In 2016, Abilitech Medical set out on a mission: to help restore function and independence to those affected by neuromuscular conditions. Their main product, the Abilitech™ Assist, is a wearable device that enables shoulder and elbow extension, giving users a wider range of motion with less physical strain.
From the beginning, Abilitech has relied on the SciTech Internship Program to hire talented engineering majors to help develop their technology. This spring, Abilitech’s Director of Sustaining and Continuation Engineering, Mark Oreschnick, selected Philip Knopp from 13-or-so candidates and welcomed him to the team as an R&D Engineering Intern.
“Phillip had a go-getter attitude,” Oreschnick recalled, “some of his interests in college, like being on the solar car team, showed his dedication and hands-on experience.” Oreschnick saw that on his resume and “knew that the interests he already had [outside of] Abilitech also suited Abilitech.”
Drawing from history
When Knopp started his internship, Abilitech was in the process of moving their office from St. Paul to Eden Prairie. Helping the team organize their inventory for the move served as a great introduction to the work.
“Even though that was a relatively [simple] task, I think it was actually pretty meaningful,” Knopp said, “because if I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t understand the work I was doing. I was able to see the whole history of the company through organizing all the old parts. It gave me a good perspective before I started on my tasks.”
With a clear understanding of the product and the company’s history, Knopp was now ready to tackle his main assignment: designing a carrying case for Abilitech’s spring sets, an important component for the Abilitech sales team when doing custom fittings.
Knopp created the first prototype using SolidWorks CAD software and mocked it up using tools available to him while working remotely, like 3D printing. Knopp consulted with Abilitech’s sales team for feedback on his first design. A few modifications later and Knopp’s case is now ready to be manufactured and put into use.
“It’s cool to see your designs come to fruition,” Knopp said proudly. “It was rewarding to zip all my files and send them over, knowing all the work that went into mocking up that design and seeing it come to life.”
Learning what you like
To fellow employers hoping to get the most out of their internships, Oreschnick shared this advice, “Understand that an intern is someone who’s learning, and your job is to be a teacher.” As a mentor, Oreschnick often draws from his own experience as an intern where he learned how important it is to “give students projects that are meaningful.” And that’s exactly what Abilitech attempts to do with students like Knopp, giving them exposure and experience to help shape what they want to do in the future.
“It’s been cool to see the startup culture,” Knopp said. “It’s given me a perspective, that there are a lot of options and variability with a startup; and that works well with my personality and work ethic. That’s one of the reasons I went into engineering, you get a lot of variety for what you can do. I know now where I want to be.”