Usually when custom processors see inventors coming in with an idea, it's ``Katie, bar the door!'' But one custom injection molder has made it part of its strategy to help put innovative products on the market. ``It helps us be more than just a me-too custom molder,'' said Vern DeWitt, president of Webster Plastics, a Webster, N.Y., company with 48 presses with clamping forces of 75-1,000 tons.
However, he sympathizes with the plight of custom processors in dealing with many inventors.
``You're hit with inventors everyday,'' said DeWitt.
The problem with being inundated with inventors, he added, is ``missed opportunities'' if a molder makes it a rule not to look at anything from an inventor.
DeWitt explained that he gives varying degrees of consideration to any idea brought to the company.
``Some are very obviously good ideas or bad ideas,'' he said, adding that he's learned over the years to tell the difference in most cases.
However, some ideas require research because he's not familiar with the market.
``You have to spend time researching the market, researching the company and researching the viability of the product, and that does take time,'' DeWitt said. ``That's part of the reason why molders won't consider any of these things.''
His most recent successful venture has been a joint project with Haltof Product Design Inc. of Rochester, N.Y., to manufacture the Flip Clip cellular telephone holder for in-car use.
Garry Haltof, an engineer by trade, prefers not to be called an inventor because of the term's negative implications.
``I'm an engineer with both marketing and business experience,'' he said in a recent telephone interview.
Call him what you will, Haltof has the mind of an inventor. After buying a Motorola ``flip'' phone, Haltof discovered the cellular telephone ``cradles'' on the market were inadequate.
``I thought, `I can build a better cradle than these,''' Haltof said. So he designed a cradle that would hold the small, hand-held cellular telephones, offering in-car users convenience.
Like many inventors with good ideas, Haltof lacked the money to build the molds to make the plastic cell-phone cradle. So Haltof went to DeWitt to see if they could create a partnership to develop, manufacture and market Flip Clip.
The Flip Clip consists of three parts: a molded ABS cradle, a molded acetal clip and a foam bumper that accommodates different makers' telephones. It also has an easy-release locking mechanism.
``I'm proud of the physical design,'' Haltof said. ``The components snap together.''
Haltof has patents on Flip Clip's utility and design. Although the name is molded into the front of the product, he is waiting to be granted use of the name Flip Clip by the patent office.
Despite having known Haltof for several years, DeWitt said a good contract is essential to a good relationship with an inventor.
``We made it crystal clear from the outset what Webster Plastics is responsible for and what are Haltof's responsibilities,'' he said. ``That didn't mean we didn't help him and vice versa. We help each other because the ultimate goal is the same.''
Haltof agreed. ``The basic idea of the contract up front is that Webster would get started with the mold design and prototype molds,'' Haltof said. ``And I agreed that Webster would be my exclusive manufacturer. It protects us both.''
So far, Flip Clip has been a success.
Haltof distributes the product through Tessco Technologies Inc., a large distributor with a national network to retail outlets. It also is featured in several consumer catalogs.
According to DeWitt, the company has started building a second set of molds to accommodate increased demand.
``We both feel confident in the long run that something good will happen. We're seeing some success already,'' Haltof said.