Mechanical engineering isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of wool, but that didn’t stop Jennifer LeBrun of ULAT Dryer Balls. When demand for her handcrafted laundry dryer balls spread to overseas markets, she enlisted the help of BCIT’s engineering students to automate her manufacturing process to help scale-up her operations.
Though automated manufacturing is usually associated with larger companies, Jennifer’s calculated risk paid off. She took a handcrafted wool product and turned it into an expanding business that has been nominated for the Small Business BC Awards for two years in a row.
By applying new world technology to an old school material, Jennifer has been able to leverage her forward-thinking into scalable growth.
Automated manufacturing can be intimidating to many small business owners and entrepreneurs, as it can seem too expensive or complicated for growing businesses. But automation can offer a definite competitive advantage. It increases productivity and reduces production time, costs and human error. However, it’s an important and sometimes expensive decision that should be evaluated carefully to make sure it’s right for you.
In Jennifer’s case, implementing a machine into her manufacturing process was a smart move. She used technology to enhance, not replace, the human input component, allowing her to increase output while keeping the handcrafted charm that made her business so popular to begin with.
Find the Right Partner
Jennifer reached out to a local institution to match consumer demand because her business is “committed to the Canadian community and early on identified ways to continue our Canada-first values.” For her, enlisting a BC school to create an automation prototype stayed true to her business values while still being cost-effective.
Though there are many ways to automate manufacturing, such as outsourcing internationally or commissioning an expert, it’s essential to choose a partner that’s a perfect fit for your business values, as well as your budget.
Collaborate from Start to Finish
Any adjustment to a production process can impact the product, so it’s important to be involved in the changeover process to ensure future quality and consistency.
Jennifer worked closely with the mechanical engineering students throughout the prototype’s development, from preliminary reviews to the unveiling. By collaborating in-depth during the project, the ULAT Dryer Balls team was able to create a prototype in less than a year that both parties were happy with.
Create Something New
Because there was nothing suitable on the market, Jennifer said that her team was “left to their imaginations and our team brainstorming sessions that enabled them to explore some non-traditional concepts that eventually produced a prototype.”
Many businesses can automate with existing machinery, but unusual or new products may require a prototype. Exercise your creativity by experimenting with new designs and concepts to see what works. There are also programs and resources available to support you, such as articles on how to transform an idea into a product, commercialization programs and information on how to patent your idea with the Government of Canada.
Maximize Your Marketing Opportunities
Jennifer attributes part of her business’ growth outside of BC into the Canadian and international markets to her 2014 Small Business BC Award nomination by stating that “Small Business BC and the Small Business BC Awards have provided a respected and supportive arena to delivery and demonstrate the uniqueness of ULAT Dryer Balls… we are thrilled Small Business BC and the Small Business BC Awards assist in propelling ULAT Dryer Balls mark in Canada and beyond”
Taking advantage of marketing opportunities like the Small Business BC Awards is crucial for small businesses, especially small businesses looking to increase their customer base and fund automation.
Small Business BC Awards Nominations and Ceremony
Don’t miss out on the free marketing and PR. Nominate your business for the Small Business BC Awards and vote until November 30 here.
Save 30 per cent off the Small Business BC Awards Ceremony by reserving your Early Bird ticket – available for a limited time only.