body protection.
"The major inspiration for the concept came from the plate of armor worn in medieval times. My hinge was influenced by this, so that the guard can pivot freely with the ankle instead of rubbing and causing more issues than before," Enzler said.
Enzler likes medieval history and took a medieval art history course at UW-Stout. He said the idea for the pivoting guard "just kind of popped into my head."
Enzler's device, still a prototype, is held in place on a patient's leg with straps and could come with fitted padding. It also would be sterile.
He is a senior majoring in industrial design in the School of Art and Design. He was taking a class on polymers at the time he entered the contest "so my knowledge of plastics engineering and thermoforming benefited my final design greatly."
Enzler designed Heal Guard as part of the Design for Manufacture course taught by industrial design Professor Ben Pratt.
"One of the reasons I did this project is I like helping people," said Enzler, who will graduate in May but hasn't decided what aspect of product design to pursue.
For his first place Enzler will receive $1,500 and an engraved cup that will remain at UW-Stout for one year. Contest officials referred to the trophy as the Stanley Cup of thermoforming, making reference to the National Hockey League trophy.
Thermoforming involves heating a sheet of plastic and forming it into a shape, or product, using a mold.
Enzler also was a finalist recently for Heal Guard in the FreeTech Plastics Student Thermoformed Part Competition, sponsored by the Industrial Designers Society of America. He was one of five UW-Stout students who placed. Also, David Hillenbrand of Thiensville was a co-winner in the national Interzinc student contest. Read more here.
For more information on UW-Stout's industrial design program, go here. to www.uwstout.edu/programs/bfaind.
UW-Stout also offers an undergraduate major in plastics engineering.