All inventors – regardless of their industry – usually have a few things in common: They generally don’t have much time and they’re experts in the field of their product idea. That said, they often neglect about commercial factors – issues that will be just as crucial to the success of their idea. That’s when it’s useful if advice is close at hand, from help with the underlying concept to advice on patents, and culminating in the finished product. A team made up of experts from the Biberach-based Steinbeis Transfer Center for Computer Aided Technical Simulations (C.A.T.S.) has been working with Infothek, the Steinbeis Transfer Center in Villingen-Schwenningen, to provide design and managing support to the forming specialist EKM-Roth GmbH.
“There has to be a more efficient way of doing this!” – this was the thought that motivated Hubert Roth, the managing director of EKMRoth GmbH in Biberach, to keep plugging away at an idea he had. And after countless hours of effort, plus plenty of commitment and passion, the results were well worth it. What until now involved two processes and two machines, often at two different companies, is now possible in a single production run. EKM-Roth managed to invent a machine that could form and machine parts in the same plant. The forming process would take place seamlessly between feeding and machining. Now at this point, the SME should have been delighted with itself. Here was an innovative and practical product concept with plenty of promise. It would be able to turn a whole industry on its head and move the goal posts. But the reality was sobering. Day-to-day business left little time to actually translate the new concept into reality. The firm also lacked experience with patents and since competitors are often quick to copy good ideas, this would be extremely important. Oh, and the concept wasn’t actually all that risk-free in technical terms, but the question was how to quantify that? And finally, the ingenious inventors quickly realized that groundbreaking innovations of this kind soon attract criticism from skeptics. Throw out the old to give a chance to the new and unknown? Not everyone’s idea of the right thing to do. The team at EKM-Roth lost count of the number of times people muttered, “Nice idea, but can’t be done.”
For the formed component specialist, giving up was out of the question. Instead, it decided to talk to two Steinbeis Centers in the area, who joined forces to help the company. Steinbeis Infothek helped with the patents and different ways to market the idea, and the simulation experts at the Steinbeis Transfer Center for Computer Aided Technical Simulations (C.A.T.S.) dealt with the calculations to work out a good way of coping with high flux densities in a confined space. The experts also had to examine and document legal requirements. Simulations pointed to a number of weak points, but these were quickly eradicated. The team also managed to attract state backing through the ZIM program and this made an essential contribution toward helping EKM-Roth turn their product into reality.
The Steinbeis experts at Infothek were responsible for working with EKM-Roth on patents and selling. Together, they drafted a patenting roadmap and optimized selling to adhere to MICE principles (meetings, incentives, conventions, events). Taking part in trade shows, exhibitions, and events is an important part of a company’s sales and marketing campaigns, but they are also expensive. Attending the wrong events is not just exasperating for financial reasons, it often makes it difficult to line up new partnerships – alliances that could lead to new contracts. This is especially challenging for small and medium-sized enterprises, who unlike large companies don’t have big budgets so they’re not in a position to compensate for ill-conceived expenditures. Thanks to the support of Infothek, the team drafted a MICE concept that matched the firm’s needs and a number of trade shows where included in EKM-Roth’s tactical and strategic plans. They also organized a MICE workshop to work through an end-to-end marketing concept, making it possible to work out the right trade fairs and thus pool resources. The forming specialist can now attend events that are pertinent to its industry and use its expenditures more carefully in the long term. For example, EKM-Roth recently attended a Products Seek Producers event organized by Steinbeis in Stuttgart that revolved around mechanical engineering. The outcome: higher sales – because the target group fit like a glove and could be contacted without “collateral timewasting.” The SME has also found its first business partner, the machine maker Uldrian GmbH, and has high hopes for the future. In the meantime, a patent has been registered and a patent portfolio is in place.
Many engineering risks can now be checked using 3D CAD technology, even before products have to be made in physical terms. Of course not every company has its own simulation department, yet calculations can make such a significant contribution to risk reduction and investment security, especially with new developments. The problem small companies have is that it’s simply not financially viable in terms of personnel and simulation licenses. The work carried out for the project by the C.A.T.S. Steinbeis Transfer Center addressed these engineering challenges. Whenever necessary, the experts even worked directly on site to gain access to the engineers. Also, they often had handy hints on how to make things more reliable and even reduce material costs. The company now uses a process common to the automotive industry, including optimized costs – the result of years of experience on a number of large and small projects, underpinned by endurance stability know-how gathered during component fatigue testing. The experts have also been using this to generate selling stories, because products that offer proven reliability are also easier to sell.
The results of the project speak for themselves. The prototype worked right away and it could be used immediately in production, demonstrating the major potential it offers for all to see. In parallel to this, the marketing and patenting strategy developed by Steinbeis Infothek has started to bear fruit. Another point worth mentioning is that the solution helps protect the environment because by merging the two previously separate processes of forming and machining, there is no more need to transport materials between different factories. The new solution even makes it possible to save up to 60% on materials – a positive aspect when it comes to carbon footprints.
Suddenly, yesterday’s skeptics have become sales leads. That’s because companies only involved in forming can now combine processes and offer less expensive end-to-end components that were previously completely machined – thanks to hybrids and e-cars, certain market segments in the automotive supply sector are experiencing great momentum.
Of course ardent inventors never rest, they just keep going. Managing director Hubert Roth has already made a variety of detailed improvements and added extra features, some of which drastically reduce tooling times. The large number of satisfied customers are with him all the way, as he continues on the successful journey he embarked on with the help of Steinbeis.