MAPLEWOOD, NY (April 26, 2005) – In the window fashion business, faux wood shutters are all the rage. In an effort to capitalize on this growing design trend, Comfortex, a Maplewood, NY-based manufacturer of commercial window fashions, entered into the wood-alloy shutter business. Initially, sales were clicking along and all was well until Comfortex began seeing a large number of shutters being returned due to damage in shipping.
SATOP provides free engineering assistance to small businesses with technical challenges through donations of time and expertise from 50 Space Alliance Partners throughout the country.
“For the past two years damaged shutters have been a real financial dilemma for us,” said Peter Connery, vice president of fabrication operations at Comfortex. “We launched this new product line with great anticipation only to find that no matter how we shipped the shutters, almost eight percent were returned because of damage.”
Comfortex packages the window shutters with two panels in each box. During shipping one of two scenarios would result in breakage: either the panels would shift and break inside the box; or the package would be inadvertently dropped, thereby damaging the shutter louvers on impact. In either case, the result was a costly remake. “We tried adding padding and using different shipping companies, but the damage claims kept coming in,” said Connery.
Fortunately, Comfortex’s president, Thomas Marusak, attended a seminar in Albany offered by the Center for Economic Growth. There he learned about the Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program (SATOP) and the free technical advice the program offered. “The next thing we knew, we were talking to SATOP and filling out a Request for Technical Assistance,” said Connery.
SATOP put Alliance Partner MRI Technologies, a small woman-owned aerospace engineering firm based in Houston, Texas, on the Comfortex case.
“The very first thing we did was to attempt to emulate exactly what was happening in shipping,” said MRI Technologies executive vice president, Tim Kropp. “We set up a video camera and began our experiments in a series, putting stress on every conceivable area of the box. Not only did we drop the package, we also swung a weighted pendulum onto its side and corners while filming the effects. This way we could determine what force we were exerting on the box and how much stress the package could withstand – and, it wasn’t much!”
Following their stress tests and analysis, Kropp and his team, lead by Keith Irish, sent Comfortex a mock-up of how exactly the cardboard box should be reconfigured and recommended shutter packaging. “MRI came back to us with directions about how to stiffen the packaging arrangement around the face of the panel, which protected the exposed elements,” said Connery. “They suggested we look at the face of shutter panel, not just the edges, which opened our eyes to a whole new way of addressing the problem.”
For the past five months, Comfortex has been shipping the alloy-wood shutters using the packaging recommendation provided by MRI Technologies. As a result, damage return rates have dropped to less than one percent. “We couldn’t have asked for a better outcome,” said Connery. “SATOP quickly found the right person with the right expertise. The engineer took the problem over and came back a quick, affordable and successful recommendation.”
MRI’s engineers were equally pleased with the experience. “It’s satisfying when you can see first-hand that as engineers we can contribute to business processes by applying good engineering,” said Kropp. “The project was a great diversion for us and rewarding to know you helped a company make some money along the way.”