Two Westlake High School students took home both the top prize and the patent award Saturday at the 2018 High School Utah Entrepreneur Challenge Final Awards and Showcase.
The Saratoga Springs seniors, Tate Hertzler and Joshua Bosley, won the competition with their product, WeldSmart, a modification for a welding hood that controls power to the welder to prevent welder’s flash. The injury, sometimes also known as arc flash, occurs when a welder strikes their torch or sees another welder’s light without their darkening welding hood in place. The ultraviolet and infrared radiation from the intense blue light cause damage to the eye, akin to a sunburn.
This happened to Hertzler in a manufacturing technology during sophomore year, blinding him for a full minute. His eyes ached and he had trouble sleeping for days afterwards.
“I had my [welding] helmet on, but I forgot to put it down before welding. It’s a simple mistake that a lot of people make,” Hertzler said.
That incident prompted Hertzler and Bosley to team up that year for a science project on the subject, to look at how often this injury occurs and how to prevent it. According to the Occupational Health and Safety office, eye injuries account for 25 percent of all welding injuries, making them by far the most common injury for welders. About 70 percent of those were from foreign bodies (as in bits of metal flying off a grinder), and another 22 percent were welder’s flash burns, according to a BMJ Journal Injury Prevention study.
After turning in their project, the idea sat dormant for two years until Hertzler and Bosley heard about the University of Utah Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute’s entrepreneur competition. They dusted off their idea, tweaked their prototype and created their presentation.
There are two types of welding hoods on the market — one that is always dark, and one that auto-darkens. But none of them stop the user from welding without the hood in place.
“Nothing like this has been done before,” Hertzler said.
“There hasn’t been these safeguards in place — that won’t let you weld until your hood is down over your head,” Bosley added.
The safety mechanism prototype the duo created and attached to a regular welding hood is extremely simple, connecting wirelessly to a power strip powering the welding machinery and tools. The sensor won’t turn on the power strip until the hood is fully in place.
Their idea netted them the $5,000 patent award from the Entrepreneur Challenge, so they can patent their system. They hoped for that award going into the competition, so they could work on patenting a second prototype that will be integrated into a hood design. With all the amazing business ideas they saw at Saturday’s competition, they didn’t think they had a chance to also win the whole thing.
“We thought maybe, maybe we had a chance for third place,” Bosley said. “So when we won, I feel like my face was totally blank, because we didn’t even realize what was happening.”
The grand prize was $7,500, and they are excited to use that towards manufacturing their new hood. They hope to integrate their safety system into both types of hoods — the passive-dark helmet and the auto-darkening hood. They also plan to target secondary and technical schools, where these hoods are needed as welders learn their trade.
Though a lot of sleepless nights went into the preparation for the Entrepreneur Challenge, the two best friends were still bright-eyed and excited about their achievement Tuesday. They have a lot more work to do, and hope to be offering the helmets soon, as they both head off to college in the fall — Bosley on an engineering scholarship to Utah State University, and Hertzler to business school at Utah Valley University, with an associate’s degree already under his belt.