Even after making bags for more than 80 years, the P.E.I. Bag Co. Ltd in Central Bedeque, P.E.I., is still looking for better ways to do things.
Recently, the company needed to come up with a more streamlined way of sorting kitchen compost paper bags for a client.
Help came from UPEI engineering students, as part of the School of Sustainable Design Engineering’s collaboration with more than 20 industry and community partners.
“I firmly believe that the engineering students need this real-world experience,” said Thane Smallwood, general manager of the P.E.I. Bag Company.
The problem the company faces is with a client’s special order of kitchen bags every week, put into packages of 15 bags.
If the bottom of the bags all lie the same way, the stack will be higher on one end.
To make the pile sit flat, the workers manually place five bags one way, five more on top the other way, and the final five the original way.
“The issue is is that you need them oriented that way in order to pack them in boxes and to ship them,” said Smallwood.
Employees currently sort the bags by hand, which takes three employees from another part of the plant.
‘It’s not super fun … sorting bags all day’
“It’s not super fun to be sitting there, sorting bags all day in the way that this bag requires,” said 4th year engineering student Javon Mayhew, who was part of the group tasked with finding a solution to the problem.
“It was definitely something that we were happy to introduce a new way of doing.”
Back at the university, Mayhew and his fellow students designed and built a prototype from scratch — complete with a conveyor belt and sorters.
Mayhew demonstrated the prototype, and at first it didn’t go well. The bags ended up getting caught in the sorter.
But after some tinkering, the bags were sailing out smoothly.
“At the start of the day, you have to run it for a couple of minutes just to make sure everything is set properly,” said Mayhew.
Will it work at the factory? Thane Smallwood is optimistic.
‘You have 50,000 bags going through’
“I think the concept has been proven that it will work,” said Smallwood.
“Taking it from a concept and a prototype and then taking it into an industrial environment…