What is a Robust Product?

Todays client generally wants a product that is economical to manufacture, elegant, and robust. Robust products have an advantage in the market place. This is especially true in this age of the easy accessibility to user reviews over the Internet.

According to the Wikipedia,

Robustness is the quality of being able to withstand stresses, pressures, or changes in procedure or circumstance. A system, organism or design may be said to be “robust” if it is capable of coping well with variations (sometimes unpredictable variations) in its operating environment with minimal damage, alteration or loss of functionality.

Why is robustness important? Robust products perform as expected in a wide variety of situations, environments and contexts. Robust products often outperform expectations and delight users. Robust products have significantly reduced warranty returns. These products leave a positive impression on the user. Customers often respond by becoming local, or internet, evangelists for the products. These customers may also become life long users and purchasers of the product, or service.

Developing criteria to gauge the robustness of a product can difficult. Some industries and user contexts (such as military) already have specifications in place to gauge the robustness of a product. Unfortunately, many industries do not think in terms of robust products. Robustness can be a broad and vague requirement, especially if the approach to defining qualitative (and subjective) terms is not organized and methodical.

A good way to understand robustness, is to look at areas that are impacted by the robustness of a product. One area that robustness impacts is manufacturing. A robust product tends to be easier to manufacture because it is less sensitive to tolerances and other small variations in the process. When a product is less sensitive to changes in the manufacturing process, it is usually less expensive to manufacture. Robustness at the manufacturing level is often the result of well planned and executed design that avoided ?mission creep?.

Robustness at the user level is manifested in many ways. One example is having the product perform as expected on a continuing basis. An example of a robust design is the ignition switch in your car and the key to turn the switch. This switch is often used twice a day for ten or more years. The key that you started your car with today is probably in your pocket, or purse, as you are reading this article. That key is constantly (while carried in a pocket or purse) in contact with other metal objects such as change and other keys. Many times, at the end of the day, keys are tossed into a bowl or other container for overnight storage. Car keys see constant wear and abuse from the user and the environment. However, when you walk out to your car you, expect the key to turn the ignition and the car to start. The devices are used in a wide variety of environments from cold weather in the winter to hot weather in the summer. The user may be wearing thick winter gloves. Keys also must be adaptable for use in a wide variety of environments from a mans trouser pocket to a womans purse. They must be small enough to fit in a purse or pocket. The car key and ignition switch are examples of two very robust devices that function very reliably for an extended period in wide variety or circumstances and environments.

Robustness must be designed into the product from the beginning. One way to develop robust products is to determine (in the beginning of the project) exactly what product it is that you really wanted to design. Products must be well defined and targeted. Mission creep (the addition of unnecessary or previously unanticipated features) is the enemy of robust products. Mission creep is where the product design mission is expanded from the initial, targeted product. Mission creep diverts resources and time away from the appropriate product in an effort to extend the product into areas, or features, that arent critical for the success of the product. This lack of focus can result in extra product features at a cost to the robustness of the product.

Robustness also comes from a commitment to integrity in all stages of the design and manufacturing process. Customers expect robust products. Companies delivering robust products exceed the expectations of the customer. They are also creating an environment that encourages repeat purchases from satisfied clients and that is good for the bottom line.

Montie Roland is President of the Carolinas Chapter of the Product Development Management Association. Roland is also President of Montie Design, a product development and prototyping firm in Morrisville, NC and the RTP Product Development Guild. You can reach Montie by email at: montie@montie.com

Mums the Word: Non-Disclosure Agreements Are Crucial to Protecting Ideas

If you are an entrepreneur and you have the eureka moment when you experience the flash of brilliance that leads to your new product idea, what do you do?

Well, most people want to ask someone elses opinion about how whether, or not, the product will succeed in the marketplace. Asking advice from someone you trust is normally a good idea. When it comes to protecting your ability to patent your new product, it is still a good idea to get advice, but you need to use a simple tool called a non-disclosure agreement before you start the conversation.

Patents are only issued for novel ideas that have been reduced to practice and have not been disclosed to the public. Public disclosure can prevent a patent from being issued. One example of public disclosure is where a product is shown at a trade show. Showing a product at a trade show is considered to be an ?offer for sale? and thus public disclosure. A presentation of the product concepts, or underlying technologies, at a seminar could be considered public disclosure. A conversation about the product could also be considered public disclosure, depending on the situation.

Conversations with employees are not generally considered public disclosure.

One way to avoid this pitfall is to require a non-disclosure agreement before discussing your product. Non-disclosure agreements are commonly called NDAs. Non-disclosure agreements normally are one to five pages long. Their primary purpose is to agree, in writing, that the first party is going to disclose confidential information to another party, in exchange the other party agrees to not disclose the first partys confidential information. This agreement (when properly worded and executed) helps prevent the loss of patentability through public disclosure.

A sample NDA can be downloaded at www.montie.com/forms/nda.rtf

Montie Roland is President-Emeritus of the Carolinas Chapter of the Product Development Management Association. Roland is also President of Montie Design, a product development and prototyping firm in Morrisville, NC and the RTP Product Development Guild. You can reach Montie by email at: montie@montie.com

Product Development: Do Try This At Home

By Montie Roland, RTP Product Development Guild

Morrisville — Our firm receives inquiries from inventors and early stage entrepreneurs fairly frequently. We tend to break down incoming inquiries into four groups. The first group is inventors. Inventors are everyday people with an idea, but no organization to backup the idea. Entrepreneurs are individuals, or a group of individuals, with an idea for a product and a plan for an organization to develop, produce, and distribute that product. Start-ups are groups that are actively working on a daily basis developing the product and the organization necessary to make that product a success. Corporate clients are those in the process of adding another product to their suite of products.

Most design firms are not very interested in spending a lot of time talking with inventors that show up at the door. Many of these folks have great product ideas, however, most inventors are lacking two necessary elements for product success. The first is financial support and the second is the lack of ambition and vision. Product development is expensive. Once the product is developed, it is even more expensive to produce, stock, distribute, market and sell the product. Most inventors do not have access to this level of funding and support.

My impression, after talking with numerous inventors, is that most inventors simply give up, lacking the drive and ambition to make their product concept into a reality. They struggle with making the transition from being an inventor with an idea to an entrepreneur with a plan and a vision.

One possibility for failure is that the inventor has a pre-conception that all they need is an idea and a contact with a major corporation. That corporation will see that product concept and write them a huge check for the inventors idea. This myth is promoted by the ?invention submission? companies. The reality is that most corporations will not even talk to inventors about product concepts that have not been patented.

Another possibility is that many inventors dont know what steps they need to take to get a product to market, so are overwhelmed and give up. There is very little in the way of support structure for inventors and entrepreneurs. High-flying startups get lots of attention and funding, but that doesnt help the inventors, entrepreneurs and early stage startups.

Many design firms are hesitant to even provide proposals to inventors and entrepreneurs because so few of those proposals turn into billable hours. Startups are another example of organizations that often arent in a position to purchase professional services. Most early-stage startups dont have any product sales, and are not in a position to attract venture capital, so they dont have the funds to pay a consultant, or design firm, for needed services. Few consultants, and design firms, are in a financial position to accept the risk of receiving equity (or stock options) from a start up in lieu of fees.

The RTP Product Development Guild is designed to help drive new products to market. This is accomplished by creating teams of consultants to help in the early stages of the product design. These six member teams are made of local professionals in the product design community from various disciplines. Depending on the product, or service, these teams may include disciplines such as engineering, industrial design, software, business, legal, sales and marketing. This structure allows team members to share the risk of working on these projects while giving the product champion (inventor or entrepreneur) the needed product development support.

Guild projects last six months and follow a structured format. The product champion (individual inventor or entrepreneur) meets with Guild team members every two weeks to define, and refine, the product concept into a viable product. Participation in this structured method helps the product champion overcome many of the pitfalls that haunt entrepreneurs trying to develop a product without professional support.

Information about the Guild is available at: http://www.rtpproductguild.com.

Montie Roland is president of the Carolinas Chapter of the Product Development Management Association. Roland is also president of Montie Design, a product development and prototyping firm in Morrisville.

The RTP Product Development Guilds purpose is to provide consultancy services to startups and small companies across a wide variety of specialties. Guidance will focus on commercializing product ideas and technology.

Product Design Speak 101: Linear versus Iterative Design


Design, by its very nature, is an iterative process. The product design process begins with creating preconceptions. Those preconceptions are used to create a prototype. The prototype is then tested and the test results are evaluated. The evaluations are used to form new preconceptions and the process begins again. These iterative cycles can focus on the entire design, or they can focus on a small area (or technology) of the product. This process relies on prototyping and testing. Prototypes come in many forms. The word ?prototype? is commonly refers to a working model of a product, or product concept. A written, or verbal, description of the product could also be a prototype. A sketch could also serve as prototype. The exact nature of the prototype isnt as important as the effect of the prototype, which is to validate the success, or failure, of the product. As the design progress, the cycles of iteration become more focused, as the developers refine the product.

Different industries have differing levels of toleration number of iterations in a design sequence. Machine design is a good example of an industry with a low tolerance for iteration in the design process. Engineers that design machinery attempt to practice design in a very linear fashion. The goal in the machine design industry is to reach a finished, and proven, design in the least amount of time with the least number of changes or redesign cycles. This approach attempts to follow the straightest possible path to a completed design. This ?straight arrow? approach leads us to classify this industrys design methodology as a linear one. Even with this approach, iterations are necessary. Design iterations inevitably occur during the process of design a new piece of equipment. The can be caused by a machine, or system within a machine, that doesnt perform as expected. When this happens, that part, or sub-system, is redesigned and redeployed. Because of these issues the machine design industry does not have a completely linear process.

The linear nature of machine design is driven by two factors. The first factor is the prevalence of a function requirement and the minimization of aesthetic requirements. In my opinion, the biggest cause of the use of a linear design process in the machine design industry is the percentage of engineering and design costs as compared to the total cost of producing and marketing the machinery. Many machines are custom, or semi-custom, to the specific application (often manufacturing). This results in a small number of units to amortize the engineering costs against. This is a situation where the cost of design and engineering is a significant percentage of the total cost to produce the each machine. As a result, savings in the cost of design have a significant impact on the profitability of that design. This is the exact opposite of consumer products that have a low cost of design, relative to the total cost of producing the product.

Consumer products are examples of products with a very iterative design process. These products are typically produced in high volumes. This allows the cost of design and engineering to be amortized over a large volume of product sales. In higher volume products, there is more incentive to spend more time on the industrial design and front-end design (fuzzy front end) stages of the design process.

Any product, or service, will be judged by the market place based on the experience that the product provides. Machinery is evaluated on institutional-experience criteria including performance, ease-of-use, speed of installation, return on investment (ROI) and uptime. Consumer products are evaluated on end-user experience criteria that include ease-of-use, aesthetics, coolness, usefulness, perception that the product creates and the experience that the user has when interacting with the product. The latter criteria can be very subjective and difficult to capture in any sort of written document.

Products with great user experiences often succeed in the marketplace, where products with poor user experiences fail to generate sales. This does not mean that user experience is the only indicator of potential success. A product may have a compelling value to the customer that overcomes a poor user experience. Typically these products are the first in their class and provide some functionality that is new to the industry. This is a case where the value to the customer is high and the customer will accept a poor user experience in exchange for that functionality. As a segment of an industry matures, the user experience becomes a more important indicator of how well the product will sell in the marketplace.

The current game console war is a good example of this contrast between functionality and usability. The PlayStation 3? is a game console that has an average user experience, but provides state-of-the-art computer graphics. The Wii? is a game console that provides average computer graphics, but has a wonderful user experience. The Wii? has outsold the PlayStation 3? by about twenty percent.

Product iteration allows the design team to explore a variety of concepts. The evaluation of these concepts helps to decide which concepts to integrate into the product and which concepts to drop from the product. Many times the issue isnt whether a concept is good, or bad, but rather ?is it appropriate This is especially true when the design team is evaluating, and improving, the user experience of the proposed product.

Product developers, designers and engineers use the available resources (which are always finite) to work towards achieving the best product possible. The nature of the product and the expectations of the industry and customer ultimately drive the exact nature of the design process. Design is iterative. Product designers rely on experience and a refined process of iterating through the design cycles to create the next product. Often a designer achieves success not by any one single action, but by the consistent application of an educated, and refined, design process.

Montie Roland is President of the Carolinas Chapter of the Product Development Management Association. Roland is also President of Montie Design, a product development and prototyping firm in Morrisville, NC and the RTP Product Development Guild. You can reach Montie by email at: montie@montie.com

Product Design Speak 101: What is an Interactionary?

by Montie Roland, Montie Design

Morrisville – Last week, I had the honor of being selected as a judge for an Interactionary Design Competition held by the Triangle chapter of the Usability Professionals Association (www.triupa.org). According to Scott Berkun (www.scottberkun.com), an interactionary is

an experiment in design education. The idea is to explode the process of design by forcing insane time constraints, and asking teams of designers to work together in front of a live audience. From what weve seen, it forces the discussion of design process, teamwork, and organization, and asks important questions about how designers do what they do.



The event was a lot of fun and helped the participants (and maybe even the audience) sharpen their design skills. The event began with a keynote presentation from Anthony D. Hall. Hall is responsible for making sure that the IBM.com website is easily usable by a worldwide audience. He spoke from the perspective of a usability professional who has a staff of researchers and developers whose only job is to make a website (with millions of pages) easier to use.

The Interactionary was driven by three teams and a panel of judges. The teams had ten minutes to design an interface to a voting booth. There was a twist however. The interface had to allow the user to find out more information about each candidate before voting. The interface also had to allow the voter to change his vote if the candidate that he voted for was not currently in the lead. The event started with first team being introduced to the design requirements. They were then give ten minutes to find a solution. During those ten minutes they were encouraged to do user research by polling the audience. They then had two minutes to present their solution and answer questions from the judges. We (the judges) rated the team on teamwork, approach / process, and the validity of their design. This continued until all of the teams had an opportunity to create a new interface based on the criteria.

This event didn’t teach the team members, or the audience, how to design. Instead it helped them sharpen their design skills. By creating an absurdly constrained situation, the format of the event forced the team members to act in a bold way, while having fun. Design is about pushing the boundaries and talking bold risks. Events like this make design fun. They make it easier for all to stay passionate about design. That passion gets translated into better products and services. When that happens, everyone wins.

The pictures from the event are at:


Montie Roland is President of the Carolinas Chapter of the Product Development Management Association. Roland is also President of Montie Design, a product development and prototyping firm in Morrisville, NC and the RTP Product Development Guild. You can reach Montie by email at: montie@montie.com

Design Speak 101: Defining a Product Champion

The product development world, just like other industries, has its own language. One example of this ?product speak? is the term product champion. Many products (and most of the very successful products) are driven by the vision of one person, or a small group of people. We call these people ?product champions?.
Product champions drive new products to market through experience, use of available resources, drive, determination and vision. They have a vision for a product. They work with others around them to push that product out to the market. This new product can be an extension of existing products in a existing company. The vision may be bolder and push an existing company in a direction.

A good example of a new direction for an existing company is the Apple iPod. Apple is a computer company that struck out into the personal entertainment industry. The biggest leap is when a product champion has to build a new company around a new-to-world product. When that vision incorporates technology and design practices from two or more industries (what we call cross-pollination) the opportunity exists for a truly disruptive product. Disruptive products change the marketplace and can propel a manufacturer to a position of market leader.

Product developers categorize new products into four areas. The first category of product development deals with incremental advances. An example, is a company that makes 42-inch plasma televisions decides to create a 44-inch model. Generally, these products make incremental, or evolutionary, leaps forward in technology or design.

The next area is a class of products that are based on existing products, but make revolutionary leaps in the state of the technology or the design approach. These products can dramatically affect an entire industry and drive market share to new heights, or help a company establish a presence in a market space that they werent previously able to penetrate.

Me-too products are designed compete with existing products. These products may be new to company that manufactures them, but they are not new to the market. Me too products generally are designed as direct competitors. They are generally not very innovative in their design.

New-to-world products are exactly what the name implies. These products are often technologically innovative and higher risk. They do not exist in the current marketplace, or they use a technology or a design approach that is not currently available.

The Apple iPod was not a new-to-world product. An existing market space for MP3 players existed for several years before the iPod arrived on the scene. The designers of the iPod combined improvements in four key industries to make the iPod a massive success. Apple improved the state of the basic product by designing the click wheel interface. This interface was a significant improvement over the traditional interface provided by existing manufacturers such as Rio. These advancements were revolutionary in that industry.

Apple went farther by bundling the product with iTunes. iTunes was software product that leveraged Apples core competency with computers to deliver content over the internet. iTunes also made it simple and easy to update the iPods firmware. Previous MP3 players required more-than-average expertise to simply update the firmware. Apple changed the user expectations about how easy it should be to purchase and download music to the player. They also changed the industry by creating users that expected painless firmware updates through iTunes. While the iPod was not a new-to-world product, iTunes was a new-to-world product.

The product champions at Apple had the vision to create a well-integrated product that combined advancements from multiple industries including electronics, audio compression, internet technology, service, and software. The amazing part is that existing manufacturers in the MP3 player market space were concentrating on the player itself and the software to drive the player. At the time the internet was mainly be used a vehicle to move data, but not as an integrated part of the user experience. The product champions at Apple saw an opportunity to cross-pollinate between multiple industries and create a market dominating product.

The RTP Product Development Guild has core philosophy that the most disruptive products come from the cross-pollination of technology and design knowledge from two or more different industries.

Product champions do not necessarily have to have experience from within multiple industries. The key is to have a vision that integrates technologies and practices from multiple industries into a single product. Then you have an opportunity to create the next highly disruptive and highly successful product.

Guild Building 101 The Rise of Expectations and Elevator Pitches

Starting a Product Development Guild has been a journey that has lasted about two and a half years. The first two years were mainly discussions. The last five months have mainly involved laying the groundwork for the guild. We have now moved into a mode where we are starting to recruit members and look at project submissions.

Tom Vass first mentioned the idea to me two years ago at Carolinas PDMA event. At the time, I really didnt think much of the idea. It took several conversations for me to realize that the problem wasnt with the concept, but rather in the articulation and execution of the concept. So we spent about two years, off and on, discussing the concept and refining how we articulated a complex sounding concept.

One of the critical questions in developing in the Guild is ?why does the concept seem so complex The concept, in the simplest form I can come up with, goes something like this:

Consultants, and other product design professionals, band together in a contractual organization. This aspect of the organization most closely resembles a volunteer fire department. Guild members pay quarterly dues and an initiation fee to join. Guild members are proudly displayed in the Guild directory which is available online and in a print format next year.

Product champions submit project proposals to the guild in a structured format. The Guild evaluates each submission and picks the best submissions. The Guild looks for product concepts that are going to help launch product-driven companies. Products that combine technology from two different industries are given priority.

Once a product concept is selected, the product champion becomes the nucleus of a seven member team. Project champions can be inventors, entrepreneurs, serial entrepreneurs, a designee from a start-up company, or a designee from an existing corporation that has a product concept that they would like to spin-off into a new company. Six of the seven team members are product development professionals. These members could come from disciplines such as industrial design, engineering, software, electronics, business management, marketing or sales.

Projects run for six months. The goal of the project is to complete the fuzzy front end design of the product. At the start of the project, the Guild receives options for the clients stock. These options can only be exercised upon a trigger event such as a sale or initial public offering (IPO). At the end of the project the Guild transfers a portion of those options to team members.

Projects are structured so Guild members spend two to four hours per week on the project. The product champions (client representative) spend fifteen to twenty hours per week on the project.

The team makes a presentation at the end of the project to selected angel investors and venture capitalists. This last step of the project is designed to help the client get funding for the next step in designing and then commercializing their product.

The goal is to complete twenty six month projects per year (ten every six months). This would add twenty new, high-growth companies to the RTP area each year and significantly impact the local economy. This means that the efforts of approximately one hundred and twenty Guild members can help drive the future economy in the regional area for the next ten to twenty years..

I am still struggling with how to present this in a thirty second elevator pitch. This is not an overly complex process when you consider the amount of work to be done. Sometimes I wonder if the previous presentation is trying to explain too much. Maybe the elevator pitch should go something like:

The RTP Product Development Guild is a confederation of product design, and business, who work together to help local entrepreneurs and businesses commercialize their products. The Guild seeks to improve the regional economy in North Carolina by helping create now product driven companies.

Salesmen reading this article are probably wondering why not just use the shorter version first. This is the difference between salesmen and product designers. Engineers and industrial designers often focus on how wonderful, and cool, the details are. A good salesman wants to convey just enough information to close the deal. They know that giving too much information is a possible way to talking your client out of doing business with you. The role of President of the Guild requires me to live in both worlds. This can be challenging at times. Product developers must always keep in mind that successful products find a balance between design and execution.

The chicken, or the egg, syndrome is alive and well at the RTP Product Development Guild. On one hand, we need a strong portfolio of consultants to attract product concept submissions. One the other hand we need strong product concepts to attract consultants. This means that there is going to be slow progress between now and the kick-off of the first project. We have spent the last month lining up product submissions and potential Guild members. The first inquiries about memberships are mostly coming from sales and marketing professionals. Another high interest area is the service providers. We have a class of Guild memberships that are designed to allow service providers to participate in the Guild without having to participate in a project team.

Another concurrent action item is to promote the Guild within the economic development community. North Carolinas economic development community is heavily focused, and politically invested, in the mode of using massive tax incentives to bring existing companies to North Carolina. There are other efforts that focus on using the universities and community colleges as concentrators of innovation. The Guild believes that there is enough talent, dedication and ambition in the local community to create new product-driven companies. This ?believe in the people? approach is counter-culture. The Guild isnt relying on tax incentives or government grants to drive new products to market. We are relying on our members to work together and help lift new companies from the stage of ?I have an idea? to the stage of ?we just rented office space?. Dreams are best pursued by the dreamer. It is hard to pursue someone elses dream. Product champions rev up your dreams, because you now have a home.

Montie Roland is President of the Carolinas Chapter of the Product Development Management Association. Roland is also President of Montie Design, a product development and prototyping firm in Morrisville, NC and the RTP Product Development Guild. You can reach Montie by email at: montie@montie.com

PDMA Carolinas Event on Thursday, Oct 25th in RTP

How to Price your New Product – Understanding Customer Value

Do you deeply understand the value that your products & services bring to your customers? Do they?

Two simple questions, and key input to your pricing strategy. Yet, most firms cannot answer them with confidence and support their answers with data. It gets even harder to answer this question early in new product development when all that is available is a product or service concept. Yet, this question is answerable in many markets in the concept stage of new product and service development.

The Carolinas Chapter of the Product Development and Management Association invites you to join an evening of networking and learning with Jeff Dupuie, Managing Director of Oakstone Partners:

? Keys to understanding the value your products bring to your customers.
? How to quantify the information.
? How to use customer value model approach to price new products.

Jeff will cover these issues using a case study in how a customer value model (CVM) was used to evaluate a series of new product /service offering concepts that offered the potential of breakthrough performance to customers. The CVM proved to be a useful tool, and in this case, the right tool, to provide insight into which concept offered the most value to customers. The goal of this case study is to provide an overview of the CVM tool and approach, and to demonstrate its use to pricing.

Please join us to exchange points of view, build relationships with your peers and as gain insights from our speaker:

Jeff Dupuie is a Managing Director of OakStone Partners, a local management consulting firm. He has over 15 years experience in management, consulting, and engineering roles. Prior to OakStone, Jeff served as a key member with BearingPoints turn-around consulting unit. Prior to that, he served as a Principal with PRTMs product commercialization unit, leading their Portfolio and Resource Management practices. In industry, he has held commercialization and operations roles with The Ford Motor Company and with Motorolas Semiconductor Products Sector. Jeff earned the Henry Ford Technology Award for outstanding technical achievement while at Ford. Jeff has a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering and an MBA, both from the University of Michigan.

Who Should Attend

Entrepreneurs, professionals, and decision-makers at all levels who have interest in new product development, including product managers, marketing managers, brand managers, engineers, and business development managers. This event qualifies as two (2) Professional Development Hours toward PDMAs NPDP recertification.
Date: Thursday, October 25th, 2007
Time: Networking & Registration 6-6:45 pm; Presentation and Q&A 6:45 8:00 pm; Pizza and drinks.
Location: MCNC Auditorium, 3021 Cornwallis Rd, Research Triangle Park (Durham), NC 27709.

Fees Early bird: $20 members (PDMA and CED), $30 non-members, $15 students and volunteers. $10 surcharge for walk-in. Check only for walk-in.

More information and registration online at




Fuzzy Front End: A Critical, But Often Neglected Part of Product Design

The term “fuzzy front” end is used by product design professionals to denote the product definition stage of the project. This important stage in product development is often neglected. In this podcast well talk about what the “fuzzy front end” is and why it is important.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking here.

Montie Roland is President of the Carolinas Chapter of the Product Development Management Association. Roland is also President of Montie Design, a product development and prototyping firm in Morrisville, NC and the RTP Product Development Guild.

RTP Guild Proclaims October as RTP Product Development Month

by Tom Vass, Vice-President, RTP Product Development Guild

The RTP regional economy has a unique set of economic strengths in technology innovation. The basic platform for all the strengths comes from the population of scientists and engineers who live in the region. Raleigh tops America for PhDs per capita for a metro city.

The RTP is geographically the largest research park in the world and is home to more than 130 R&D companies, employing nearly 40,000 workers. The RTP is home to IBM, GSK, Cisco Systems, DuPont and Sony Ericsson.

The high number of PhDs, and the location of large high tech corporations sets the stage for technology commercialization in distinct product areas. Our focus at the Guild is on product development because that leads to new venture creation which leads to new markets.

New markets are essential for wealth creation because persistence in the status quo distribution from current markets of wealth tends to lead to economic stasis. We suspect there is a mutually reinforcing relationship between wealth creation and new product creation, meaning that the more of one leads to the more of the other.

However, this relationship is perfectly symmetrical, which means that the longer the status quo of current markets remains constant the longer the existing distribution of wealth will stay the same. The result will be lower rates of innovation and new product development.

New products do not get created without a lot of effort, and our basic business model addresses how to help entrepreneurs commercialize their ideas. Our approach to new product development is different than the existing players in the region.

We focus attention on independent entrepreneurs who are not affiliated with the tech transfer programs at the local universities. We also target small engineering and manufacturing firms, and spin-offs from the R&D efforts of the larger corporations. We suspect that many of the 40,000 workers in the RTP have great ideas that could turn into great products if they follow the business development model of the RTP Product Development Guild.

During the month of October, we are going to target product development in the 4 areas we think will be most beneficial to regional economic growth. Each product area shares a common technological platform in both design and production, even though the end market users of the products are different.

On each Wednesday evening of October, we will host an educational seminar at our facilities in Morrisville, N. C., to introduce our model to budding entrepreneurs in each product area.

Our selection of product areas are:

1. October 10. Consumer technology products for the mass retail market.

2. October 17. Health monitoring and home health care products.

3. October 24. Sports and recreational equipment.

4. October 31. Homeland defense products.

We will charge a small admission fee, and our seating is limited to the first 20 entrepreneurs who register to attend. We are soliciting the participation of individuals and small companies who are curious about our business model of advice for commercializing technology.

We think that participants will gain benefits from meeting each other, and listening to how others are going about the process of commercializing their product ideas. If the RTP Guild model seems attractive, then the next step would be to apply as a project candidate for one of the Guilds product development teams.

While commercializing technology is a great objective, we think that the bigger goal for each entrepreneur is to win the Guilds prestigious annual award for the RTPs Most Disruptive Product Technology, presented in March of each year. But, you cant win the prize unless you get in the game.

Registration for the October events is at: www.rtpproductguild.com

Local Product Design Community, Changes at Home

by Montie Roland, President – Montie Design

Product design in the RTP area is nothing new. Entities that vary in size from the smallest startup to the largest multi-national companies are engaged in a daily business of product development. These companies dont practice the art and science of product development in a vacuum. They rely on an infrastructure of local vendors that provide a variety of services and products.

Since moving into our new office space where we added an embedded machine shop, and becoming a part of the RTP Product Development Guild, the Montie Design business model has changed dramatically. The biggest change is how much tighter we have integrated with the product design community around us. Our firm has relied on the services of other vendors for years, so in itself this is nothing new.

The new offices opened in June of 2007. Approximately one month later, we were joined in the office by Brandon Lisk and 101Machine. The office space included a shop and office area big enough for both companies. The rationale for having them in the same space allows both companies to offer more vertically integrated services. Consulting firms operate with remote (across town) vendors every day, but being in the same building allows a greater level of cooperation and coordination, thus relieving pressure from clients to have an in-house machine shop.

What I didnt expect was how it would change the Montie Design business model. Once 101Machine was up and running, clients began expecting that Montie Design would do several things. The first was to handle the prototype builds directly. Previously we would design the product and create the documentation. Then we would recommend a machine shop and get a quote. The client would then take that quote and issue a purchase order directly to the machine shop (or other vendor). Now clients expect us to manage the prototype build and handle the billing so they just have to create one purchase order. This arrangement makes it more convenient for the client and gives us a higher level of control over the process. However, it also added a new layer of administration that we have accommodated for. As a result, we have begun issuing purchase orders to vendors and tracking them. This was a big change for a small, but growing, company. It was a welcome change because it has allowed us to offer a broader range of services that arent directly tied to the number of billable hours. It also requires tighter financial controls because of the larger, and more complex, cash flow requirements.

Not all prototype parts and pieces can be economically produced by a single machine shop. An example was a group of physically large parts that were beyond the normal capabilities of 101Machine. Barnes Machine, in Apex, was able to very cost effectively produce these parts in a very tight time frame. This was a case where we were able to produce a set of prototype parts in an off-site location as a service to our client. JMC Machine is another example of an off-site vendor (also located in Apex). We have worked with Glenn Berry and Howard Nystrom for over a decade to produce parts for customers.

We also work closely with ADR Hydrocut to create complex, flat parts. ADR Hydrocut has two water jet cutting machines. The water jet process uses an extremely thin column (fifteen times the thickness of a human hair) of water mixed with an abrasive to cut complex shapes out of sheets of just about any material. Their business model relies on quick turnarounds of parts. This means that you can usually order a part and receive it within five to ten working days. One of the advantages of our current office location is the close proximity to ADR Hydrocut. This proximity and close working relationship with the owners, Al Ely and Ron Harris, allows us to work hand-in-hand with them, which is critical on projects with tight time restrictions.

The value of the relationship with JMC Machine and ADR Hydrocut has gone far beyond any one project, or one customer for that matter. The personal relationships with the owners of these companies have lasted for over a decade. These are people that I call friends. As it is always critical to not confuse friendship with what is best for the firm, or the customer, I find it wonderful to be able to work with a group of friends whom you can trust.

So how does all of this tie into the subject of a design community? Much of our success as a design firm is related to the availability and performance of the vendors that support us. Without the vendors behind us, we could not serve our customers at the level to which they have become accustomed. Adding a level of vertical integration has allowed us to expand our services, but at the same time has highlighted our need for quality relationships with reliable vendors. Relationships such as these help form the backbone of the product design infrastructure that is such a vital part of product design successes in the Research Triangle Park area.

Grand Opening / Pig Pickin’ / Product Design Vendor Street Faire

Hey All,

I just wanted to let you know that our Grand Opening and Expo is coming soon. Please take an afternoon out to enjoy good food, tour our new facility, and meet local product design/prototyping vendors. The event is free.

See you there.



Event: Grand Opening / Pig Pickin / Vendor Day for:

Montie Design

101 Machine

Better Business Advice

RTP Product Design Guild

Date: Saturday, 4 Aug 07

Time: 3:00 until 6:30

Location: 400 Dominion Dr., Suite 101, Morrisville, NC 27560

Description: Join us in celebrating the co-location of:

RTP Product Design Guild
Montie Design
Good Business Advice

Stroll through the various outdoor vendor booths including:

Montie Design – product design
101Machine – prototype machining
Good Business Advice – business ansurance and financial mgmt
RTP Product Design Guild – community-based design
Pioneer Strategies – public relations
Fineline Prototyping – rapid prototyping service bureau
ADR Hydrocut – waterjet cutting house
Applied Technologies – product design

Bring your family and join us for an afternoon of fun! Please dont hesitate to send any questions to: montie@montie.com

Register (free) at: http://productdesignguild.eventbrite.com/

Next Carolinas PDMA Chapter Event with Bob Luddy

Morning Fellow Product Designers,

I thought this event might interest many of you.



Event: New Product Development in the Entrepreneurial Enterprise

Date: 14 Jun 07

Time: 6-8:30pm

  • Networking & Registration 6 – 6:45 pm
  • Presentation and Q&A 6:45 8:00 pm
  • Pizza and drinks will be served

Location: MCNC auditorium in RTP, NC

Speaker: Bob Luddy, President, CaptiveAire and founder, Franklin Park Industrial Center

Co-Hosted by: CED

New Product Development in the Entrepreneurial Enterprise

Unless your business changes, your business will die. Changing means developing new products. But what new products? Why one product over another? Where do you begin?

Learn what inspired Robert Luddy, lifelong entrepreneur and president of Raleigh-based CaptiveAire Systems – the nations well-respected manufacturer of commercial kitchen ventilation equipment. Luddy founded CaptiveAire in 1976 on $1,300 capital. Today, CaptiveAire employs 650 people in four plants and 57 offices in the U.S. and Canada. It is continually voted ?Best In Class? by industry dealers and consultants, according to Foodservice Equipment & Supplies magazine. INC. magazine has repeatedly named CaptiveAire one of the 500 fastest growing private companies in the nation. In North Carolina, CaptiveAire is among the 100 largest private companies (Business North Carolina magazine), and it is the 10th fastest growing private company in the Raleigh Triangle (Triangle Business Journal).

Learn and discuss with Bob:

  • How you can revolutionize your industry.
  • Keys to competitive success.
  • How to navigate the challenge of offering increasingly higher-quality products at the lowest cost.
  • Bob will cover these and many other topics, including responding quickly to market demand. Please join us to exchange points of view, build relationships with your peers and as gain insights from our speaker:

    Robert Luddy is a lifelong entrepreneur. At the age of 20, while attending LaSalle University in Philadelphia, Bob opened a fiberglass manufacturing business and worked at night. In 1967, Bob sold his company and was drafted into the military. In 1976, Bob settled in Raleigh, and with $1,300 capital, he opened Atlantic Fire Systems in a one-room facility. Recognizing the demand for high-quality kitchen ventilation equipment, Bob purchased a sheet metal shop in 1981 and transformed it into CaptiveAire Systems, Inc. CaptiveAire is now the nations largest manufacturer of commercial kitchen ventilation systems, with sales reaching $180 million in 2006. In addition to CaptiveAire, Bob Luddy drives other economic development in the area. Bob founded and developed the Franklin Park Industrial Center, which has drawn over 15 entrepreneurial businesses and hundreds of jobs to Franklin and Wake counties.

    Questions? Send an e-mail to montie@montie.com

    Encouraging Innovation in South Carolina

    Organizations in South Carolina are working hard to encourage innovation. If you visit the South Carolinas Council on Competitiveness you can read about the “New Ideas for a New Carolina 2007” contest.

    “Tell us your big idea. We want ideas for business that stoke your fire, blow your mind, show your get-up-and-take-charge of-my-dream spirit. Your idea could bring new jobs, new energy, new talents, new life, and new wealth to South Carolina. Help us declare independence from mediocrity. Help us encourage innovators and celebrate the courageous. Help us create a NEW Carolina. New Ideas for A New Carolina South Carolinas Business Idea Competition. So what are you waiting for?”

    Does this really encourage innovation in South Carolina? It definitely adds to the popular interest level for innovation. As I read closer, I realized that the prize wasnt for the best new product. The contest is for the best new business idea.

    Having a contest for the best business idea (instead of new product) is definitely a good approach. However, I am concerned that this really doesnt strengthen business in South Carolina. The contest helps out individuals who are selected as winners to get publicity for their business concept. It also elevates the concept that product / business development is good for South Carolina.

    My suggestion is to provide training before the contest. Teach people how to develop business and product concepts. Then follow up with how to start the business and find funding. Classes in managing the development of a product would also be helpful. Teaching the basics of iterative product design would help a greater number of entrepreneurs and product developers than the contest itself. Assign a volunteer mentor to each entrant for two years. Maybe start with two thousand entries. Offer classes for two years. Then highlight the businesses that have made the most progress (you pick the metric). I will admit that it sounds dangerously close to a reality show. It would be wonderful to see contests like this result in thousands of new businesses launching new products. That would significantly impact the regional economy for decades.

    Enabling a passion for introducing new products takes education, mentoring and support from a local design community. As I get to the end of this dialog, I find myself wondering how our chapter (Carolinas chapter) is doing at accomplishing this goal in North and South Carolina. I dont have to wonder long, because our chapter isnt inspiring thousands of new products or new businesses. Is it because North and South Carolina is a bad place for new businesses and products? Is it because we are an inactive chapter? The answer to both is “no”. We have an active chapter in a thriving business community. What can our chapter to do be a product development leader in the Carolinas? Is that too big of a mandate for a local chapter? I dont think so, now we just have to figure out how to do it and have the determination to make it happen.

    If you have any suggestions or comments, please dont hesitate to send me an e-mail at montie@montie.com or leave a comment below.

    Montie Roland
    President, Carolinas Chapter of the PDMA (www.pdma.org/carolinas)
    President – Montie Design (www.montie.com)
    Home of the NC Product Design Directory

    Upcoming PDMA Event in Cary on 18 Apr — Systematic Innovation


    I thought this might interest many of you. The event is taught by the Brand Manager of Lenovo. You can sign up at http://pdma2.eventbrite.com. More information about the event is available at www.pdma.org/carolinas. Detailed information about the event follows.



    We take networking seriously and innovation is a lot of fun, so what could be better than combining the two?

    Join us for an evening of networking and innovation. The evening will begin with beer, pizza, and business card exchange, then we will get an introduction to Systematic Innovation, and then we will split into teams and have some fun innovating some products. Those who have most fun will even win a prize!

    About Systematic Innovation (SI): some call it innovation by templates and there is some truth to that even though on the surface the notions of templates and creativity appear to be an oxymoron. However, when you think about it, we may subconsciously use learned templates in our creative thinking anyway. SI techniques attempt to come up with such templates and they can be quite effective tools in stimulating creative thinking that result in innovative solutions. A most visible SI technique is TRIZ, a technique used by companies such as Ford, Procter & Gamble, Eli Lilly, 3M, and Samsung.

    This session will be led by Stacey Baer from Lenovo and Shimon Shmueli from Touch360.
    See bios below.

    Who Should Attend Product managers, engineers, designers, and marketing managers.


    Wednesday, April 18, 2007



    Stacey Baer, Ph.D., Lenovo

    Currently the corporate Brand Manager of the international PC manufacturer Lenovo, Staceys primary responsibilities are to manage the Lenovo and ThinkPad brands. Her responsibilities also include branding strategies, product & brand naming, and trademark management.

    Stacey received a BA in Psychology in 1986 from Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania, and then went on to get a Masters of Science (1989) and Doctoral degree (1996) in Cognitive Psychology from the University of Kentucky.

    Stacey was hired by the PC division of IBM in 1992 as the lead Human Factors engineer for IBMs PC brands. Her product responsibilities over the next few years included the PS/2, Aptiva and then the ThinkPad brands.

    In 1998, Stacey became the first Customer Experience Strategist for the IBM company. She had world-wide responsibility for defining end-to-end customer experience strategies, first for all ThinkPad products and then later for all the PC Divisions customer-facing device brands.

    In 2003, Stacey received an Executive MBA from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University. She became the WW Brand Manager of IBMs PC Division, and then the Corporate Brand Manager for Lenovo after the PC Division was sold to Lenovo in 2005.


    Shimon Shmueli, Touch360

    Shimon is the founder of Touch360 where he leads product development, innovation and design, and technology and business strategies.

    Before founding Touch360, Shimon was with IBM, where he held various leadership positions, among them as worldwide marketing segment manager for PC products, worldwide product manager for the ThinkPad line of consumer notebooks and accessories, and leading the development of new mobile platforms.

    Shimon was a co-founder and CTO at KeyNetica, a company that pioneered the use of the USB Flash Drive as a mobile platform. He also served as a marketing and business strategy consultant and as adjunct professor at George Mason University where he taught graduate marketing classes.

    Shimon holds an engineering degree from the Technion in Israel; an MSEE/CS degree from Polytechnic in New York; and an MBA from Wake Forest University. Always a student, he is currently pursuing graduate studies in industrial design at North Carolina State University.

    Shimon has been a speaker and mentor in various forums, including Taiwan Design Center, Johns Hopkins University, and Virginia Tech School of Architecture & Design. He is a professional member of IDSA, IEEE, HFES, DMI, and PDMA.