Making The Cut
The term “research & development” often evokes images of elaborate labs working on complex projects that will result in grand applications for large corporations and solutions to world problems. While that scene is definitely common, there are also many ways R&D can make a big impact on small businesses.
Rita’s Outerwear is one such business. A small family-run operation based in Halifax, Rita’s Outerwear produces fabric goods for outdoor activity - items like canvas buckets and various clothing made of mesh bug netting. While business is good with fertile prospects on the horizon, Rita’s Outerwear’s has been challenged in their attempts to increase production.
The way Rita’s has traditionally operated, fabric like canvas is pulled from large bolts by hand and then each layer must be perfectly aligned with the grain of the fabric. Pattern pieces for each item are cut from hundreds of layers of fabric at a time. It’s a manually arduous and very time-consuming process. While machinery exists to help with this process, most is of a very large, factory size scale and unsuitable for Rita’s operation. The Marchands, owners and operators of Rita’s Outerwear, were eager to expand their business but their production issues were making it virtually impossible.
Looking for a solution, the Marchands approached Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) and were teamed up with Mechanical Engineering Technology faculty member, Dan Bolivar. Once they understood the company’s needs and potential, Bolivar and students David Butler, Kyle Dixon and Jason Langille developed and built a full-scale, functional prototype that improved the efficiency of the fabric layout and cutting process without compromising the quality for which Rita’s is well known.
Working in tandem with Rita’s Outwear and the NSCC design team, Sarah Galley, funded through Springboard, facilitated the technology transfer relationship, managed the intellectual property and negotiated an internal license agreement that resulted in the installation of the equipment in Rita’s facility.
The effect of the new equipment was felt almost immediately by Rita’s Outerwear - efficiency for the cutting process has increased by 25%. NSCC hopes to work with Rita’s to further optimize the device and help streamline their production process.
“This project brought the objectives of Springboard and NSCC into perfect alignment,” says Galley. “Industry came to NSCC looking for a solution to their challenges. It was exciting to help facilitate that solution so that it resulted in benefits to NSCC, our students and Rita’s Outwear. It’s truly what knowledge transfer is all about.”