|LSSU Product Development Center and Frank McClelland Hit Center Ice with Skate Fenders |
January 12, 2011/Lake Superior State University News
SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – A unique piece of protective skate gear is raising eyebrows in the hockey world and especially in the National Hockey League.
Lake Superior State University’s Product Development Center worked with inventor Frank McClelland of Gaylord to develop "Skate Fenders,"
tough, clear guards that fit over ice skate boots and fend off injuries to the foot and ankle from hockey pucks. McClelland's patented idea has caught on with hockey players everywhere.
McClelland's product was given a boost by LSSU's relatively new PDC, which offers its engineering resources and expertise to any small-to-mid-sized manufacturer that wants to develop and bring new products to market. It puts manufacturing methods, mechanical services, materials testing, electronics, computers and robotics at a company's disposal so it may create functional prototypes of any product.
Before McClelland's project came to the PDC, several prototype sets were made and distributed for testing. The original design was prototyped using a thermal molding process that heated sheet plastic until it melted and formed around a mold. Unfortunately, the process gave inconsistent results and lacked the aesthetic quality required of a commercial product.
Enter the LSSU PDC. McClelland said his neighbor heard about the PDC after attending a local entrepreneurs’ event. He contacted the PDC and began working with David Leach, one of the center's engineering project managers whose specialties are in mechanical engineering and plastics.
Leach and a team of LSSU engineering students determined that an injection-molded design might be the solution. The team went to the virtual drawing board using 3D computer-aided drafting (CAD) to design a guard that matched McClelland’s concept sketches.
The PDC used a 3D laser scanner to model a variety of hockey skates, allowing a ‘virtual fit’ to be tested before making sample prototypes.
A number of prototypes were "printed" on the PDC’s rapid prototyper.
Instead of a two-dimensional image on a piece of paper, the prototyper prints out three-dimensional images made of a plastic that allow pieces to be assembled and checked for fit and function. These samples were matched to a variety of skates, both amateur and professional, and an improved design was developed that could be manufactured using the injection mold method.
Leach worked with Michigan companies to machine the mold and set up the tooling and manufacturing arrangements to produce the guards. The Skate Fenders are currently manufactured in Gaylord. McClelland graciously placed LSSU’s logo and references to the PDC on the packaging. The guards have a patent in the U.S. and a patent pending in Canada.
Eric Becks, Leach’s counterpart who specializes in electrical engineering, said, “It was our great pleasure to be able to work on this project from conception through mold-making and pre-production.”
The new design was manufactured with a clear polycarbonate which is barely noticeable when being worn and does not cover skate branding. A limited run of the newly christened “Skate Fenders” was distributed during the winter of 2010 to various teams for testing. The outcome resulted in added upgrades for the model released for this season.
The guards were initially developed with the local amateur hockey player in mind, but the biggest surprise was the demand from NHL teams. According to McClelland, the force of a slap shot in professional hockey is the equivalent of being hit by a .22 caliber bullet and teams were eager for something to protect players.
LSSU alumnus Paul Boyer, equipment manager for the Red Wings, convinced the Wings to try them out. Praise from Red Wings commentator Mickey Redmond during a TV broadcast caught the attention of other NHL teams. Since then, Skate Fenders has fielded requests for exclusive sales rights and overseas interest.
Skate Fenders are currently being sold in the USA and Canada by 16 retailers and two distribution companies, as well as direct on the Skate Fender website, skatefenders.com. Distribution in Europe is currently in the works.
Fourteen NHL teams, plus nine NHL farm teams and 12 NCAA Division 1 teams, including LSSU, are using Skate Fenders. The Philadelphia Flyers wore them during the Stanley Cup Finals this year.
Although most of the Skate Fenders produced are clear, McClelland and his partner Don McClelland recently manufactured and donated 25 purple pairs of Skate Fenders to a cancer awareness project conducted by the Alaska Aces, an East Coast Hockey League team. The Aces players wore the equipment, autographed them and used them in an auction, where they raised $33,600 for the American Cancer Society.
Recently, McClelland presented Laker equipment manager Scott McLay with 16 additional pairs of Skate Fenders when he and Leach were guests of President Tony McLain during the LSSU-Bowling Green series at LSSU's Taffy Abel Arena in the James Norris Center.
"Seeing the product being worn by our team, as well as pro teams like the Red Wings, is a real point of pride for the engineering students who developed it while working for the PDC," Leach said.
"This project is one of many success stories coming from our Product Development Center," said Ronald DeLap Ph.D., LSSU’s dean of the College of Engineering, Technology and Economic Development. "The PDC plays a key role in our engineering program, enabling our students to gain hands-on experience by working on leading edge projects which are being brought to production."
The PDC continues to assist McClelland and the project has now included LSSU's School of Business, which is assisting with marketing, along with the Sault Ste. Marie SmartZone, and the Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center, which is providing guidance on business management and financial issues.
Meanwhile, back on the PDC's virtual drawing board -- an additional adult-sized Skate Fender which fits (depending on boot width) sizes 8 down to 5 was released this fall. A third size that would fit larger feet – sizes 12-15 – is being considered.
For more information, visit skatefenders.com or lssu.edu/eng/pdc.