Case Study - Fitness and Play - Devault Sports
Devault Sports, Repentigny, QC
Founded in 1976 by Bruno Devault, Devault Sports is a sporting goods retail store that is known for its vast range of figure skating and speed skating items. The company also offers juggling equipment, team sport clothing, etc. It serves a large number of institutional clients and sells products around the world via its online catalogue.
A safety concern for skaters
Marie-Chantal Bourgoin is Director of the speed skating department at Devault Sports. Her role requires her to keep up-to-date with new rules and regulations, including those related to the safety of skaters.
At an annual assembly of the Fédération de Patinage de Vitesse du Québec (FPVQ), Ms. Bourgoin learned that a new regulation would mean significant changes to the cones placed from the beginning to the end of each turn on the racing track.
The original cones were designed more than 20 years ago and were made from a solid piece of rubber. As a result they were very rigid, and when a skater hit a cone, it would not collapse properly, sometimes resulting in serious falls and injuries. Laurent Daigneault started manually cutting the cones in eight equal parts when he was coaching the national team. He also bevelled the base of the cone to reduce the surface touching the ice, which would prevent them from freezing into the ice and tripping the skaters. Given the importance of the cones for the skaters’ safety, the new regulation now asks the sporting clubs to split their cones with a utility knife and to bevel their base.
The problem with this “hand-made” solution was that there was no guarantee of quality and that the split cones would continue to fall apart. Ms. Bourgoin thought it would be wisest to provide the clubs with pre-split cones.
Looking for the right material and the right design
Mr. Yvan Devault, President and co-owner of Devault Sports, encouraged Ms. Bourgoin to look for a supplier.
“We were looking for a Quebec-based company that would agree to work with a pre-existing design and pre-established specifications, while still offering good value for the price. Also, we wanted to feel very certain of our choice, because we rarely get involved in the design of such a product. Vicone met all our criteria,” said Ms. Bourgoin.
Robert Tremblay, a professional engineer and Research Manager for Quebec at Speed Skating Canada, had designed a cone that met Daigneault’s criteria, but work still had to be done to identify the right rubber material and to optimize the design with the corresponding manufacturing specifications. That is when Ms. Bourgoin decided to put Vicone directly in contact with Mr. Tremblay.
Their collaboration resulted in the testing of four cones on the skating oval that were all similar but of varying hardness. In the end, the least hard cone was retained, because it would collapse better.
Typically, when a piece of rubber is cut, it continues to tear apart, whereas this does not occur when the piece is molded. So Vicone suggested shortening every second strip (four of the eight) to minimize the surface area in contact with the ice. In addition, Vicone suggested adjusting the height and the radius of the cone, as well as the angle at the base of the strips to reduce the thickness of the cone as much as possible. All these changes made it easier for the cone to collapse without falling apart, and ensured it would be knocked out of position with little resistance when hit by a skater.
Results beyond expectations
When the National Training Centre tested the new cones, it confirmed that the new cone was both more flexible and thinner than the previous model, and was also more resistant. It was the ideal solution to improve the safety and confidence of skaters.
The next step was to present the new cones to the International Skating Union (ISU). Based in Lausanne, Switzerland, this organization’s mission is to manage regulations for ice sports, except hockey. Nathalie Lambert, four-time Canadian Olympic medallist for short track speed skating and member of the ISU Committee, was chosen to present the new cones. Although enthusiastic, the ISU decided not to use the new cones for international competitions, because it is unusual to change regulations during a pre-Olympic season.
In the meantime Vicone finished producing the cones and Ms. Bourgoin sent them to the national teams in Italy, Russia, the Netherlands and Canada for input and feedback. They unanimously agreed that they were the best cones they’ve ever used!
Then, on December 3, 2013… surprise! Sébastien Cros, head coach of the Russian short track team, asked Devault Sports if it would be possible to produce a special batch for the Winter Olympic Games, to be held in February 2014 in Sochi. He made the request to the Olympic Committee, but it was conditional on the ISU’s approval.
On December 14, ISU gave its consent, and on December 23, the Sochi Olympic Committee ordered the cones for the Games.
“Although it was the holiday season and the delay was very short to produce and deliver such a big order, Vicone was up for the challenge. The new cones will be mandatory for all national and international races starting in the 2014-2015 season. We were not motivated by the financial aspect of the project, because the production volume is relatively small. Obviously, there is the prestige of being associated with the Olympic Games, but more importantly, we are proud of it because we have managed to provide skaters cones that significantly reduce the risk of trips and falls, which can lead to serious injuries and even, in some cases, end the career of these great athletes. And when you know all the effort and hard work this sport requires, we care about offering them a safer product. Vicone’s professionalism greatly contributed to the success of this project,” concluded Ms. Bourgoin.
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