Anyone who has played with dump trucks in a sandbox knows how easily they rollover. That risk is real for actual drivers and their full-size trucks, along with other dangers like touching hydro wires as the dump trailer lifts.
Drivers even put themselves in harm’s way by climbing inside the bucket to shovel whatever failed to dump to the ground.
In rural Prince Edward Island, Harvey Stewart pictured a safer, easier way to unload soil and agricultural products: automated conveyor belts. So, he formed Trout River Industries Inc. to design and manufacture innovative truck trailers.
When he needed to find someone to take a chance on the idea and his company, the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP) was there with technical advice and support.
Road paved with good connections
Stewart patented Trout River’s technology, which involves a conveyor belt running the length and width of a truck trailer’s floor. It moves the contents out the tailgate without tipping.
“I’ve never forgotten that NRC IRAP has been involved all the way through,” Stewart said. “NRC IRAP stepped up as the first to help get us going, and everyone else jumped on the bandwagon afterward.”
NRC IRAP encouraged Stewart to document his design process as he figured out what worked and what did not. NRC IRAP industrial technology advisors (ITAs) have helped Trout River with projects for modernizing production, hiring an engineer, conducting a feasibility study, and designing and getting new trailers to market like a lighter trailer for exporting heavier loads.
Above all, Stewart and his business partner Darrin Mitchell valued the NRC IRAP introductions. “NRC IRAP patched us through to its expert connections who could elevate our business,” said Stewart. “All our biggest business jumps have started with conversations with the right people.”
Stewart and Mitchell listen intently during such conversations. They not only fixed the original safety issue, they created trailers that fill industry gaps. Compared to dump trucks, within a few minutes Trout River trailers can unload: inside buildings, on uneven surfaces, while driving, and directly into other equipment like pavers, agricultural spreaders and salt trucks. Their newest technology accommodates wider trailers, self-cleans and self-empties at the touch of a wireless remote.
Now customers use Trout River trailers to haul waste, gravel, asphalt, snow and agricultural products—throughout the year. That flexibility is a boon to customers who can offer skilled drivers year-long employment, instead of seasonal work, which is key for keeping trained drivers during a widespread labour shortage.
“We’ve seen Trout River respond progressively to make things happen, from their innovative approaches to products and partnerships to how they interact with employees, clients and competitors,” said current ITA Daniel Breau.
Let the good times roll
“Daniel Breau from NRC IRAP thinks intuitively about our business and calls us off the cuff to suggest we try an idea. You can’t pay people to care like that.”
Road crews, farmers, waste managers and other labourers use Trout River trailers on nearly every continent. To meet global needs, Trout River exports parts and trailers, retrofitted a second manufacturing facility in western PEI, and licenses out manufacturing overseas.
Today, Trout River is one of PEI’s largest manufacturers and consistently experiences more than 20 percent in year-over-year sales growth. Winnipeg-based Maxim Truck & Trailer took notice. In 2016, Maxim acquired a majority interest in Trout River, pairing two Canadian manufacturers and increasing their distribution.
NRC IRAP interactions endure. “Our ITA is awesome,” said Stewart. “He thinks intuitively about our business and calls us off the cuff to suggest we try an idea. You can’t pay people to care like that.”
Stewart and Mitchell take those calls, they ply social media, forge more connections and pursue ways to continue to blaze trails, across Canada and internationally.