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Performance Designs is giving you a closer look into the research and development department by interviewing team members, digging into the history and uncovering some of the magic. Last month we heard from Allison Reay, assistant project lead, who took us through her journey from shooting video in Colorado to jumping into Broncos football games to testing just about every canopy PD has.
Next up: Kaylin Truba, materials engineer. Kaylin started at PD in December 2015. Before that she was in engineering school after working in corporate aviation. “I wanted to know how airplanes flew and how to build a hot air balloon.” Kaylin’s dad was a civilian pilot and she grew up in DeLand, attending air shows, watching space shuttles take off and becoming obsessed with anything that flew.
When Kaylin started at PD she wasn’t a skydiver and she brought this up with John LeBlanc (company vice president). “In my interview, one of my questions was, ‘Why do they want to pay for a mechanical engineer when there are tons of skydivers that would probably be willing to do the same job?’ He said it’s difficult to take a skydiver and teach them to engineer things; it’s easier to take an engineer and teach them to skydive.” Once she started at PD it took her a year to start jumping because “I needed to know every single component of the canopy and how it worked and why it was mechanically safe.” Kaylin now has 90 jumps and is jumping a Sabre2 170.
As materials engineer, Kaylin works with the vendors and the R&D team. “I sit between the R&D group who are designing and testing the canopies and our vendors. R&D comes to me and says, ‘Hey, we’re looking for this, can you help us find it?’ I then go to the vendors and say, ‘I’m looking for these specific qualities, do you have anything that will meet this? If not, can we build something?’ Then I test it before R&D gets it. It can be the fabrics, the tapes, the thread, any of the metal components, washers, grommets and line types.”
At PD the R&D and Engineering team work closely together. “Basically R&D tells us what they need to do their jobs. We find ways to do that, such as building machines that make their job easier, making the production side smoother or building machines to test.” Kaylin said that sometimes all the testing that gets done in the factory crosses over to her personal life. “I really enjoy combining the machining part of my job and seeing how it translates to a textile. Once I understood the correlation between the mechanization and textiles, I started seeing even clothing shopping differently, wondering, ‘Where was the breaking point?’”
As for where Kaylin wants to go with skydiving in the future: “Being a high school and college athlete, training was always regimented. For the first time I’m actually just doing something to have fun and there are things I want to learn, but there isn’t necessarily a timeline. I am totally just enjoying it and loving that it’s not structured.”
Kaylin believes a huge part of what makes PD stand out in the community as having such respected canopies is the quality control. “Sometimes the workers on the floor come to us with a potential issue and you can’t see it with the naked eye. Then they hold it up to the light and there’s this tiny little fiber that just ends right in the middle of a cut part. They want to reject it and cut the whole thing over, it blows my mind that we catch those kinds of defects, every little fiber. The inspectors catch the tiniest things and we fix it or we do it again. At PD we believe that a finished canopy is only as good as the raw materials used to create it, which is why we hold our vendors to the same high standards that we give our customers. When fabric arrives at the PD factory we run it through a series of tests. We start with a light table to locate any defects. After that, we cut a small section from each roll to test the tensile and tear strength, UV degradation as well as the fabric weight, thickness and air permeability. If something doesn’t pass we send it back to the vendor.”
The UV chamber at PD is used on every roll of fabric to ensure it meets the highest quality standards. Twenty-four hours in the UV chamber simulates almost 45 days in the sun. The team does two cycles in the chamber, to test the fabric degradation in even the harshest of UV conditions. The same with air permeability, “We check it in multiple places. We do an entire roll at specific intervals based on the history of the fabric. Then we tumble the fabric in a tumbler to simulate being used and we test the permeability again.”
Kaylin also talked about how special customer requests are treated at PD. “Some customers want something they’ve had in the past; maybe they want a particular line type on a canopy that we don’t normally offer, have a particular request, etc. I think that’s something else that’s always impressed me about PD: the amount of effort that we’ll go to for someone that calls us with a request. Once we get this request it goes to a few engineers first, four or five of us sit around and talk about it in a roundtable asking questions, thinking of potential issues, etc. It’s nice to know that this customer has got a group of engineers sitting there and talking through their request.”
Since starting to skydive, Kaylin’s younger brother has also gotten into the sport. “My brother and I have always done the same sports together. We learned to scuba dive together, climbing and flying. When I started skydiving I could tell he wanted to do it. I scheduled for him to do a tandem one weekend and I was walking past manifest before that day and they told me my brother had already paid for his AFF and he hadn’t even done a tandem yet. I needed to know everything before I did a jump. He needed to know nothing. We’re polar opposites in that aspect. But we both enjoy adrenaline sports, going fast and flying.”
A project that Kaylin and the team are working on later this summer is looking into the effects of sunscreen on canopy fabric. Kaylin got a call last year asking what the effects are and, in true PD style, decided to set up an experiment to get that answer. “Growing up in Florida, I completely understood this request. I slather sunscreen on every day. If I’m going to be in the sun and go jumping, I always put sunscreen on and then you go to pack and you’re lying on your canopy and sweating. So, our experiment this year is to see how different sunscreens affect the fabric.” Kateryna Pharr, who works in R&D, studied as a chemical engineer so she understands exactly the components and the things that go into the sunscreen. For Kaylin this is super valuable to have her as part of the team so she can focus on the material side of it and still understand the different chemicals. “There are certain chemicals that break down fabric faster. We’re going to try and determine which ones those are.”
Next up for Kaylin: getting 100 jumps, finishing her pilot’s license and learning how to sew.
Keep an eye out for more PD R&D stories next month!
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