Company creates prototypes from scratch
Some pretty big ideas have come out of the small office of John Woellner, president of Creative Edge Products, a company that creates prototypes for original products proposed by local and national designers.
In a cramped, one-room office, the Westlake-area native uses computer-aided technology and a 3-D printer to translate an entrepreneur's dream into a model that can be marketed to investors.
Woellner, who has an associate degree in computer science, uses subcontractors in varying specialties, such as industrial design, or electrical engineering, to coordinate a final product. However, he said it is more cost-effective and easier to produce a prototype in-house.
"3-D printers have been around for a really long time, but they have gotten more affordable and their technology [has gotten] better in the last three years," said Woellner, who owns the 3-D printer he uses to make many prototypes.
He said a computer program tells a 3-D printer how to build a project by converting a 3-D solid into one-dimensional lines, or a picture. Heated plastic is then layered into a shape that hardens and produces a 3-D product.
Woellner said his love of engineering and design was sparked in fifth grade when he built his first remote-control car from scratch. After being laid off in 2009 from a product development company, he took additional courses in computer-aided and 3-D design. He opened Creative Edge Products about a year later.
"If someone has an idea for an invention or product, [Creative Edge] uses the information, sketches, detailed description and specs to design a product that someone would ultimately be satisfied with," Woellner said.
The company typically creates only one prototype for each client, he said.
"It's expensive to produce a prototype, so our customers [usually] don't want more than one," Woellner said.
For example, he said a swing arm clamp project cost a client about $7,000 for the design and construction of its prototype.
Most customers ask Woellner to sign a nondisclosure agreement prohibiting him from releasing any information about their projects for which they may pursue patents before marketing the design, he said.
In 2012 Creative Edge produced a prototype of a massage roller for former chiropractor William Martinez that, after left in a freezer, remains cold for about 1.5 hours. Martinez said his Frozen Roller will be marketed to therapy professionals and individuals who need help healing traumatic neck injuries or injured reflex points.
Martinez said Creative Edge was instrumental in developing his product, which he hopes will help soothe patients.
After more than three years in the business, Woellner is in awe about the work his company is able to produce for entrepreneurs.
"Their [products] didn't exist before we got our hands on it," he said.
How a prototype is made
- Step 1: 3-D modeling and parts sourcing are used to create the design of the prototype.
- Step 2: The design is approved by the customer.
- Step 3: A 3-D printer is used to create prototype plastic parts.
- Step 4: All prototype components are assembled by hand.
- Step 5: The prototype is tested to make sure it works the way the customer, intended.
- Step 6: The prototype is shipped to the customer and feedback is given.
How a 3-D printer works
First the design is produced using a computer program that translates a 3-D figure into 1-D lines, or a flat picture.
Then the density of the object—the strength of the component and its hollowness—is calculated via the computer program.
Next, tubes push out plastic heated to 446 degrees into nozzles, which drop the plastic into the desired shape, one layer at a time. While heated, each plastic layer fuses to the layer before it. The coordinating software program dictates where the nozzles will deposit the hot plastic. The density setting determines the number of layers and weave needed—a setting of 10 percent density is weak compared to 80 percent, for example.
Once it cools, the plastic hardens, and the product is ready to use.
Creative Edge Products, 3536 Bee Caves Road, Ste. 214, Austin, 512-807-9771, www.creativeedgeproducts.com