The DUI Factory

I arrived in San Diego, late as usual (I have good luck with planes) and Joe Wysocki picked me up. We made the drive over to Faith’s house which is about half an hour from the airport. Once at Faith’s we ate dinner and hung out with her other guests who included Susan, the president of DUI, two guys named Dave, and her husband Jeff. Dinner was great. Afterwards, we watched footage from Faith and Jeff’s trip to the Galapagos aboard the Agressor. It looked truly fantastic. The marine life was many, varied and not shy at all. At this point it was past nine o’clock (past midnight in my time zone) and time to retire. I awoke at 7 the next morning to get over to DUI for a factory tour. The factory was amazing, not at all what I pictured. The suit patterns are now cut by a huge impressive machine, but everything else is made by hand. All the stitching and sealing and assembly and testing of the suit is done by hand. I was surprised by how happy and friendly everyone at the factory is. Faith showed me where all the fabric suits are made and assembled, and in a different building where the crushed neoprene suits are made. Interestingly, the crushed neoprene suits are all assembled while still full sized neoprene, then they are placed in “The Crusher.” The crusher is a pair of submarine torpedoe tubes which compress the neoprene with water. As they increase the pressure in the tube all the bubbles in the neoprene are removed. The material emerges looking and feeling completely different. I also got to see hot water suits, used by commercial divers. The suits have their own internal plumbing and are connected to a warm water source at the surface. From their, the warm water is spread throughout the body, keeping the diver warm in frigid conditions. After my tour of the factory I was handed off to Bob who is in charge of the factory’s engineering, and spends much of his time inventing new processees to improve quality or efficiency. He talked to me about some of the problems facing DUI, primarily that most other drysuits are made entirely or partially over seas. Chinese factories are clean and have a lot of room, they are incredible efficient and technologically advanced and they’re labor costs much, much less. For this reason DUI must be innovative to stay ahead of the competition. Bob showed me the new sealant that he is experimenting with. The factory would like to reduce Volatile Carbon Emission (from their current glue) and increase efficiency with something that dries faster. The glue they use now takes thirty minutes to dry and requires three coats to properly seal. This mean a suit will take up table space for an hour and a half, but is only being worked on for about five minutes of this time. Next Bob showed me his Aerogel. A new kind of insulation made of glass nanoparticles. It must be expertly sealed because it is not healthy to breathe in and it is also rigid. On the other hand it is perhaps a fifth of the size of “thinsulate” the current insulation, and at least twice as warm. After meeting with Bob, I went to help Dave who was working on inventory in the Demo Days truck. The truck travels across the country, full of drysuits and other gear for people to try out at the Dog Rally and Demo Days. I helped out by relabeling and reattaching the weight pockets on the DUI Weight and Trims and Weight 2s. After about an hour of that it was time to eat lunch with Faith and Susan. Susan, the president and CEO is largely in charge of marketing for the company. She also spoke to me about staying ahead of the overseas competition. The DUI demos are a huge marketing tool. Since a drysuit is such a huge purchase, just seeing an add for it in a SCUBA magazine probably won’t compell someone to buy it. The demos give potential customers an opportunity to fall in love with the drysuit, making them more likely to buy one. After discussing marketing strategy with Susan it was time to head over to the College of Oceaneering.