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Discover: For product designer Steve Podrucky, it's all about getting your hands dirty

The mind behind Podco Designs says a passion for problem-solving can take you a long way

Steve Podrucky has come full circle.

“Iroquois Falls was home, and it is again,” he said. “Being in Sudbury these past few years has given me the chance to advance my skills and now launch out on my own.”

Podrucky's company — Podco Designs — prototypes and manufactures tangible products on a small to medium scale. Most often they include electrical components that require some problem-solving.

“I graduated from high school in 2003,” he said. “Next was Thunder Bay for a technologist diploma. I couldn't stop there, so I went to electrical engineering undergrad at Lakehead and grad school at U of T.

“Though I had many job offers, I wanted to be closer to home, and working in Sudbury solved that.”

Most recently, his wife accepted a job teaching in a primary school in Iroquois Falls and they sold their home in Garson and moved to Podrucky's home town.

He said he wants to develop something in Iroquois Falls similar to what local businessman Tom Fortin has done with his Discovery Lab out at NORCAT, Greater Sudbury's innovation centre on Maley Drive.

“The plan is to be back in Sudbury for a week or so every month,” Podrucky said.

“Here at the Fortin Discovery Lab at NORCAT I have access to all the tools and platforms to actually test and manufacture product designs I can work on remotely. 

“The 3D printer is one tool, but also the valuable collaboration with fellow engineers like Marc Turgeon. We work well together, having a shared vision.”

The world of work has changed and clients can be half the globe away, and PODCO is no exception.

“It’s a brave new world and so I am available always,” said Podrucky. “Contact lists and projects can from anywhere.”

PODCO (derived from PODrucky and COmpany) has been in business for four years.

“I wasn't overly creative with naming the company, but no matter, it is the results achieved that count,” Podrucky laughs. “Understanding the mechanics of a thing or process is important, but also you have to consider the user experience.”

Podrucky was recently tasked with bettering a hand-held medical device that needed better ergonomics. 

“I was confronted with how [hands] went naturally to a position somewhat at odds with the original design,” he said.

Good at mathematics, which is often theoretical, Podrucky says it is all about real world applications.

“Sensor interface and communication is my specialty,” he said. “Things can start on a napkin as a sketch, but soon you are confronted with battery power, size of the object, robustness, and of course the cost of production. You have to consider all elements and succeed or fail fast.

“The Fortin lab brings people together – a great format – from diverse backgrounds all efficiently modeled after Tom Fortin’s work at OnTrak.”

Sudbury is an innovation hub for research and development, and when Podrucky arrived, he went to local company Jannatec to work on underground communication, cap lamp systems, and the beginnings of proximity and avoidance systems.

A recent collaboration with NORCAT Studio is the augmented reality FiAR fire extinguisher simulation.

“It is a portable system where no material is expended but it feels and behaves as it would in the real world,” he said.

“The custom springs were done here, as were the 3D-printed housings. We used every element of the lab, including electrical certification testing. We hand built circuit boards to fit.

“It pushes you to do things right. In 2019, we worked on everything from a product called ‘Plant Choir’ to mining products where we produced 700 units in-house.”

Podrucky does have some advice to those graduating from high school this spring. 

“Yes, I have words to young readers — consider the skilled trades,” he said. “Go and get your hands dirty. Try many things. Find your passion and pursue it. Find a way to bring your talent home to Northern Ontario.”

Hugh Kruzel is a freelance writer in Greater Sudbury.


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