MENOMONIE — When an Eau Claire-based company began looking into the possibility of developing a new product, the president and CEO knew that bringing it to market could be time-consuming.
He decided to jump-start the process by contacting UW-Stout.
Jim Vaudreuil, president and CEO of Huebsch Services, met with a professor and students in the university’s apparel design and development undergraduate program to see if they could conduct primary research for him.
Vandreuil wanted to know what it would take for his company to make and sell durable, comfortable, high-visibility safety garments.
Huebsch’s core business is industrial laundry and textile rental services, and the company provides many cleaning-related services and products. Over the years, Huebsch has found that customers’ safety garments with reflective material aren’t very durable.
In 2014, 40 students from two sections of the garment engineering and production class, led by associate professor Gindy Neidermyer, spent several months looking into the problem. They presented Vaudreuil with a detailed garment proposal, from look and functionality to technical specifications.
“The class gave us a bunch of ideas. We’re moving a step forward with it and using a lot of what they developed,” Vaudreuil said. “Students went through the whole process, right up to taking it to a manufacturing plant, including what fabric to use, the type of stitch. It was really impressive.”
The value of the class project worked both ways, Neidermyer said.
“It was a great experience for students, especially to answer to an industry customer and meet deadlines,” she said, adding that Vaudreuil brought a team of four Huebsch employees to UW-Stout for the students’ final presentation. “When you have a real client, the goal becomes purposeful.”
Vaudreuil supplied the materials for the project, in which various types of reflective material were tested on garments. Students designed 30 high-visibility concept garments for men and women, including tops, bottoms and outerwear.
“We received a lot of good ideas out of this, such as a possibility of a women’s garment. Everything now is made for men, which is not flattering for women,” Vaudreuil said, noting he is impressed with UW-Stout’s applied learning model.
Huebsch works regularly with UW-Stout operations and supply management graduate students, led by professor Jim Keyes, on projects to make the company more efficient.
“They’re doing the real thing. It’s all real stuff,” Vaudreuil said of both UW-Stout student groups. “If they weren’t helping us, we’d be doing it ourselves. We receive a lot of benefit for the little bit of time we put in.”
As a measure of thanks for apparel students’ help, this spring Vaudreuil donated a used embroidery machine, the program’s first one. A Huebsch manager, Laurie Plummer, came to campus to train students how to use it.
The machine has 15 needles and is guided by a computer numeric-controlled software program.
Apparel students will put the machine to good use right away. This semester they are designing and making 50 embroidered shirts for the spring 2016 national Science Olympiad, which UW-Stout will host.
“The machine couldn’t have come at a better time,” Neidermyer said, noting that Vaudreuil also has donated lab coats to UW-Stout’s Discovery Center Fab Lab and hosted student tours of his company’s facilities. “Jim’s continual support and feedback to students is so critical,” she added, noting
Huebsch Services was founded in 1891, the same year as UW-Stout.