Houston Inventors Association

Welcome....to the HIA newsletter archive.  Here we post informative articles, topics, and tips from our speakers extracted from our newsletters.  We hope that you will take the time to peruse through these articles, following the issues that are NEWS to today's inventors. You will be enjoying the efforts of many people, not the least of whom is our editor, Mr. Al Muller.

The story behind putting together a newsletter is one of hours and hours of work. It is done by a dedicated few who seldom receive the thanks they deserve. We are indebted to them for gathering timely but widely scattered information into a few monthly pages dedicated to one thing...Invention.

We are, of course, always looking for fresh informative articles to include in our newsletters. Please Email the Editor care of:amuller589@aol.com Or: kenroddy@nol.net These pages will be updated periodically so please come back often to read about the latest concerns and activities of the American Inventor.

From Mind To Market Workshop
Eleven members of the HIA participated in the From Mind To Market Workshop organized by the Central Regional Resources Center For Innovation in behalf of The U.S. Dept. of Energy and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on April 29 at the University of Houston.. It is a part of the Inventions and Innovation Program that encourages industry energy-related innovation by providing financial assistance for establishing technical performance and completing early development of innovative ideas and inventions. Key contact points for these program details include: Lynnae Boyd (303)275-2995 Central Resource Center Renewable Energy Lab; Office of Industrial Technologies website www.oit.doe.gov ph. 1(800)DOE-EREE.; Financial Assitance Programs ph (303)275-4764. University of Houston contacts include: Nancy V. Clark, Dir Donor Relations (713)743-8873, www.nclark@uh.edu, and Barbara DeHaven Office of Grants and Contracts (713)743-9205. Advanced Technology Program information is posted on www.atp.nist.gov/atp/. Venture capital information is at www.infon.com, and a cd-rom of venture firms can be ordered there.

The nation’s barcodesare issued at (937) 435-3870 or www.uc-council.org and the cost for each product is based upon its annual sales or a minimum of $500.

Mitch Samuels of Victory Packaging (713-290-8600) discussed packaging for the inventor. The primary reference for this industry is the Fiber Box Handbook and is available to you at Fiber Box Handbook, 2850 Golf Road, Rolling Meadows, IL, 60008.  A non-stock slotted box has a setup charge of $600 and when you ask what the production rates are you must be practical and make reasonable production estimates.  The box design and appearance are dictated by how important its appearance is to your product; if it is only for protection during shipment appearance may be insignificant, but if it is to be your display appearance is very important.  RSCs  (regular slotted container) are the predominant box and are available in single, double wall, or triple wall materials but can only be cut one at a time.  Die cut boxes are self locking with folds, require no tape or glue for closure, and are available in standard size; these standard sizes are called meat boxes and are available in sizes which hold 5 lb., 10lb., and 20 lb. of meat.  Two kick-out boxes are those that can be cut 2 at a time; these dies cost about $700 per million boxes.  Turkey lock boxes have the tricky little tuck -in bottoms which lock closed with no fasteners or adhesives; its material can be printed in up to 4 colors.  Printing dies around 8 inches by 4 inches cost about $300.  Two-out small print on the box costs about $1200 for one-color prints. Color printing on plain cardboard is very expensive and up to four colors can be used at a cost for dies of about $40,000. Print is far cheaper and better looking when done on glossy glue on labels instead of directly on the cardboard of the box. He has many materials for use as inner packaging including bubble wrap, popcorn, anti-static, etc., but are available in limited color; balled newsprint is cheaper and growing in popularity, especially since it is a recycled product.  Should your box require extra strength for stacking the normal solution is to insert cross lock partitions of cardboard.  Your packager must jealously guard his floor space and does this by limiting your contract completion time to 90 days, but this is to your advantage also in that it limits shop wear, moisture absorption, dust etc.  He out sources all of his bags, ties, etc.  Should you need stronger materials than cardboard you can use chip board (non-corrugated) and sources are available in Houston.  His experience has shown that if you have a ‘this side up’ type product you should put it on a pallet since these and hazardous cargo signs are mostly ignored.  Should your insurance require container testing, a four corner drop test will cost you $600.  Insurance is automatic with most shipping companies for values up to $100 but is not available for over $500 unless you use FEDEX.  It was noted that some products experience corrosion in the box but he identified the cause as the adhesive, and anti-corrosion inner wrapping can limit that.  The industry standard nomenclature for a box dimensions are: the largest panel is the length; the adjacent panel (sic) is the width and the last panel (the down panel) is the depth.  There are three types of packaging plants:  corrugators make the board, sheet plants buy this board to  make boxes; his is the third type , processor.  Any scrap generated from cutting your boxes can be bought from you for recycling.  A typical sheet plant has two break point in pricing: 4500 square feet or more is your best buy, the next break point is 20,000 square feet of cardboard.

 Paul White of  Vidisco Productions (281)332-0233 , who did our videos on show and tell earlier this year, discussed his products and told how you can do your own or participate in his production of your video with professional actors and have professional quality 5 minute videos in mailers for about $6.00 each with a production cost ranging from $150.00 to super expensive depending on your requirements.

Webb Byford  of Rapid Technologies  described  his company’s latest methods of producing fast high quality models of mechanical designs.  If you can’t give him a CAD/CAM drawing of what you are prototyping then just describe it, and he can bring it to fruition on his CAD-CAM which then controls computer driven machines to produce an exact model of your design;  he has three types of machines which can do this: Laminar Object Modeling (LOM), stereolithography in resin, and stereolithography in wax.  Each of the machines produces a full scale hard model of the product but of different material:  laminated paper, a rigid resin, and a hard wax.  It appears that major industries are converting to these design methods for convenience , speed economy accuracy, etc. and the designer  can have a stereolithography unit at his desk and produce a full scale prototype in the length of time it used to take to make a good start on a paper drawing --and these CAD-CAM programs check for tolerances, fit, range of motion, etc. even before the prototype is begun. These materials are machinable so design changes be made on the finished model.  The LOM process uses a computer driven laser to cut thousands of stacks of thin paper into three dimensional models.  Accuracy is on the order 20/1000 of an inch for the paper,  2 or 3/1000 of an inch for the stereo lithograpic resin, and 1.5/1000 of an inch for the wax.  These models can sometimes be used as the final product but are normally used as molds for other materials.  These modeling techniques are available to you now in Houston;  stereolithography models cost $ 500.00 per vertical inch and can be up to 20 X 20 X24 inches deep.  Webb welcomes your business and he mentioned Plastic Tool & Mold, and Blackwell Plastics as stereolithographers also.  One of the largest LOM machines is available in Houston at Garland Furniture.  Webb can fill all of your CAD-CAM work, LOM, and stereolithography needs;  he also gives  production estimates and recommends best methods, etc.  He rents the modeling machines from the above sources but gets discounted rates not available to others and passes the savings on to you, so check with him first.

Neil Polansky discussed the One Stop Business Center of Mayor Lee Brown’s office.  Ninety two percent  of his customers are starting a new business of which many are for restaurants.  In 1986 he had 150 clients/month, in 1999 he has had 900-1,000/month so we have a lot of competition, it is growing fast, and we must be very well versed in how to start a new business in order to compete.  Most startup businesses are home-based.  The governmental requirements vary with the local community but the City of Houston and the Federal Government are trying to help by establishing one-stop services.  The City of Houston’s ONE STOP BUSINESS CENTER is at City Hall Annex, Public Level, 900 Bagby  St. at McKinney, phone 713-663-7867, P.O. Box 1562, Houston, TX, 77251-1562, website www.ci.houston.tx.us/citygovt/mayor/osbc  The feds have a General Book store in Houston for your regulations, requirements and small business administration needs.  Your licensing costs and documentation depend upon your local neighborhood but he has a 43 page booklet “Getting Started Packet” which should be very helpful;  call, write or e-mail his office to receive this free Packet-it is kept up to date quarterly.

Joe Nicklo spoke on Building Your Own Inexpensive Molds for Prototypes.  His co-host was John Reynolds of John Reynolds And Co.  (nearly all of the materials discussed are available  there, phone 713-957-8565).  He discussed the reasons for making multiple prototypes, making the master to build a mold for prototyes, selecting the materials, selecting a silicone system, choosing the type of mold, tools and materials required, pouring the mold, extracting the parts, molded subassemblies, and inspecting masters and parts.  Multiple prototypes may be needed to show investors, testing sales in different regions, showing bank loan officers for their better understanding, comparing your design and its changes, and/or consumer research.  This type of prototyping involves using a master component to make a mold from which several parts can be cast using readily available room temperature vulcanizing silicones or two component resins.  These elastic molds can then be filled with a liquid material which hardens at room temperature, after which the parts are removed and the mold reused as many times as required (for several hundred times).  You can frequently find bottle tops, pieces of toys, or many other items on hand which can be readily modified to serve as part or all of your master.  The finish of your part is dependent on the finish of your master, and can be very slick and shiny or frosted etc.  Two basic types of molds were discussed:  1. Block Molds, and 2. Skin molds.  Block molds are topless boxes into which your master is placed then the cavity is filled with casting material;  the result is a hole shaped exactly like your master.  A skin mold is made by dipping your master into a liquid (usually a latex) then removing it and allowing the coating to dry;  after a few layers have been added the coated master is placed into a topless box then half filled with plaster of paris (or other hardenable material);  once this hardens a parting material (vaseline etc.) coating is applied at the desired separation plane then the box is filled completely; after hardening all parts are separated.  After removing the coated master, the latex is peeled off intact through a hole at the most convenient location and reused by placing it into the plaster of paris cavity and filling with the parts material.  The plaster of paris serves to retain the original shape of the flexible skin.  These materials are available in many colors, hardnesses, and chemical composition.  You may visit John Reynolds and Co or call to get advise, attend classes, or to get materials catalogs and technical data.

Ron Cooke  told the story of his “Bag Butler”  invention and its marketing process.  It was invented, as most inventions are, through necessity while cleaning yards of the houses he was renovating as real estate investments.  Large quantities of yard debris and clipping required the use of large trash bags and one day his loving spouse didn’t feel like helping by holding open the bags so she told him to “do-it-yourself”, so he did and several makeshift arangements led to the present design.  He first marketed a dozen of them at Kelly’s Hardware in Bellaire; they sold out the first week and he had to lok for faster production techniques.  These went from stamping them from sheets of plastic (too expensive) to vacuum molding, then to injection molding.  It took a lot of searching to find a mold maker willing to make the mold but one was found with a 500 ton injector but that was to small as predicted so he took it to an injector with a 100 ton injector and it worked fine as predicted.  The use of the polypropelene pellets proved more economical than the sheets of finished polypropolene.  He did his patent search at the Rice University Library and recommends keeping all of your records from each stage of your progress; 13 years later he still refers to his earliest notes.  He also learned that if you need help don’t hesitate to hire the best; it saves you a lot of time in self-educating yourself; a godd plastics consultant costs about $120/hour.  His attempt to sell on direct TV earned $21,000 but cost $20,000;  Home and Garden Shows at the George R. Brown Convention Center have been big cash flows for him; at one he met buyer for Home Depot who ordered 1500 from him and sold them out in three weeks, but in general large consumer buyers have not been successful, nor has licensing to them.  One license example cited resulted in only a sales of less than his own in one and one-half years, then he found that a Japanese firm had continued to sell them and infringed on his patent;  that battle is stil not over.  Other problems include a large order for 50,000 units at a Chicago trade show which he took, then found that Coca-Cola ™ had tied up his manufacturer with a very large order.   Taking his order elsewhere resulted in using improper polyethelene material and polypropelene filler that turned brittle in only a few days; a lawsuit resulted in unpaid claims.  He also recommends that you enter into licensing only with companies experienced in the same field as your product.  He had little luck with the large retailers like K-Mart, Home Depot, etc. or their buyers; major problems being not invented here and failure of the clerks to prepare the displays in accordance with the directions for assembly.  He hopes to be on Home Shopping Club soon.  He has had no liability problems with the BAG BUTLER, and is still selling 2 or 3 per day via his web site at www.bagbutler.net.

A workshop on INJECTION MOLDING was presented by Steve Barile of Blackwell Plastics, 5606 Cavanaugh, Houston, TX 77021, ph. 713-643-6577, www.blackwellplastics.com. Blackwell Plastics has 32 injection machines of various sizes (up to the size of a refrigerator) and 5 extrusion machines. He explained the three types of molding (1) Compression, (2) Transfer, and (3} Injection; they do only injection molding. Although compression molding and transfer molding costs are half that of injection, injection moldings have better uniformity and quality. Injection molding consists of the plastic material being placed into a hopper which feeds a heated screw that drives the molten plastic into an injection cylinder where it is rammed into the temperature controlled mold by a hydraulic powered piston, forcing air out of the mix. In general an injection mold costs about $10,000 to $35,000 to make, depending upon complexity. They also do extrusion molding of parts with a constant cross section and of considerable length; these can be cut into thinner sections if required. Extrusion dies cost an average of $1,000. He said they do not do blow or vacuum molding and recommended that you look in the Thomas Register or visit www.thomasregister.com on the web for these manufacturers. Steve Barile is responsible for quoting jobs for new customers and guarantees 3 day/per quote; there is no charge for quotes. They normally retain part ownership in the molds they make to protect their proprietary methods and this also includes storage of the mold. Should it be necessary to get another injector to produce your parts, you will be charged an additional fee to use the mold. Their machines run 7 days/week/24 hrs/day; they do not use PETG or Teflon plastics but do use nylon. To make a bid they prefer to see a prototype, drawings, and a list of functions and volumes. They make allowances for shrinkage etc. based on your final shape drawings. You must pay 1/2 the materials costs up front.
Steve was introduced by David Dean, who found Blackwell plastics to be one of his most valuable contacts during a prolonged search through many states and Mexico for a mold maker for his "ProPower" hand, wrist and forearm exerciser invention www.propower.cc They responded to his requests for quotes, fabrication, and mold modifications very fast, and were competitively priced.

Brian Shannon's PAPER PRO and HANG THING
Brian Shannon, a past president of HIA, petroleum engineer, and successful inventor presented Marketing 101 and emphasized his opening statement with; don't spend money until you are sure it will work and sell. He has successfully marketed the Paper Pro, Paper Pro Jr., Hang Thing, and Hang Thing II. He began marketing inventions seriously in 1987 when he left the oil field to manufacture and market Paper Pro. He thought of the idea of inventing a device for hanging wallpaper after he and his wife had redecorated a room and found how difficult it was. A patent search gave him many new ideas on the subject but revealed no competition, so he made some inexpensive working models from available materials until he was satisfied he had a good design. Next he invested $15,000 in an excellent stainless steel mold, made some production units, and tried to market it in Texas. A year later he was able to get it into Home Depot by teaching employees in every store how to use it and making a video to put in the package. Some competitors claimed it would stretch and tear the paper but an independent testing company proved otherwise, and their report overcame the problem. Other stores pointed out some weaknesses in his packaging: it needed more pictures to demonstrate key steps and don't put assembly instructions on the outside, it discourages customers. In the meantime his travels had led him to come up with two new products to facilitate carrying his clothes on the long trips. He developed the Hang Thing to increase the capacity of clothes hooks in many cars. Again he invested in some tooling and made 5,000 Hang Things; these sold out at his first trade show. He developed his own packaging and proved there is a steady market for them in car washes. He sold a license to Cobb an auto accessory company. In the meantime, he explored the market with Western Auto, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, and other big companies; a major problem with them was they didn't really like to do business with a company selling only one or two products, it costs several thousand dollars to write a check regardless of dollar value. A large company is more likely to take on your products if they have a proven market, so he highly recommends making and selling on your own just to prove the potential. During the Q/A session the following points were made: shop around for your mold injector (prices vary drastically); he had no help at first, then he got a disabled workshop to piece out the packaging/assembly; you should ship everything UPS it is cheaper and saves time in the long run; marketing during the patent pending time can have advantages, if a competitor starts selling a knock off copy you can get the patent process expedited; make your molds locally for rapid modifications (although with today's inter-net foreign molds can prove time effective too), merchandisers hate late deliveries so be on time YOUR FUTURE DEPENDS ON IT.

Al Muller provided samples of the materials, described the processes, and listed vendors, and web sites which an inventor could use to make a fiberglass prototype of an invention; this is an especially fast and inexpensive method which requires only a very few basic tools. Machine tools could be helpful for greater precision but are not necessary. Fiberglass is but one of many composite materials; the most common and practical however is fiber glass and epoxy or polyester resin; these are readily available from Home Depot, Sears Hardware, John W. Reynolds Co., boat supply stores, etc. and are listed in the yellow pages. Basically the Michaelangelo approach to sculpting a statue is used; take a piece of plastic foam large enough to contain your prototype and carve away everything that isn't it. Next cover with a resin impregnated fiber cloth in sufficient layers to meet your strength requirements and sand to the desired finish. These foams are readily dissolved out with gasoline etc. or physically gouged out to leave a hollow model if desired. The primary materials are: fiberglass or other fabric (Kevlar, Nomex, carbon), a foam (usually styrofoam or urethane), a resin (either polyester or epoxy), and micro-balloons (used as a filler for the resin). Except for Kevlar, all of these materials are quite easy to work with a simple knife, hacksaw blade or hot wire (CAUTION: use only on styrofoam, urethane foam generates toxic gases when overheated). Kevlar is very strong but resists cutting by any means but laser, and then only in single layers. Foam blocks may be glued together with a foaming polyurethane wood glue, or epoxy mixed with micro-balloons (a very fine lightweight glass powder); this model is then cut, sanded, or ground to final shape using any means you prefer. A comprehensive handout was provided (contact Al Muller). The primary references included: John W. Reynolds Co. (281) 480-4461 or 888-957-8565, Aircraft Spruce and Specialty (800-824-1930) (www.aircraft-spruce.com and Laird Plastics (713) 785-3040. Aircraft Spruce and Specialty publishes a free catalog with superb tutorials and materials availability.

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