ATLANTA — A 1995 car crash put businessman and engineer Karl Douglass in a wheelchair for more than a year.
Through his long rehabilitation and recovery, the former microelectronics chief executive officer was exposed to a world of medical devices and parts — which convinced him there had to be a better way to make them, particularly the metal walker.
"They're really demeaning and institutional-looking," he said.
So Douglass founded American Innovations Inc. of Dublin, Pa., and created a plastic-based walker that not only provides improved function but also a little bit of style and flair.
His AmbulMate walker — produced by Horizon Plastics Co. Ltd. of Cobourg, Ontario — won a special Judge's Award during the Society of the Plastics Industry's Structural Plastics Division show, held April 1-3 in Atlanta.
The division does not always give out a Judge's Award trophy; instead it only does so when something is worthy of extra attention.
The AmbulMate qualifies as well as injection molded rubber with its 10 percent glass-filled polypropylene produced through four different techniques — extrusion and injection, gas-assist injection and structural foam molding.
"There's a tremendous amount of technology we've put into this thing that people don't even see," Douglass said.
He turned to plastics specifically for the walker, while the varied production techniques came in to provide something light, yet still able to carry a person's weight.
"We wanted to ensure it was everything we needed it to be," he said.
It also adds features, such as hand grips at two levels — to aid a user in rising from a seated position as well as walking. It can maneuver well around toilets and has built-in slots for carrying personal items.
Beyond those additions, it's also available in a variety of colors, and users can personalize it with nameplates or stickers.
"We've had times when a nonwalker-user will see one on the street and stop to start a conversation about it," Douglass said. "You can accessorize the product to meet the user's needs."
American Innovations plans to use the walker as a starting point for a series of medical products, he said.
"This is a flagship product for us," Douglass said.