What started out bad - Hadley the Labrador Retriever jumped out of the back of the family station wagon and sprained her front legs - turned into a better dog ramp designed by her owner, Cathy Trauernicht of Potomac, Md.
Her Ramp4Paws picked up the Consumer Award at the Society of Plastics Engineers' Antec 2007 in Cincinnati.
The other category, the SPE Industrial Award, went to Plastic Omnium Auto Exterior for the BMW X5 fender module. Plastic Omnium injection molds, paints and assembles the fender module in its plant in Anderson, S.C. The material, thermoplastic polyolefin with a Class-A surface, has a low coefficient of thermal expansion.
BMW AG assembles the X5 in Spartanburg, S.C.
SPE handed out the honors at an awards banquet May 6, to kick off Antec 2007 in Cincinnati.
Quality Molding Inc., a small custom injection molder in Somerset, Wis., molds and does complete assembly for Ramp4Paws LLC.
Trauernicht said her dog's injured forelegs, back in 1996, got her thinking. ``This actually happened twice,'' she said. ``And then I had my husband build a ramp out of wood, and we put indoor/outdoor carpet on it.'' But the homemade ramp was cumbersome. Later, a company came out with a plastic ramp that folded in half. Another plastic ramp hit the market, this one with a telescoping arm. Both were heavy, and it wasn't easy to fit them in an SUV, she said.
Thinking she could do better, Trauernicht started to sketch out some ideas.
She met Mark MacLean-Blevins, an industrial designer in Westminster, Md. He suggested making a ramp that rolls up. They hit on the Ramp4Paws, with a raised surface on each joint to help dogs get a better grip with their paws.
MacLean-Blevins and Trauernicht discovered injuries from dogs jumping from the backs of SUVs and pickup trucks are common. Also, some owners aren't strong enough to lift older dogs in and out of their vehicles.
``I wanted to have the premium product in this marketplace. I've put a lot into this from a dog-owner's perspective,'' Trauernicht said. This is the first business venture for Trauernicht, formerly a corporate banker in New York who stopped working to raise her children. But she always liked learning how things are made, after touring factories of clients while at the bank.
The inventor and designer looked at structural foam and a composite aluminum/plastic ramp before deciding on injection molding. Samples were made using stereolithography and black-cast polyurethane.
Working with a dog agility trainer, she wrote an instruction manual for training your dog to go up and down the ramp, which is included in each Ramp4Paws. ``I just want it to be a good, quality product,'' she said.
Publicity photos show her dog Piper and a friend's dog, Cocoa, trying out the ramp.
Ramp4Paws hit the market last year, a full decade after Hadley's accident. But since then, things have been moving as fast as a hunting dog chasing a rabbit.
In February, Ramp4Paws hit the market at Trauernicht's first-ever trade show, the Global Pet Expo in San Diego. It took top honors in dog products - called Best in Show, naturally - beating out a chew toy and a choke-free dog collar.
Now Ramp4Paws has added the SPE award.
Quality Molding molds the links from 30 percent glass-filled polypropylene, and the hinges from polycarbonate. The company worked with 3M Co. to come up with an adhesive to bond vinyl tread pieces, which it buys from a supplier, to the PP links, according to President Brian Wiederin.
Quality Molding warehouses the ramps. When Trauernicht e-mails an order, the molder ships the product to her customer. Trauernicht said she likes working with the small molder, which has devoted lots of time to her ramp.
Wiederin founded the plastics company in 1994, working out of his house. It's still a modest molder, with five injection presses in a 10,000-square-foot plant. The first ramp got a workout from Wiederin's own 130-pound Lab, Harley.
``Initially when we first built it, I was using my own dog to test it,'' he said.
Ramp4Paws is designed to hold dogs as heavy as 160 pounds. It rolls up and fits into a nylon storage bag, which is included.
Ramp4Paws was granted a U.S. patent in 2005.