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Students sharpen skills at Schweitzer lab

Pullman firm helps Cal Poly engineering students with ergonomic knife for veterans

For Cal Poly senior Sam Kaplan, hands-on experience is critical to his engineering studies. Last week, he and four other students traveled to Pullman to get it.

The group spent three days visiting Pullman-based Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories Inc., creating a prototype of an ergonomic knife developed by a U.S. Army occupational therapist. The knife is designed to be easier to use by veterans who have diminished function of the wrist, hand or arm due to service-related injuries.

“Cal Poly’s motto is ‘learn by doing,’ ” manufacturing engineering major Kaplan said. “It’s probably the epitome of that.”

The students used Schweitzer Engineering’s facilities to make the knives, which have a sharply curved handle that allows the user to cut food with little pressure.

“Up to this point it’s all been prototypes,” Kaplan said. “We’re finally getting to the point of production mode, which is exciting.”

Quality of Life Plus, a nonprofit organization that develops products designed to help injured veterans in day-to-day tasks, began the project about three years ago. A year ago, Schweitzer Engineering offered to help them develop and complete the prototype. But students ultimately designed the knife from start to finish.

“We just provided guidance and advice,” said Jennifer White, education outreach manager for Schweitzer.

Although this is not the type of project SEL is typically involved in, White said the company was interested in helping the organization on its project.

“It’s very similar to projects that a lot of our senior engineers do with university students,” she said.

Quality of Life Plus and the Cal Poly students have already developed the knife under the guidance of a U.S. Army occupational therapist, said the nonprofit’s director, Scott Monett.

Working with Schweitzer Engineering Labs has allowed them to create a higher-quality product, he said.

Without the company’s support and expertise in plastic injection molding, the project would not be as far along as it is now, Monett said.

“The level of quality that we can produce using university resources versus SEL’s capability is just night and day,” Monett said.

The knife is the first project Quality of Life Plus has fully developed since the organization launched in 2009.

The organization plans to send samples to injured veterans, then put it on the market at little to no cost for injured vets.

Kaplan thinks the knife could be used by anyone with limited wrist use.

“The project was initiated to help wounded soldiers primarily, and we’re starting to realize there’s a lot more potential for the Ergo Knife than that alone,” he said. “How many people can actually make use of this?”

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