Friday, June 22, 2012

ACOA celebrates the power of thinking outside the box, as the application deadline for the Atlantic Innovation Fund approaches

The connection between making rope for the fishing industry and leading innovation in concrete reinforcement may not seem that apparent, at first glance. But it's a natural creative leap for Polysteel Atlantic which promises to revolutionize construction projects everywhere.

In 1993, East Coast Rope Ltd. of Sydney, NS began establishing their identity in the market with PolysteelTM ― a rope product superior in durability and strength to traditional manila or polypropylene ropes, and made through a unique process that turned resin pellets into fibre.

Four years later, the company created a sister company to their traditional rope business, Polysteel Atlantic, Ltd., acquiring a larger facility and state-of-the-art equipment that enabled them to triple their production capacity.

They continued to focus on research and development, pioneering a number of trademarked commercial fishing and aquaculture products, including a specialized rope designed to reduce whale entanglements.

"If you're not innovative, you get left behind in the competition," says Sean Burke, Vice President and General Manager.

"As a North American manufacturer, we're not always cost competitive with some overseas markets. So to remain at the front, we need to bring higher value products to market."

And that's just what they did back in 1999.

"We were looking for a way to use the by-product from rope production in a commercial application, rather than disposing of it in the landfill," explains Sean.

With some 'outside the box' thinking, and help from researchers at Dalhousie University and ACOA, they developed a synthetic fibre that could serve as an alternative to the traditional steel fibres, wire mesh and lighter rebar used to reinforce concrete. This product has been used in applications such as highway barrier walls, heavy industrial flooring, septic tanks and mining tunnels.

They've been successfully manufacturing and exporting the fibre ever since.

Meanwhile, with support from ACOA's Atlantic Innovation Fund (AIF) they've also been working on the development of the next generation of their fibre product, which looks to replace the heavier steel reinforcement needed in infrastructure such as highway and bridge components as well as multi level building construction.

It's an innovation that could offer considerable advantages over steel by being easier to use and having a lower carbon footprint.

"We are entering a time when many existing structures, such as bridge and overpasses, need replacement," says Sean. "This will be a huge potential cost to society, so this is a great time to be making structures that will last longer."

Now that's a concrete idea surely designed to go places.


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