Halifax-based design firm provides creative and practical solutions to unique problems.
Ben Garvey grew up sailing the high sea, crossing the Atlantic on a number of occasions in his sailboat. A mechanical engineer by trade, Garvey was inspired by his sea voyages and success in navigating naval challenges to establish Enginuity Inc. in 2003, a Halifax-based engineering design firm. Garvey wanted to build a company that could provide innovative and practical solutions to unique problems.
“We are focusing on East Coast/Maritimes market, specifically in the light industrial sector,” explains Alastair Trower, Business Developer for Enginuity Inc. “It’s a very limited market in terms of the size of the economy and population, so we need to be Jacks-of-all-trade types. We serve mining, fishing, traditional industries like light industrial and mechanical design perspective.”
Over the past 14 years, the team has grown to 15 people who are extensively experienced with harsh environment applications. In total, the firm has completed 362 projects serving over 100 companies both in the Maritimes and across Canada.
Enginuity offers a number of different services including straightforward mechanical design for the established business community. For example, the team recently worked to repurpose a fishing boat to be used for clamming rather than lobster fishing – designing an A-frame, the deck handling gear, the cranes and perform the non-naval mechanical engineering.
The team also performs product development initiatives, whereby a company with its own engineering team will seek out the expertise of Enginuity engineers to assist with in-house project work.
“We get to a point when we essentially become an extension of a company’s own internal design team,” Trower adds.
However, over the years, the company has also evolved to serve a vibrant start-up community through a strong entrepreneurial sentiment.
“There is a lot of investment and creativity and a lot of start-up activity; we focus strongly in that sector,” Trower explains. “We took last year as a bit of an internal retrospection. We were busy on the service side, had spun out a couple of products, but we wanted to work out what kind of business we wanted to be.”
The company recognized that it was fairly easy to design for a problem that already existed. But they wanted to go beyond this by designing for problems that will arise down the road – focusing on end-of-life design – and putting effort into designing a process that works to solve this challenge.
A lot of the team’s learning and process development has come though designing their own products, a few of which have been spun off into separate businesses.
“Understanding the manufacturing limitations and challenges, even in our own projects, has been key for us,” explains Trower.
In early 2013, a local anesthesiologist, Dr. Orlando Hung, came to Enginuity with an idea. After doing extensive academic research, Hung identified a problem; in Canadian operating rooms, 30 per cent of gravity-fed IV bags run dry and are missed by the clinical team.
“In an era where everything is monitored during surgery, it was concerning,” says Trower. “We worked with Dr. Hung, the clinician we jointly founded the company with, to take the idea through to product.”
The product is called FIVA, a class I fluid alerting device for IV bags, and took nine months to develop from idea through to finished product.
“It’s a pretty basic product and the regulatory was not massive but it was definitely a good learning curve for us,” adds Trower. “Getting it to market in nine months was pretty impressive in any industry but in medical, that’s astounding.”
FIVA was spun off into its own separate business with Dr. Hung and Garvey at the helm as president and CEO respectively. Lee Babin, a former co-owner of Enginuity, was responsible for much of the design and engineering features of the device. Trower deals with marketing and business development with the team rounding out with Barbara Campbell, responsible for commercialization.
The FIVA device has currently been sold to 30-40 hospitals across Canada and the team at FIVAmed is looking to expand opportunities into developing countries.
“I think the main takeaway is that the Enginuity team is focused on solving a problem in the most creative way,” explains Trower. “The ability for us to work with start ups from a local economic perspective having somewhere where the start-up community can come and not be inundated is key.”
One of the main successes of the company is its defined design process, which the team dubbed Continuum. This practical approach to design includes 10 steps: Discover, Design, Iterate, Test, Manufacture, Deliver, Implement, Monitor, Upgrade and End of Life.
“We dovetail into particular teams,” says Trower. “We try to maintain systems engineering as much as possible. We are very much hands-on, practical, being out there, seeing and feeling as much as we can. There is quite a creative vibe in the space.”
The team works through the design process, digging deep into the nature of the problem, customer needs and user requirements. From there, the team moves into preliminary design through hand sketches, basic 3D modelling and CAD. As soon as they can, the engineers move into 3D/physical prototypes to provide clients with the ability to look, feel and assess the design. Using a 3D printer has radically changed the amount of re-work the team needs to perform.
“[3D printing] has gotten ideas moving quickly, but it has gotten ideas killed just as quick,” Trower adds. “That is really important on the entrepreneur side of things. The quicker we can kill an idea the better… Having the ability to physically print, and give clients the product and say go use it. It comes back with positive results and often design changes.”
The team then moves to full functional prototypes and optimizing design for manufacturing. This area is somewhat new for the company; understanding the manufacturing limitations and challenges, even in their own projects, has been very important in the company’s success.
At any one time, the company is working on 10-15 different projects, from smaller 100-hour projects to 1,500-hour jobs. Trower explains that they are not building aircraft carriers or bridges, but are focused on preliminary detailed design.
Enginuity has partnered with a number of different companies over the years including Newfoundland-based Bluedrop, helping to develop a physical virtual trainer for the back half of the Chinook helicopter. The team has designed a school bus-size aluminum enclosure that is geometrically accurate to the helicopter and is in the second phase of the project.
The vast experience of the team, coupled with Garvey’s personal interest, have given rise to Enginuity’s harsh environment design focus, mixed with a can-do attitude.