A unique tube-crimping device created by students and staff at the University of Maine’s Advanced Manufacturing Center for a Rockland marine products company has streamlined the company’s operations to the point where its business emphasis may change.
Students and staff at the Advanced Manufacturing Center (AMC) last spring designed, machined and assembled a compressed air-powered stainless steel tube-crimping device for Gemini Marine Products & Custom Canvas. The device reduces hours of work to minutes by replacing a process in which employees previously clamped, drilled and filed four small holes through stainless steel tubes and the plugs on either end of a hinge. They then used small-press fit pins to hold the pieces together. The hinged tubing forms folding support struts for canvas boat dodgers, awnings and bimini tops the company makes.
“Development has been very tedious and very slow,” says company owner John LeMole. “Even making a half dozen of these can take up to a whole day. This has been a bear.”
During a business consultation with a staff member of UMaine’s School of Economics’ Knowledge Transfer Alliance, LeMole mentioned the problem. The alliance’s Hugh Stevens referred him to AMC Director John Belding and AMC project manager James Bryant.
It was precisely the kind of challenge the AMC welcomes, Belding and Bryant say. They set about recruiting some mechanical engineering students to design and assemble the unique crimper.
“There are crimping machines out there,” says Belding, “but this is very specific to their product.”
The device almost automates the crimping process by gripping and stabilizing the two ends of the tubes with the hinge connecting them, as a small pneumatic bit punches a dimple in four places, making a perfectly aligned, irreversible clamp.
“This has national and international applications,” says Gemini’s master fabricator Bill McCall. “This business will easily overshadow the canvas” component of the company, he says of the high-end, hinged-tube support systems for canvas covers.
“For this to be something we could sell in larger quantities, we needed to speed up our production process,” LeMole says.
The 16-year-old Gemini Marine Products sells its products worldwide through the web and through marine supplies catalogs. In addition to hinged canvas support struts, the company also manufactures boat cushions, side rail mounts, boarding ladders and stainless steel grab rails.
Belding says the device took only about two months to develop and refine. Students, he says, played a major role in the innovative device.
“Students were very involved,” he says. “They did most of the manufacturing and some of the design work, as well.”
Some parts for the crimper were commercially available, Belding says, but students designed and made the custom components and tooling with the AMC’s computer-controlled machining equipment.
The inventive collaboration with Gemini Marine Products is typical of the type of development project the AMC has helped hundreds of Maine businesses with since opening in 2004, according to Belding.
The AMC charges for its services, but also works with clients to help acquire funding through the Maine Technology Institute or other agencies, he says.
“In many cases, once the initial prototype is completed, we will work with the client to find a local private company and machine shops that can provide additional equipment and support. It is a win-win for both the company and manufacturing in Maine,” Belding adds.
Belding and LeMole are featured in a UMaine online video demonstrating the new tube-crimping device.
Contact: John Belding, (207) 581-2717; John LeMole, 1-888-767-7705