LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Sept. 2, 2004) – Local furniture retailer Sol Imports has slashed shipping costs by 40 percent thanks to free assistance from New Mexico State University’s Manufacturing Technology and Engineering Center (M-TEC) and the NASA-funded Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program (SATOP).

Sol Imports, which sells artisan-crafted rustic furniture, rugs and home decor items, found that the company’s Internet sales were being negatively affected by the cost of packaging its goods for shipping.

“The high costs of packaging and shipping limited our Internet sales volume,” said Ken Montoya, Sol Imports President. “Furniture must be packaged in cardboard in order to be shipped and we were outsourcing the cardboard packaging to another company. This added cost and made us less competitive.”

Montoya wanted to bring the packing function in-house, but had no idea of how to go about it. He called Anthony Hyde, an artist who had displayed his work at Sol Imports, for advice. Montoya knew Hyde also was an engineer and hoped he might be able to provide some guidance. “Boy, did I hit the mother lode with that call,” Montoya said.

In addition to being an artist, Hyde possesses more than 20 years experience in manufacturing, instruction and product development, and is the director/associate professor of M-TEC, which also is a SATOP Alliance Partner. SATOP provides small businesses with free technical assistance through the expertise of the U.S. Space Program. Hyde immediately referred Montoya to SATOP.

Montoya’s Request for Technical Assistance (RTA) was referred by SATOP back to M-TEC. “This RTA was perfect for M-TEC,” said Manuel Duran, SATOP program engineer. “M-TEC’s system of student employees working on projects under a staff of engineers, machinists and fabricators was an ideal environment for addressing the Sol Imports technical challenge.”

When M-TEC students gain at least two or more years experience they are ready to take the lead on a project. Student-employee Ryan Pelking was assigned as the lead on the Sol Imports project, working under M-TEC engineer Yuping Tang.

Pelking and Tang designed and built a machine that could easily and effectively cut large pieces of cardboard to package Sol Imports’ furniture in the company’s warehouse. Pelking’s design created a fully adjustable cutting table that allows for both height and angle adjustment with a quick sliding cutting guide for ease of operator use.

Montoya is effusive in his praise for Pelking’s creation. “The machine is working beyond our expectations,” he said. “We’ve decreased our packing failure rate by 35 percent. And we’ve learned how to use the machine to mold cardboard into edge and corner guards, when we used to buy those preformed.”

Best of all, Montoya estimates that the company is now enjoying a savings of at least a 40 percent per box, which will positively impact Sol Imports’ Internet sales and customer satisfaction.

“SATOP is an amazing asset for the small business. Most people get preferential treatment based on volume and as a little guy, it’s hard to get to that stage. Now our pricing is equivalent to the big guys because of the savings on packaging,” Montoya said.''