Butter Bay – Chapter III: Product Design & Development

In Chapters One and Two of the Butter Bay story, we explored the launch of the Butter Bay and how inventor, Jerry Scarrow, came up with his idea.  In this week’s episode, we explore how Jerry took his idea for a better butter storage & delivery system through product design & development on his own and then with the TechHelp New Product Development (NPD) at Boise State.

The NPD Lab is the home of TechHelp’s fee-for-service team that has provided design, engineering and prototyping services since 1999. The Lab works directly with startups, businesses and manufacturers to develop new manufactured products. Projects in the NPD Lab often include concept development, product design and prototyping, design iteration, engineering analysis, and preparation for manufacturing.

Can I create this product? Should I create this product? Do I have the time, money, experience, energy and resources to bring this product to market? These are questions that dog every inventor who wonders about turning an idea into a marketable product. Jerry struggled with these questions as he brought his idea for the Butter Bay to the NPD Team at Boise State.

The TechHelp NPD Team works with inventors and addresses these questions every day.  “When a client first makes contact with us, we schedule a preliminary lead meeting where we discuss the basics,” said NPD Lab Manager, Blake Pachner.  Some clients choose to complete an online “Initial Questions Form”  that gathers basic

Blake Pachner Designing

NPD Lab Manager, Blake Pachner, designs a product using SolidWorks.

information  the Team uses to assess an idea. Questions include:

  • Overview of the idea – What is it? What does it do? What problem does it address or need does it fill?
  • Client’s understanding of the market and competitors – Does the product already exist? What is the patent situation? What is the competitive situation? How are people already meeting the need this product would fill? Is this product unique enough to create a shift in behavior?
  • Budget – What is the approximate amount it would take to get the idea to market?
  • Short term and long term goals – Does the client want to manufacture & sell the product, license it or sell the idea?
  • Business/market strategy – How does the client plan to get the product to market?

How a potential client addresses these questions helps the NPD Team determine whether the project is a good fit for the lab. If the project is suitable, and the customer has sufficient development strategy and budget, NPD will work with the client to produce a scope of work and a formal proposal.

If the project is not a good fit for the lab, NPD follows its “no wrong door” mindset and directs the client to appropriate resources (TechHelp Partners & Third Party Resources) and learning material.

Early Butter Bay prototype painted by Jerry's daughters.

Early Butter Bay prototype painted by Jerry’s daughters.

Jerry had studied the market and did not find anything that adequately did the job or that was patented. He and his daughters tested his idea by drawing up some ideas and building prototypes by hand. He also worked with friend, Dean Estes, a talented bronze artist who had done a bust of Lincoln. Dean carved a Butter Bay prototype out of clay that Jerry later took to the NPD lab as an example of what he wanted to do.

Jerry met with then NPD Lab Manager, Calvin Allan (now with Acutus Medical in Boise), to assess his idea. The two determined that Jerry’s

Former NPD Lab Manager, Calvin Allan (left), working with NPD Specialist & Artist, Blaise Lawless.

Former NPD Lab Manager, Calvin Allan (left), working with NPD Specialist & Artist, Blaise Lawless.

product could fill a niche in the market and decided to move forward. Jerry and Calvin decided early on that they wanted to create a quality product that could be made in America. They kept that goal in mind throughout the development process.

Calvin and the NPD Team translated Jerry’s ideas into CAD drawings and used Jerry’s input to make revisions  before “printing” 3D parts on the lab’s SLA 3D printer. Jerry thought the initial prototypes looked too blocky, so he and the NPD Team redesigned and went through several iterations before settling on a final design that could be taken to a manufacturer.

In our next chapter, we’ll look at how Jerry took the final Butter Bay design and began his search for a U.S. manufacturer.

Tips for Developing an Idea from Current NPD Lab Manager, Blake Pachner:

  • Test your invention or product in the fastest, most efficient way possible.
  • Address high risk “leap of faith” assumptions using simple prototypes.
  • Don’t spend too much time on aspects of a design that are already on the market. They have already been proven to work, so focus on the “new” aspects of a design that have not been done before.

Intellectual Property Issues

Because the NPD Team works with so many inventors, IP protection is a part of day to day business.  TechHelp normally executes a non-disclosure agreement with clients early in the process and does not take ownership of any IP.  NPD engineers may be named on patents for  designs they created, but the lab and Boise State do not own any of the designs. NPD Team members also know Idaho’s top IP attorneys and make referrals as needed. (More on Butter Bay IP issues in a future Chapter)