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BLACKFOOT â€” A local business has received a little help from five mechanical engineering students from Brigham Young University-Idaho.
In 2009, Dawn Enterprises received a new Department of Defense contract to construct a lightweight flame-resistant hood for soldiers fighting in the Middle East. It is anticipated that during the 2011-2012 fiscal year, Dawn Enterprises will deliver 200,000 of these lightweight performance hoods.
The problem with the new lightweight hood is that it consists of two layersâ€”an inner and outer layer made of two different types of fabric.
The BYU-I students were asked to develop a way for the employees at Dawn Enterprises to spread and layer the fabric prior to being cut so the layers would not need to be matched by hand after being cut individuallyâ€”resulting in increased efficiency.
Currently, manufacture of the lightweight performance hoods must include an additional step where the two layers of fabric are matched up before the hoods can be sewn.
The BYU-I students designed and constructed a new fabric spreader that will simultaneously spread both the fabric layers and that can be used with the existing table.
"We came up with a really simple system so they can roll them out at the same time," BYU-I student Sam Robbins said. He was a member of a five-person team including Beau Jensen, Nathan Wilcoxson, Casey Thompson and James Zimmerman. All are senior mechanical engineering students.
"It should increase our productivity," Dawn Enterprises Executive Director Donna Butler said.
That increase in productivity comes at a time when orders at Dawn Enterprises have grown exponentially. Prior to 2009 they were producing 70,000-80,000 hoods a year. That number was 406,000 in 2010.
The workforce at Dawn Enterprises has also grown exponentially. They went from 30 employees a few years ago to 90 full-time equivalent positions today.
Dawn Enterprises employees make 1,500 to 2,000 hoods each day. The fabric is spread, layered, then cut using an automated computerized cutter. The pieces are then delivered to various stations where they are sewn together. The hoods are inspected, then folded and shipped.
In addition to the lightweight hood, Dawn Enterprises also anticipates making 40,000 mil-spec hoods, 60,000 anti-flash hoods and 100,000 of a new hood for the Marine Corps called FROG (Flame Resistance Organization Gear).
Dawn Enterprises is a private non-profit organization offering employment, housing and community support services to assist individuals of Southeastern Idaho with mental, physical or social disabilities. Approximately 80 percent of the workforce has a disability.