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Dalhousie’s NS Product Design And Development Centre To Benefit Sme’s

Steve Benison has twice looked to Dalhousie University’s engineering school to give his company the inside track on developing and improving its recycled rubber products.

And the owner of Rubber Trails & Surfaces Canada Ltd., based in Upper Musquodoboit, has other ideas he would like to advance through the school’s new product design and development centre.

“For me, with a small business, you spend so much time hands-on that sometimes you don’t see something that can be improved upon,” Benison said in an interview at a launch event Thursday in Halifax. “Or you do see it, but you’ve got to have the time.”

Rubber Trails recently worked with engineering faculty and students to improve an existing product, a fastener used to anchor running tracks. As a result, the rubber fastener has been endorsed by the International Association of Athletics Federation, the sport’s governing body.

The new Dalhousie initiative, called the Nova Scotia Product Design and Development Centre, will offer research, development and prototyping services to small- and medium-sized companies.

The centre combines two existing programs in the faculty of engineering, the product research and design group, and the innovation in design lab, or iDLab.

The goal is to streamline services and make it easier for more companies to access engineering expertise to develop products.

Joshua Leon, Dalhousie’s dean of engineering, said the centre was set up in response to growing demand for such services.

“Five years ago, we probably had four or five projects on the go. I would say this group has had 25 projects on the go this year.”

The companies the school works with are often referred by provincial and federal departments or agencies that award grants. The firms and entrepreneurs also tend to be repeat clients, with BlueLight Analytics of Halifax and Clare Machine Works of Meteghan Centre being among that group — along with Rubber Trails.

The province is contributing $85,000 to help launch the centre. The funding is helping to create space for the centre and market the new program.

Michel Samson, minister of economic and rural development and tourism, said the initiative will help make companies more efficient and innovative, and will lead to products being developed for local and export markets.

“Our small businesses here in Nova Scotia will have better access to some of the services they need to reach their full potential,” Samson said.

The centre has been up and running since spring, with five to seven people involved at any one time, including faculty and students.

Recent engineering graduate Emerson Hawkins said he has worked on a range of products at the centre, including ones for the fast-food, telecommunications and music industries.

“A client will come in and pitch an idea and we figure out all the physics — how the production would work for it — and generate the concept ideas and whatever they need,” the Dartmouth man said.

Benison said the two projects that Rubber Trails worked on through the school’s previous programs helped improve the company’s production line, in addition to creating new or improved products.

In the case of the newly certified track fastener, the firm — which has four employees — has just received orders from engineers in Denmark and Sweden. Up until now, the product’s market was in Canada and the United States.

“This has opened up Europe for us,” Benison said.