Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Leeds Inventors Group 14/1/09 - Richard Hall

Richard Hall of Pd-m International at Leeds Inventors Group

Richard began by talking about his background from his engineering apprenticeship at Rolls Royce, through his degree in product design and various design posts until he became Operations Manager at POS Global in 2003. He set up Pd-m in 2005.

Pd-m is all about taking new products from a basic idea through prototyping and on to the market. Richard talked through some of the successful products which the company has dealt with:

Businessman James Dunne won an award at the Grand Designs Awards for his “Savasocket” - an energy-saving standby socket, praised for its economy and energy and emission saving features. Pd-m were involved in the product development and manufacturing of the Savasocket.

Rowena Mead got quite a lot of press and TV coverage for her invention – the flexible “Bug Brush” toothbrush - and of course has previously spoken to the inventors group about her experiences. She used Pd-m for her prototyping before taking her product round to manufacturers.

Mel Blythe came up with the idea of the “Octopod” - a water saving device which won Eon’s Energy Lab competition. Once again Pd-m was involved in the development of the product.

Richard pointed out that the first step for anyone with a good idea for a product must take is “due diligence”. It’s vital to determine whether anything similar to the proposed product is already there – and a thorough patent search such as that offered by Business & Patent Information Services is necessary before taking things any further. From there an inventor can approach design consultants or perhaps Business Link. He also referred to the importance of confidentiality agreements or non-disclosure agreements.

Pd-m will look at the viability of the product before anything else – will it cost more to make than you are likely to get back in sales? He used the Sinclair C5 as an example of something which was a good product but not commercially viable.

Doing some market research is vital – whether the inventor does their own or gets someone else to do it for them. Pd-m will then put together a design brief. Often there are things which an inventor hasn’t thought of or materials which he or she is not aware of. As Richard said the product may work in your shed, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will work in the shop.

A lot of products need to be compliance–tested to ensure they comply with all the relevant regulations (such as the CE mark). Failure to do so can result in the product having to be recalled and it is a very important step for a new product. Pd-m uses compliance companies to carry out testing on any products they deal with and this has to be taken into consideration when working out costs. It is not cheap.

Richard went on to explain how important it is to know and be familiar with a manufacturer and how they work. A new product will evolve and it’s not just a case of handing it over to a manufacturer and expecting it to come out the other end exactly as it was originally envisaged. It’s important to have regular detailed checks and be aware of any difficulties. The inventor should be involved in the manufacturing process throughout. Having a detailed agreement with a manufacturer from the outset can reduce the risk of disagreements and he suggested insisting on samples being produced before any large batch is manufactured. It is also important to make very clear who owns the intellectual property in the product. Disputes and even court cases have resulted from agreements not being explicit enough in this regard.

Manufacturing overseas is common now but it is important in these situations to take transport costs into consideration – and such things as import taxes. Adding up costs for the product – right from protecting it with a patent or registered design etc, through prototyping, compliance, and the various other costs the total can be tens of thousands of pounds.

Richard summed up by saying that anyone who wants to keep everything to themselves will probably struggle. It’s important to have a good team – each a specialist in their own area, whether it be prototyping, manufacturing, marketing or any other area. You can have a mediocre product which can succeed with a good team, and you can have a very good product which doesn’t succeed because of a poor team.
Summary of Tips
1. IP: Ensure its not already out there or already protected
2. Design: Make sure the product has a commercial advantage
3. Compliance: CE + CE does not equal CE
4. Manufacture: Make sure you have agreements in place.
5. Quality: Avoid ambiguity at all costs.
6. Final tip: Get a good team around you!

Contact details:
•Richard Hall
•Pd-m International Limited
•Tel: 01423 503 900