Commercializing engineering: adapting to address industry needs

Spring 2016
g-Cold Chain Photo

McGoff (right) and Vincent say the $20,000 William and Rhea Seath Award was critical for them back in 2013 because “we had ideas, but no money. Customers want prototypes; prototypes cost money; money requires revenue via customers, but customers need to see prototypes before ordering. The Seath award helped us break out of a vicious circle and win our first contract by allowing us to pay for a prototype.”

 

This is the case with TemperPack—a company commercializing innovative, cold-chain packaging materials and processes that was developed by two Faculty of Engineering undergraduates: James McGoff, BEng’15, and Charles A. Vincent, BEng’13. The duo was helped along the way by our Faculty’s William and Rhea Seath Awards in Engineering Innovation and an award from McGill’s Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship.

TemperPack Inc., founded in 2013, produces light-weight, highly insulating and environmentally friendly shipping containers to transport temperature sensitive materials such as perishable foods and medical supplies.

Compared with traditional shipping packaging, such as styrofoam containers, TemperPack substantially reduces the burden on the environment by using earth-friendly, compostable materials without compromising thermal performance.

During their Mining and Materials Engineering studies at McGill, McGoff and Vincent examined the unique properties of ‘aerogel’ as a coolant material. They developed a product they called LifePack, but as they shopped their ideas around, they soon realized that it was not going to be commercially viable.

Switching to our product

Speaking from the company’s head office in Richmond, Virginia, McGoff says the aerogel market is still maturing and there is not quite enough demand in packaging to justify the price point aerogel products require. “It’s an awesome material though,” he says, “and we’re definitely keeping an eye on it for the future.”

Instead, following the suggestions of their clients, the pair took a look at the insulating properties of natural fibres as an alternative to non-renewable materials.

The entrepreneurs realized that hundreds of millions of jute bags (used to transport products like coffee and cocoa beans) were being discarded in the U.S. every year and could be repurposed as insulation. McGoff and Vincent developed a manufacturing process to grind these bags up and reprocess the fibres into an insulating material through a technique that creates minimal contact between the fibres and maximizes the air to reduce heat conductivity.

In June 2015 they successfully launched Jutebox—an earth-conscious shipping container derived from 100% recycled plant fibers.

“Within six months we’d disrupted the once styrofoam-dominated market,” Vincent says, “and are now seeing industry leaders switching to our product.”

More compact and flexible than traditional packaging, TemperPack products offer low-cost, high-performance and compostable insulation for e-Commerce groceries. At present, TemperPack provides hundreds of thousands of packaging products to several of the largest e-Commerce food companies in the US, the UK and Canada.

 

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