Saturday, June 22, 2024

Fine-tuning small businesses

By Glenda McCarthy

CNA is doing its part to help small businesses throughout the province succeed in a growing marketplace through the expertise of its Industry Engagement Unit (IEU).

In 2013, the college incorporated a three-year development strategy to enhance and facilitate access to its applied research and development (R&D) resource base to support the growth and sustainability of small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

The key goal is to engage faculty, staff, students and graduates from the college’s engineering technology programs with rural businesses that need help with the development and implementation of product, process and organizational innovations.

The establishment of the IEU builds on CNA’s successful history of province-wide industry outreach and recognizes the growing importance of colleges nationwide as institutions that can help small local businesses survive and thrive.

“We’re trying to become an even more important player in the provincial support network for SMEs,” says Industry Engagement Unit Coordinator, John O’Leary from his office at Ridge Road campus. “The IEU is about trying to determine where we can be complimentary to existing services and leverage our strengths.”coming-full-circle

Stephen Mercer of Upper Island Cove is an Industrial Engineering Technology (Co-op) student at Ridge Road campus who spent the summer working on a project for Spinario Custom Orthotic Lab in St. John’s. During his five months with the IEU Stephen conducted operations analysis and analyzed the overall production capabilities of the company; he then designed a new, more efficient, layout for the company’s production plant.

“At the time, Spinario was making 50 pairs of orthotics a day, but within the next two years the owner wanted to be able to produce 300-400 pairs a day while using the same operations. He (the owner) knew the plant was laid out badly and operations were in a bad placement, so he wanted everything rearranged with more efficient ways to do work,” Stephen says, noting the company started to implement the changes this past summer which should allow them to achieve their production targets.

The IEU is particularly important for rural SMEs, given the difficulty they face in accessing the resources needed to move innovative ideas from basic concept to practice. Through collaboration with local campuses, the IEU provides these companies with facilitated access to the infrastructure, services, supplies, customer base, and knowledge base that exists in urban centres and to the public/private networks that allow for mentoring and sharing of ideas. It provides assistance with the full spectrum of applied R&D activities including situation analysis, problem definition, proposal writing, funding acquisition, project management, human resource development and evaluation.

Since October 2014, 14 companies have taken advantage of the services provided by the IEU, including Weather Shore Windows of St. John’s, which saved a considerable about of money through a relationship with the IEU.

According to Adam Trainor, sales manager for Weather Shore Windows, two CNA students worked with their company last year to implement sales and manufacturing software to help make their business more efficient.

“The software takes any sales orders and automatically outputs cut sheets and optimizes vinyl cuts and glass cuts for our production floor,” Adam says. “We used to do everything manually so we used to take all of the window sizes and manually put them on a cut sheet for the production floor. This system does that automatically so we found a difference of close to 70 per cent less defects this year than in previous years.”

He says the changes have had a significant impact on their entire production line.

“It’s made a huge difference. One thing is wait times. It is a lot faster to get the information down to the floor, it is making us more efficient with the resources we have. One person taking five hours out of their day on production sheets is now down to say, an hour, so it’s making their job a lot easier. And again the accuracy – defects have diminished a lot since last year. It is making us more efficient in our daily operations.”

To date, 24 co-op students have been employed directly in support of IEU projects from a number of program areas including, Mechanical Engineering Technology, Industrial Engineering Technology (Co-Op), Mechanical Engineering Technology (Manufacturing), Petroleum Engineering Technology, and Computer Systems Engineering Technology. Seven capstone student projects have also been completed through the IEU.  Active student engagement with the IEU has meant more active faculty engagement as well with 10 faculty members from Ridge Road campus involved in applied R&D through the IEU in 2014. The IEU has also proved beneficial in helping graduates secure employment.  Two recent graduates have since obtained employment with the companies for which they completed IEU projects as students.

For more information on the Industry Engagement Unit, contact John O’Leary at


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Glenda Tompkins
Glenda Tompkins
Glenda is a 20-year marketing and communications veteran currently specializing in photography/videography and social media management. She has garnered multiple awards for her innovative, strategic campaigns at CNA. Her experience includes writing, editing, graphic design, event planning, and more. When she’s not reviewing social media engagement analytics, she enjoys spending quality time with her young family.


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