Our resident design for manufacturing (DFM) expert Dennis Shaver from Product on Demand serves you “inventreneurs” his invaluable industry knowledge and insight to help you get from mind to market to profit faster. Born and raised in a dairy farm in Michigan, Dennis has the unique experience and skill set honed by years of working side by side with his brothers and parents for the farm’s upkeep– during those formative years, he learned how to be resourceful when it came to repairing and inventing things as he dealt with both livestock and machinery. This has become a solid foundation for Dennis as he took on more advanced jobs throughout his flourishing career in manufacturing and production. He is eager to share with you how to increase efficiency and reach your business bottom line with solid planning, as well as proper communication across all units involved in manufacturing your product.
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I have someone terrific to introduce you who is going to help you with figuring out how to get your products made because I know you’re dying to know that. I have Dennis Shaver from Product On Demand. What I think is special about what he does and the context that he has is that he does a lot of US stuff. I know you all are asking me, “Where can I make my things in the US? Where can I get manufacturing help and what’s designed for manufacturing. I want to know that.” This is your expert. This is the guy I brought in for you. Welcome, Dennis. We’re so glad to have you as a Product Launch expert.
What an honor. I’m so grateful to be here. I love what you do for helping people get their ideas from mine to market. I’m honored to be here to share this great information about products in general and how you go about doing it.
Tell us how you’ve got started in this product launching business.
I was born and raised in a big dairy farm in Michigan, a set of seven boys in my family, all born in nine years. My mom and dad loved each other for sure. What was great about that is on a dairy farm the implement dealers are not always open all the time. When a piece of equipment breaks down, you still have 110 cows that are very hungry, and they need to eat if you want milk. We had to find a way to go out in the garage. It was daddy and all of us boys and find some metal, find some plastic, find some wood, find a way to make something work to fix something. It could be a self-unloading wagon. It could have been a tractor. We had to invent something new because if a baby calf that was freezing outside, we had to have some type of a feeder that would warm up the feeder, whatever it was.
The thing is that we always had to be creative. The other thing I learned about product development in my career is back on the dairy farmers is it was always about the cycle of life. If you wanted an outcome, you had the plan to have the outcome. If you want to plant a field of corn, field of grain, a field of sorghum, whatever the crop was, it’s important to plan. Then plant the seed and then nurture it, have the right environment and not water your weeds, but pull the weeds and eventually you get to the harvest. Much like business, much like a new product. We’ve talked about this previously. There are about seven essential steps you would take to go through to make sure you’re following the steps and they’re not difficult, but having something that’s like a road map, a blueprint, something that’s methodical that you can understand and then apply the throughout the process.
That is the one of the reasons why I invited you in here because you and I have shared the same philosophy about planning that will not get a successful product launch if you don’t take the time to plan it. You can’t just wing it. No matter how many times people want to say, “I just invented this thing and it went great.” It doesn’t work. They’ll probably completely overstating everything because it doesn’t happen like that, even when you get that flash of genius. I’ve gotten it before, but it doesn’t work like that in terms of actually making it to market, becoming commercialized, and making money with it. Ideas can come to you but getting product out at the end doesn’t happen without the planning and you believe in that wholeheartedly. You also believe in developing good business models to go along with it and that’s another reason why you’ve been invited here.
My first job off the dairy farm was working for General Motors. I was an hourly employee and they said, “What can you do?” I said, “I know how to weld, sir.” They said, “You’ve got the job.” I was welding trucks and I love to weld trucks. I was making money because on a dairy farm my father would say, “You’ve got a roof over your head, you’re feeding, you’ve got clothes on your back. You’re doing pretty good.” I started making money as a welder and one of the things I learned working on the line as a welder is not all the parts would fit right. We would call engineering, the line shuts down. When a line shuts down in manufacturing, that’s a problem that costs thousands of dollars for the automotive maker that was working for. They would always say, “What can we do to fix this? What do we need to do?” We’d always say it’s engineering and engineering said, “No, it’s you guys in manufacturing.” There’s always this going on and there was never this collaboration that we could sit down and find out what this mechanical part was, whatever it was and find a way to build to make it so that’s designed for manufacturability versus using a hammer to try and hammer it in place and then shutting the line down.
I learned a lot and I learned that there needs to be some effective communications between different lines of responsibility especially when an inventor works with vendors. Those vendors need to know how design fits in with prototyping, how prototyping fits in with manufacturing, how prototyping fits in with packaging and throughout the entire course. There’s a methodical way of doing this and this is why I appreciate the upbringing, is that it gave me that opportunity to see it from a different perspective versus just jumping into design and saying, “I’m a designer.”
That is why over the course of my career that I started to go farther and farther away from being the designer and the process because there wasn’t enough collaboration. They were keeping you too siloed and it was restricting to me because I was like, “I can’t do what I need to do. It’s not going to get made. It’s not going to happen.” I started collaborating and reaching out, which eventually ends up with this group which is truly collaborative with all kinds of people from all walks of life, but we all have the same philosophy that you found here, that collaboration and getting the issues that we see happen a lot with vendors and you probably do as well.
I’d love to hear some stories about that is that when we have someone who’s new to it, whatever it might be, and they bring in all these disparate vendors and parts and people and things together, they don’t let them all communicate together. Then there are a lot of missteps and a lot of lengthening of your timeline of scope creep and all kinds of things that happen because you’re learning on the job as the inventor and the people that you bring in are just saying, “You need this, and you need that,” and they don’t know that you might have somebody else doing that. Then there’s division and cost and all that happens.
The thing is finding a way as an inventrepreneur, who want to be an entrepreneur, to help an inventrepreneur understand what’s the simplest steps, the least amount of steps that I need to do, including time, cost, and other things to get that idea from your mind to the market to hopefully profit. The more that you can do on the preparation side is key. You can learn so much about what the challenges are in the marketplace and once you find with the challenges, then communicate that to your designer so the designer can put the solutions to the challenges in your product. DFM, design for manufacturability, is key. When you get to the prototype stage, then you can start working on say, “I need to have a curve. I need to have an angle there. I need to have a radius there.” This is how you find out how to go back to the designer and say, “It’s not quite working here. Can you make an adjustment here? Just a slight modification here,” so you get as close as possible to what that product is supposed to do to solve the problems of your target market.
One of the things that we do in our business is stay through the first run of any product. We like to stay longer, but most of our clients won’t pay for that. We like to stay through the first run of the product because in that first run there’s a quality assurance issue. You start to see things that happen that won’t be long-term sustainable in manufacturing. They’re messing with it because the first run is a little slower, it always happens that way. We want to make sure that the design’s adjusted, but it doesn’t happen that manufacturing takes away the integrity of the design in the process of making it streamlined and smooth for them. They don’t cause other problems, so we keep our hand in that. We built it right into our fees because we were so concerned, and we saw that happening so often is that either manufacturing gets involved and it would change the design so that there was an impact problem in the marketplace or it would have a quality problem long-term and then it wasn’t sustainable from a manufacturing standpoint or it wasn’t cost effective and the cost would rise.
The engineer needs to be able to collaborate with the manufacturing, whatever that is. Is it injection molding? Is it the CNC machine? Is it some form of a poured metal fabrication process? Whoever you hire as a designer, they need to know design for manufacturability for that specific type of fabrication process. That’s how you reduce the time, reduce your costs, and increase your potential for profit in the marketplace.
I love the term mind to market. That’s what we’re here for. We’re not here to come up with great ideas and then leave them on the drawing board. We want to get them to market. Where have you seen some of the biggest missteps, the biggest hazards, the biggest landmines, whatever you want to call it here on this platform, but the biggest problems and going from that mind to market?
I love the topic here of the hazards because so many people don’t think about the hazards. They think about, “I’ve got a million-dollar idea.” I’ll give you a quick story here. There was one gentleman that came to us with a fantastic invention idea. He said, “This is a million-dollar idea.” He comes into my manufacturing plant. He says, “Dennis, my patent attorney said I must see you to help me get my manufacturing costs.” I said, “That’s fantastic.” I shook his hand. He sits down. Normally inventors usually sit in the front edge of my chairs in my office because they’re so excited about this new idea. It’s worn out. Even though they’re new chairs, it’s worn down the front of the chair, so I help them chill out a little bit. He brings in this big thick packet and it was a brand-new patent. It must’ve been an inch and a half thick of paper, plops it down, and he’s so excited. He’s grinning from ear to ear. I asked him to have a seat and he says, “I need to know the manufacturing costs. I’m ready to go into manufacturing.” What do I do as a manufacturer? I go right to the illustrations because you can read all the words and that takes forever to read all the words. I’m looking for the details. I look at the renderings, the conceptual drawings of what the patent attorney in the design put in the patent. Have you ever been in a situation where you knew you had some bad news?
All the time.
You want to get to the good news fast, that’s where I was at. I was like, “I know this guy. I think he works for the city. He just got divorced. He’s got two young kids.” He spent $10,000 on this patent. I said, “First of all, I love this idea. It’s fantastic. I can see a lot of applications for it.” “Dennis, can you manufacture this?” I said, “Let me share something with you first. First of all, do you know what a patent attorney is hired for?” He says, “To give me a patent.” I said, “What about a manufacturing firm?” He said, “Manufacturing costs. I said, “A patent attorney has hired to design to create words to protect your idea and then support those with conceptual drawings to protect your idea. Secondly, a manufacturer is hired to design products for manufacturability.”
He starts slouching back. He said, “Did I make a mistake?” I said, “Not a mistake. Third is that you could have protected your idea for as little as $135 with a provisional patent application directly through the patent office.” Then he started his eyes started rolling up and to be able to sit across the room from another man and feel that feeling, he was so excited, he spent all of his money. What he did is that he didn’t do a research upfront. He didn’t do his homework upfront. He went to his family and said, “I have a great idea,” and all of his family said, “Go for the best patent you can find.”
Several years later he comes up and gets a patent. Then he comes to me, so he wasted all that time. The bottom line is we brought them back and reeled him back in and it costs another $4,000, $4,500 to go back to the patent attorney, make sure it’s designed for manufacturability, which changed it a little bit and then they had to update their patents. It’s a $15,000 patent in several years.
I have a couple of patent attorneys who are experts here on our platform. I chose them specifically because they don’t advise clients that way, that they advise provisional first and that they understand manufacturing so well because they’ve been in it for a long time. They prefer that method because they prefer for us to get involved, the designers and the manufacturers to get involved because then they know they can actually make a better patent at the end and it’s more likely to be commercialized. That’s the reason I chose them here because it is that exact case. I’ve sat with that guy. I’ve met him. He sat in my office and so I know exactly what you mean by that and it is so hard. Most of the time I’ll also sit in front of someone and I have the little bit of a flip side of that, which is not only can’t we make this, but this not going to sell if we don’t change this. It’s not acceptable if you don’t change these things. We have to redesign completely. That is such a hard thing to hear.
He followed some simple steps and got the basic protection to give them at least twelve months to figure it out with the prototype. If it’s great, then invest the money and have the leverage to even utilize other people’s money to fund that more expensive patent. For now, you don’t know if your target market wants the product.
My flip on it is that you should save as much money as you can because it will cost you so much more than manufacturing to market the product later. You better check that out first. Make sure they have something they want to buy.
The whole thing here is my passion and why I like to work with inventrepreneur is I was raised like an underdog. We’re farmers but we ran a very successful farm. Secondly is that I found so many people come to my office and had fallen on their face, lost their house, lost a lot of money and time, and relationships with their mothers and their families because they took the wrong route. After a while, when you meet people like that hits you here, like, “How can I help? How can I serve?” All those years of working in the corporate world, I learned how they would work with products. I thought, “There’s got to be a better way,” just like you are with Hazzard Design. You are here to be a resource to help others rise above, help them become successful, have a methodical way of following something that’s simpler because you don’t have to be a rock star to know everything to get an idea from mine to market to profit. You have to know how to access the right resources, identifying, and align the right resources, and then follow that and create value with that product. You can get out to the market, get them to a point where they say, “I like that.”
You and I both have a seven-step blueprint. Ours is to prove it. Do that market proof first, to prove it, to plan it, to price it, to prototype it, to patent it, after prototyping. Which is a little late, but it doesn’t mean you don’t file that provisional early. Then you then you go to produce it and then promote it. Those are our generalized steps, but you have your own. You want to share those?
The one that I lean on hard is that first one, and that’s the preparation. I wrote a book called The Entrepreneurial Incubator and it’s the number one bestseller. I didn’t know if your bestseller, but when you’re passionate about something and people could keep saying, write a book. I did in three weeks became a bestseller. In chapter six, the title of the chapter’s called To Patent or Not to Patent. Many people think that they have to go out and get this expensive patent. You don’t have to patent an idea to market it and to profit from it. If you feel you need to, there are various ways that you can protect it. Most people that come to me, and you mentioned this, the patents after the prototype, and it’s true because you’ve got to try it out to make sure it works first, but how do you know if it’s going to work? It’s okay as well to go and apply for a patent and get a patent and sit on it. Some people just sit on their patents. They don’t do anything. It’s okay to consider and before the prototype or after it, it’s just knowing from people with experience how will you can reduce the challenges just by following a methodical process. The first one here of course is the preparation stage and there’s a chapter on my book called Competitive Intelligence and that’s preparation.
I like that term Competitive Intelligence because the consumer market is very competitive. At the end of the day, I hear from inventors all the time, you probably do too. “I have such a great idea and it’s never been done before.” I was like, “Then you shouldn’t do it.” They’re like, “What?” I’m like, “No, you’re not going to do it because if it’s never been done before, it’s going to be very expensive for you to do this.” There’s always competition for your dollar, even if it’s not exactly a one to one competition on your product.
Research is key. It’s what I call a sweat equity. You get online, and you do a Google search and find out what are the issues with current products that are similar to your product. Use them as your prototype, as your free prototype. It’s amazing how you can go look at other companies that are creating the product and maybe see what people are writing about it. There is an opportunity, there’s another solution, and you just take notes. What you do is as you make your product that much better. That’s what all products are about. Most of the products we work with people and with big businesses are looking at other designs and finding a way to make it better.
The other thing about that is I like the sweat equity. You’ve got to put some time into it and you should also ask others. We have Laura Hazzard, my sister-in-law. She is our resident market research expert. If you don’t know if you’re using the right terms, are the right questions or asking the right things, she’s the person to contact on that. That’s the key, is that we get in our own heads so often when we’re in a product category that we forget to figure out what consumers are asking for. You’ve got to go out there and make sure the terminology you’re researching isn’t just your own.
This happened recently with a client who was working on a tool belt and they were calling it that, but I typed something else completely different in Amazon and found a whole bunch of competitive products they’d never seen before. I said, “I just thought like a shopper, what would I buy for my husband, if I needed a tool belt without calling it that?” That’s what I typed in and came up with all of these things. You miss things if you also don’t reach out and ask at that point.
The other thing about this, my seven essential steps, it will be as part of my gift at the end of this interview. I’ll give it free for people that they’d like to see the seven essential steps for that. The magic of the seven essential steps is that to get to a point where you will find out either if your target market wants it or not. If they don’t want it, is there a way to tweak it? It’s cost effective and time effective and then go for it. If it’s something that’s just not working, go back to step one and prepare for the next idea and follow the seven steps, but that last step is to promote to profit. Promote to profit or prepare for the next great idea.
Many people get stuck in is give up and they never invent anything ever in your life again because they felt they got. People are worthy, deserving of success. You don’t have to be an expert yourself. It goes back to identifying and aligning the most effective resources that can help you get to a point where they say, “I want it or I like this. I like this, Tracy, but could you change this, this and this?” There’s free advice, go back and change it, come back and you love it now. That’s close to a buying decision all by using your prototype. Nothing more. It’s not about filling your garage full of product and then hope that somebody would buy it.
The other thing is that I also have a free video about this lady who won $250,000 on an elevator pitch, 59 seconds. What she did is she got to the point where she caused that person to have a transformation versus trying to create a transaction with that person. We need to have a story to share with somebody that’s so quick, so precise to the point that it’s at the state. Tell me more and when you have that prototype in hand or my son, I was a kindergarten and you would go to school and the teacher and say, “Dennis, it’s your turn. You have to walk up and do what’s called show and tell.” Show and tell, you brought something, and you had to talk about something you’re excited about. What did it do it help you be better at public speaking? Some of the kids in the audience loved it. Other kids are that type of thing. That’s the way it is in the marketplace. Don’t expect everybody to love it. In my seven essential steps, the pitch part of it is words like show and tell. You want to prepare it so that it will cause them to get you immediate feedback versus villain your garage full of product and hoping somebody else sell it or buy it.
Dennis, I want people to understand what Product On Demand does and all of the scope of things because you have tons of services. It’s broad. That way people can understand. Are you capable of talking about what they’re interested in? I want you to lay that out for us and let us know what you do.
When you look at the website, it says, “Invent something.” Underneath it, it says, “You think it, we create it, you own it.” That hits it here because of all the people I’ve met over the years who were stumbling, who are stuck in the muck and finding a way to get them past giving up to rising above and following a simple formula. When you say have a lot of things on there, it’s something I do all the time. Design, prototype, and then once a product or prototype is figured out, then manufacturer and then order fulfillment. It’s turnkey product development. The reason we do all of that in one is because we’re responsible.
When we design your product or response, we’ll make that prototype right or responsible to make sure that that design is done right for manufacturing. If you want the manufacturing done here in the States, we have at our facility, we have other support vendors who do pad printing, packaging, things like that to help us with our manufacturing. Also overseas as well but we oversee the design. We also oversee the first articles to make sure the parts are right before you go into production. Then their standard operating procedures and quality control program put into place as well. That’s what we do. Design prototype, manufacturing, and fulfillment. You’ve got your design, that’s great. You can bring it to us. We’ll still look at it and see if it is designed for manufacturability. If it’s not, we want to make you the hero and make some suggestions.
You have a lot of engineering capability as well within.
We’ve done engineering back when they had two designs and this was in the 1900s. I’ve used the AutoCAD back in the day and he used to put on paper and have the 2D design, but now it’s 3D design. What we do is rather than you spending the money to go into manufacturing and even prototyping is that you can look at a design and design for manufacturability. You can test it, you can say, “This is a plastic I need” We can introduce a certain type of plastic tested finite element analysis, FEA in various types of testing for molding to see how it might act in those further processes in the design process. That’s brilliant.
There are lots of FEA analysis type companies that you can send your rendering you’re drawing into and they’ll give you information back. I want to say that I have never found that to be successful. When you do a send out, when you find someone who’s going to make it or someone who’s design-oriented and engineering-oriented and understands that there are a lot of results that come back from that, that say you shouldn’t do. You should overbuild this and make this and someone who knows how to make things, understands where that limits are and say, “We do need to be some up. This is an indicator, but it’s not telling us to like overbuild this thing and add this much plastic and this much part.” Utilize someone who actually knows what they’re. Who’s going to make it to give you a critical analysis of the results of any FEA.
Many inventrepreneur especially aspiring first time entrepreneur and venture partners are. I’m not sure of the questions to ask. I’d like to place on your site as well as that is if there’s a chapter called Outsourcing 101 and many of the questions that you would want to ask a vendor to qualify that vendor. Some people say, “Dennis, I don’t know anything about this. I’ll look dumb in front of people.” It’s like, “No we’re going to help you bone up on what needs to be asked here because you’re the boss. This is your idea. They are the ones that need to convince you that are the right ones you need to go to to get the service done. I’d also like to place those questions.
That would be an excellent Office Hours topic as well. Designed for manufacturing. We have all kinds of stuff you could talk about, but that’s one I think we should add as well. You’re right. It’s such a critical point if you get bad results because you don’t ask the right questions, you don’t even know that you didn’t ask the right questions unless you consult someone.
The whole thing that excites me about these seven essential steps in getting a product to market is when I first found out about 3D printing. The first 3D printing machine came out in 1987 at General Motors, I believe it was. I bought a machine in 1993, an SLA, 190 and then at 350. It was over $300,000 back then. I saw the magic of that instead of the old way of CNC machining, a prototype. I’ll call it, grow it. That was magic to be able to create a design, download it within a couple of hours, fifteen hours, you’ve got parts. and you can get them in your hands versus CNC machine. It takes forever to hog it out the materials.
That blew my mind and I thought there are so many applications for 3D printing. We even have a 3Dprinter that can grow and combine any parts. You have that in house and we do as well, but we only use FFF here. We outsource our SLA as well but there’s SLA, there’s FDM, there are a number of them. We have ceramics, we do plastic. I believe in that technology and there’s always 3D printing technology will always be there. There will always be a need for in the future because people always want to make it better.
We have our website 3DStartPoint.com, which is a full resource for anyone who wants to get in the weeds. You don’t have to get in the weeds. Dennis and I and a bunch of other of our team members, Tom Hazzard can help you out with anything you want to know about 3D printing so you don’t have to do that. I think there are 550 articles or more on 3D Start Point that are basic, some of them. They can be 101, so if you didn’t know what we said when we said FDM and SLA, you can go learn what that is.
There was one called LOM, laminated object manufacturing and that was a paper-layered process. I’ve had many people come to my office, you all excited about an idea and all it was as a Styrofoam cut with some and then they had some parts stuck on it and glued on and like they went to their kids’ art box. It gave me an idea. You don’t have to go and spend all this money to go to some 3D printing company to start with, the basic mockup. A mock up is very important. You can buy several things at a hardware store to put something together to get the point across of what you’re looking for. The more research you can do in preparation before you see your designer, that’s very important. You want to do your homework, we talked about earlier, get prepared and then go to see them and know the right questions to ask as well so that they can let you know how they can help you, help yourself.
I do want to remind our members here that there is an episode that was already recorded about what the differences in terminology between a working prototype and I’m going to call it a mock up or a, a prototype that is an appearance model prototype. All those defined Tom Hazzard did a great job of defining those so that you just have some working vocabulary and language so that you’re sure, because when we say prototype that means a whole lot of things. You want to know what stage of prototype and what you’re talking about that mock up stage to communicate your idea is important early stage.
We talk about DFM, design for manufacturability. Sometimes you’ll come across an engineering firm and they do just industrial design the conceptual look of what be like a cool corvette or a cool toothbrush or a cool dog toy. They come up with cool designs, but many times you have to then create a mechanical design of that so that you can then download that information into a machine, so it can actually start fabricating that part, with 3D printing, CNC machining. Whoever you work with that does an industrial design, they need to be aware of whatever they’re creating there’s cool rendering. It needs to be close to being manufacturable, even though it’s not in this conceptual rendering. The closer you can get, the better because I usually will have people come with these beautiful drawings and they’re just beautiful drawings, but there’s no way you could manufacture it.
That’s why we don’t call ourselves an industrial design firm because we don’t want to fall into that. We only do styling thing because it just doesn’t work. That’s such a small piece of what we do and I know that that’s the same case for you as well, which is why you’re here to help out our members. Dennis, before we go and wrap up, is there anything else you want our members to know about what you’re going to talk about in the future, what kinds of questions they can ask you? I’m going to say right now, go to his profile and connect directly. If you are excited and ready to just talk to him now.
I would say throw me the questions you deserve it. Remember, a competitive intelligence is important. Find out the answers, ask the questions, you’ll learn a lot. The thing is, is that I will do whatever I can to help you with that seven essential steps. It’s so important to follow that it will keep you on track, keep you on a path of keep you on going on the true north of getting your idea for your mind to the market to profit. If that idea isn’t something that’s working, then at least you can go back and find out why it’s not working if it’s not worth it, get onto the next idea. I would say ask the questions. This is a great way to collaborate with Hazzard design and the rest of the team. Ask me the questions and I’ll let you know however I can support you. I’m here for you.
Thank you so much, Dennis. Product Launchers, reach out to Dennis. Ask him questions. His upcoming topics will be posted in the Office Hour’s area and you can check out his website, his links and all the things that he shared in the resource library. That’s all in every single experts’ profile, all of the things that they shared, and all the Office Hours they’ve done so you can go to one place and find out and you can binge on Dennis. Thanks so much, Product Launchers. Until next time.
Tune in to Dennis Shaver next Office Hours. Connect with and find out more about Dennis Shaver in our Experts Directory.