Sliding head first on a metal sled atop an ice track with the capability of reaching 90 mph sounds insane, but that is exactly what one Ohio engineer and his team did for the sake of science and the USA Olympic Skeleton Team.
ProtoStar Engineering is a startup company inside the Hamilton County Business Center, which is funded by the Ohio Development Services Agency and Ohio Third Frontier. ProtoStar designed the sled underneath some of the fastest Skeleton Olympians in the world. On February 15, 2014, Matt Antoine won the Men’s bronze medal at the XXII Olympic Winter Games using the ProtoStar v5 skeleton sled. ProtoStar’s President Grant Schaffner was there in Sochi witnessing his sled design slide into the record books.
“When Matt started his run my heart was pounding out of my chest,” said Schaffner. “As Matt executed a flawless run and held on to his placing to take the bronze, it felt first incredible relief, followed by jubilation upon realizing what our five year development effort had just accomplished.”
Additionally, Noelle Pikus-Pace took the silver medal in the Women’s competition- using a sled frame designed by her husband, but the outer shell “pod” is designed by ProtoStar.
Schaffner and his team came up with the design of the skeleton sled after taking the term ‘crash course’ literally. Schaffner and his partners wanted to experience the sled first-hand, taking turns going head-first down the track at Lake Placid, N.Y.
“There were moments when each of us thought we were going to die. Then the adrenaline kicked in and we decided to do it again- getting up to 70 mph,” said Schaffner- who is also an assistant professor in the University of Cincinnati’s Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics.
He credited the ‘bodystorming’ approach to engineering (the physical act of brainstorming) for the creative concepts that went into optimizing the design.
Working with another Ohio company, Machintek Corporation in Fairfield, and deBotech in North Carolina; they were able to manufacture five ProtoStar V5 sleds, in addition to a number of earlier sled models that are now the property of the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation.
ProtoStar Engineering is located inside the Hamilton County Business Center- the 25 year old incubator in Norwood, Oh that is home to over 50 tenant companies.
The Business Center provides a wide variety of resources for startup and early-stage companies, including on-site business coaches, entrepreneurial programming and flexible work environments.
More from Grant Schaffner:
How has being in the incubator helped your company?
“The incubator has given us the opportunity to move ProtoStar out of my home office and into an office at the Business Center that is much more workable. As our company grows, I am now able to employ co-ops and interns from UC and Xavier and our Business Center office provides a comfortable and convenient place for them to work. There are other benefits too. We have received valuable mentoring from the staff at Business Center and we are currently starting to work on strategic plan. We have also benefited from the close proximity to other companies that can lend insights based on their experience as startups. In fact, we are currently in discussion with fellow tenant-VPL/Virtual Print Labs about a collaborative relationship that takes advantages of our respective strengths to offer both companies clients a wider array of services.”
What’s next for ProtoStar?
“Our goals will become more defined as we go through the strategic planning services. In the meantime, our goals are to continue our strong relationship with the US Bobsled and Skeleton Federation and US Olympic Committee, and also to continue to expand our customer base and grow the company. One exciting project that we are currently working on is the development of a baseball swing training device. Our client for that project is Darryl Hamilton, a former Major League Baseball player and current analyst for the MLB channel. We are currently on our third prototype with Darryl and looking to go into production soon. Since the company was started in Houston, before subsequently being relocated to Cincinnati, a large percentage of our customers still come from Houston. We are working hard to reach out to potential clients in Cincinnati and other parts of the country. If you are interested in tracking our exploits and progress, please follow us on Twitter (@ProtoStarEng) or find us on Facebook. Our website is http://www.protostarengineering.com.”