Behind the Scenes at YETI’s Innovation Center – Mountain Life

Behind the Scenes at YETI’s Innovation Center - Mountain Life

YETI’s Innovation Center is shrouded in secrecy. We got in to witness the toughest testing program in the industry. Words :: Frédérique Sauvée // photos supplied by YETI. Last September, I realized a dream I’ve had ever since I started working in the outdoor industry: to get behind the scenes of the products I use on a daily basis and to understand how they can be so sturdy. To this end, I accepted an invitation from the YETI team to visit their Innovation Center in Austin, Texas. I had the opportunity to enter a room seldom seen by the public, which made me feel sorry for the poor coolers mistreated there. Even under duress, I couldn’t tell you exactly where YETI‘s Innovation Center is located. For one thing, it’s top secret. Secondly, I let myself be driven there without having the slightest idea of how to get around the capital of Texas. Once in the parking lot I notice cars covered in dried mud, equipped with high-tech roof tents and plastered with fishing, mountain biking and rock-climbing stickers, all of which suggest that there’s a fine community of outdoor enthusiasts working here, in a building that is quite ordinary from the outside. We’re greeted by Matthew Bryson, YETI’s friendly and youthful head of Innovation and Engineering. He shows us some of the brand’s flagship products (the Tundra and Hopper coolers and the Rambler insulated mug), available in a myriad of flashy colours, as well as several prototypes designed during the brand’s early days in the mid-2000s. I get a close-up look at some of them, sliced, disassembled and even pierced with arrows all the while surrounded by the sounds of repetitive clanging in the next room. A slight anxiety suddenly fills my chest. Related content from ML: When I enter the main hall of the warehouse, I don’t know which way to turn. There are mountains of coolers and cups, in plastic, metal and cardboard. There’s also a ruckus of 3D printers creating prototypes with their lasers. The loudest noise, however, comes from a series of robots putting unreleased products through their paces. One of the robots endlessly opens and closes the zippers on a Crossroads backpack. Its neighbor tests the strength of the handle on a battered Yonder bottle. A larger robot in the middle repeatedly drops a poor cooler directly onto the concrete floor. A little further on, a Hondo camping chair is crushed under the weight of a lead bag to test the strength of its fabric. It pulls, it pushes, it tortures from all sides. “In just four months, we can put a product through conditions similar to five years’ use in the real world.” It’s a ballet so hypnotizing you could watch it for hours while eating popcorn. “Each robot is named after a trainee who once had to perform these tests by the sweat of their brow,” laughs Matthew Bryson, who also went through the same process when he began his career with the company at the age of 26. Today, eight years later, he is head of the “torture department” and all of the products in the YETI catalog have passed his relentless validation test. “We carry out no less than 30 to 35 different tests on Roadies alone, for example.” He heads for a large pulley that pulls a wheeled cooler in a circular motion. The cooler’s route takes in a series of obstacles similar to a street curb, a wooden footbridge and a section of large rocks. “We’re testing them for over 200 miles [321 km] to test their ironclad durability.” Before exiting, my attention is diverted to a strange and monstrous dishwasher. The engineer tells me that this is a machine specially created by the YETI team to test the resistance of samples to extreme outdoor conditions. For example, they test the durability of a fabric or plastic against the dry heat of the Southwest or the humidity of the Pacific Northwest. “It’s actually an accelerator for material degradation,” explains Matthew, “so we can study the resistance of nuts, latches and fastening systems to corrosion from sun or salt water. In just four months, we can put a product through conditions similar to five years’ use in the real world.” I came away fascinated by this visit. I’ll never look at the products I hold in my hand in the same way again. From now on, I’ll imagine them passing through purgatory where the Creator himself, Matthew Bryson I mean, has validated their passage into their new life in the real world with his seal. _____________________________________________________________________ I took advantage of my visit to YETI to ask the team for their top tips for keeping the contents of my cooler as cool as possible for as long as possible:   1. Store your cooler in a cool place before you use it.  If your cooler isn’t cool before you use it, you’re going to waste precious time (and a lot of ice) trying to cool it down so that it keeps your food properly. To do this, store it in a cool place for a few hours before you use it, or store reusable ice packs in it. 2. Use twice as much ice as the contents of your cooler. It’s important to fill your cooler sufficiently to keep your food and drinks fresh for a long time. YETI recommends an ice-to-contents ratio of 2:1, meaning your cooler should contain ⅔ ice for ⅓ contents. Give preference to dry (and therefore very cold) ice when filling it. 3. Use block ice instead of cubes. The smaller the ice is (in cubes, for example), the faster it cools a container… but the faster it melts too! To avoid this, we recommend using ice in larger blocks, which stay cold and compact for longer. A mixture of the two is also possible to combine the best preservation characteristics of each. 4. Combat empty space. Empty space and drafts are the two worst enemies of cold preservation. Large areas of air inside your cooler accelerate the melting of ice as it warms up, cooling the air rather than the contents. In addition, every time you open the cooler, you mix the cold air inside with warm outside air, which then has to be cooled, accelerating ice melting. To combat this, fill the empty spaces with extra ice, towels or crumpled paper. 5. Don’t drain the water from your cooler. The melted ice in your cooler isn’t a problem in itself; on the contrary, it helps keep the rest of the ice and any food or drinks cool. So keep as much of it as possible until your next supply of ice. On the other hand, make sure your food is well insulated so that it doesn’t come into contact with water, which could affect its wholesomeness. You might also like: Check the ML Podcast!