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May 19, 2017

UMaine, Lanco collaboration accelerates L.L.Bean tote production

Courtesy / University of Maine
Courtesy / University of Maine
Students and staff of the University of Maine's Advanced Manufacturing Center work on a recently built automation machine for L.L.Bean. Westbrook-based Lanco Integrated designed and manufactured the parts of the machine, which was then assembled and tested at the AMC.

VIEW: University of Maine video of Advanced Manufacturing Center's work with Lanco Integrated of Westbrook on automation machinery for L.L.Bean.

L.L.Bean will be able to stitch tote bags in four to five seconds, thanks to a new automation machine created in a recent collaboration between the Advanced Manufacturing Center at the University of Maine and a Westbrook company.

The machine will be used in the outdoor retailer's Brunswick manufacturing facility — and is expected to increase production and quality. It's the second machine Westbrook-based Lanco Integrated has designed and built for L.L.Bean.

Lanco designed and manufactured the parts of the machine, which was then assembled and tested at UMaine's Advanced Manufacturing Center, a 30,000-square-foot facility on the Orono campus. It's the first major collaboration between Lanco and UMaine's engineering support and service center.

"The main obstacle was their overflow," John Belding, AMC director, said in a news release of the collaboration with Lanco. "They have a lot of projects going on and a very tight schedule on a lot of their projects, and they needed some extra help in getting some of these machines constructed."

The AMC helped with some on-the-fly changes and redesigns with additions and modifications to manufactured components in its computer numerical control machine lab, according to Belding. The center also used its extensive technology in laser scanning, fixturing and alignment to build the modules.

Automation to boost L.L.Bean's production

The machine was developed to increase production and quality while also making it easier on employees in charge of cutting and sewing, Belding said.

The self-contained system allows for electronic adjustments to be made for manufacturing both small and large tote bags, according to Mitch Sanborn, manufacturing manager at Lanco Integrated. The machine can stitch a bag in about four to five seconds, resulting in the production of several hundred bags per hour, he said.

Belding had talked with Lanco about collaborating because many students working at the AMC were interested in the company, and vice versa. Once Lanco officials got the order from L.L.Bean last fall, they contacted Belding.

Fabrication and assembly were done at AMC in February and March before the machine was sent to Lanco's facility for further testing in early May.

The machine is expected to be functioning at L.L.Bean by Memorial Day, Sanborn said.

Hands-on learning for students

In addition to helping two Maine companies, the project also allowed students to be trained on Lanco's assembly systems in preparation for entering the workforce, according to Belding.

Ryan Lindsay, a mechanical engineering technology major from Lincoln, was one of 10 engineering students who worked on the project.

Students and staff at AMC, which is part of UMaine's College of Engineering, brought their experience and facilities to the table, according to Lindsay.

"We have a vast variety of testing equipment, which Lanco was able to use to make sure everything was precise and level," he says.

Lanco's interaction with AMC started about a decade ago when the company reached out to the center for potential hires, according to Sanborn. He says the company employs several UMaine alumni full time and has offered positions this year to two graduating students. During the summer and semester breaks, the company also employs two to four full-time interns from UMaine, he says.

"They have a number of engineers from Orono at their facility and they want to have more," Belding says. "So one way to do that is to have students working on these projects, training on how their systems are built so on day one [when] they are hired at Lanco, they are ready to go. They can walk in the door and they have already seen all the systems and all the ways they do business and know exactly what to do when they're putting those machines together."

Helping businesses large and small

The Advanced Manufacturing Center works with a variety of clients from a broad range of industries.

Small and medium-size business clients include Falcon Performance Footwear, The Holy Donut, Alcom, Gemini Marine Canvas, Penobscot McCrum LLC, Kleinschmidt, Snowman Printing, Environetix, Pionite Decorative Surfaces, Old Town Canoes and Kayaks. Besides L.L.Bean and Lanco, large-company clients include General Electric, Hussey Seating and Family Medicine Institute.

One of the biggest opportunities for jobs in the state is with automation, Belding said.

"Companies are really trying to automate as much as possible," he said. "Here at the AMC, we do some automation ourselves, and then we also collaborate with companies like Lanco Integrated for more help in the really complex automation market."

Both Belding and Sanborn say they would like the AMC and Lanco to team up again.

"The AMC did a fantastic job building this piece of equipment," Sanborn says. "Absolutely we expect to see Lanco working with AMC on future projects."

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