Posted: June 16, 2014
Inventor Ron Szepesy keeps learning how much he does not know about his invention: the revolutionary Zoltec SureShot pump.
“Which is a good thing,” he says.
Zoltec is a startup company in Alberta, one of the first to take advantage of TEC Edmonton and the University of Alberta’s UA SolVe program.
“I had developed the pump in a machine shop,” says Ron. “I built my prototype. It works in the way I had intended, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe for public use.”
As time went by, Ron became more aware of what had to be done to bring his pump to market, and it was well beyond his own skill sets. Through the recommendation of his TEC Edmonton business advisor, he turned to UA SolVe.
“I didn’t understand the meaning of an ‘engineered’ product,” says Ron. “Engineering includes measuring every component to ensure its strength, having engineered drawings of each component, knowing the exact tolerances, knowing the types of material to use to ensure a long-lasting product, knowing how smooth interfacing surfaces have to be for optimal operation … I didn’t know any of those details, yet they’re absolutely essential for any mass manufacture of the SureShot pump.”
UA SolVe manager and TEC Edmonton Business Development Associate Chris Lerohl sat down with Ron to define the challenge as best they could. Chris then went to the University of Alberta’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. “I know the guy for this project,” said Mechanical Engineering Chair Brian Fleck.
Dr. David Nobes is an Associate Professor of engineering, an expert in fluid mechanics and design and a consultant to private industry in the field. “As a registered engineer, I’m responsible for public safety,” says Dr. Nobes. “If I certify a prototype, I am guaranteeing it will run the way it’s supposed to run, without jeopardizing safety. My team can work on determining the materials, reliability, torques, accuracies and anything else that is needed. We then document the design in manufacture-ready engineering drawings. In the end we’ll have a prototype that will be fully engineered and fairly easy to mass-produce.”
Could Szepesy have gone to a private engineering and testing firm?
“Sure,” says Dr. Nobes. “But given the small scale of the project and challenges related its unique design, it would likely cost more. At the university, we can use Ron’s pump as an opportunity to give graduate students real work experience, while using specific knowledge from their research to make the project a success.
“We have excellent facilities both for testing and design that industry often does not have. So we can address challenging problems. For me, it’s also an opportunity to work on a real project, to connect with industry and take that knowledge back into the class room. I like the idea, with TEC Edmonton, of opening up this innovation corridor into the university.”
The introduction to Dr. Nobes, through TEC Edmonton and UA Solve, has been invaluable, Szepesy says. “I’m excited. He brings credibility to the project. I will be able to show future customers an engineered project – not just a farmer’s invention.”
The entire project is an exercise in collaboration between a small, innovative company, the University and government seed money. A portion of the cost of this project may be offset by a federal government IRAP (Industrial Research Assistance Program) grant.
“This takes us from ‘it’d better work, to ‘we know it’s going to work’,” says Ron, who has already invested a considerable sum over the last 14 years developing the SureShot pump for the aviation industry.
You never realize at the outset just how much work and detail is required, even to get to this stage,” says Ron. “I’m glad TEC Edmonton and UA SolVe are here for the guidance.”