CORVALLIS, Ore. – Armed with two new graduate students dedicated to working on consumer products, and a streamlined, fast-track contracting process, Oregon State University’s Prototype Development Lab is ready to help companies bring their ideas to market.
“We’re now at a point where, if anyone has a consumer product idea, they can contract with us to get a prototype in their hands,” lab director John Parmigiani said. “You never know what the next big thing is going to be – I know there are a lot of great ideas out there, and our expertise and equipment can help turn them into realities.
“We’re happy to work with everyone from startup companies needing to develop their first product to large companies wanting an efficient means of obtaining necessary mechanical or electromechanical devices,” he added. “And we have a template contract that covers what we do and how much it will cost the client, shortening the time frame until the client has their prototype in hand.”
The lab traces its roots to 2004, when Parmigiani joined the OSU College of Engineering. It got its start when he began building contacts with regional companies so undergraduate seniors could develop industrial prototypes as their capstone project.
Those contacts gradually led to industry requests involving bigger projects more suitable for graduate students, who worked with Parmigiani in what he had named his Computational Mechanics and Applied Design Lab.
“Using a graduate student provides more technical sophistication, since they have had all the undergraduate content already, and more time – a master’s degree is normally two years, while a capstone is two terms,” said Parmigiani, research associate professor of mechanical engineering. “The bigger projects involved building test equipment or other devices for companies’ internal use. The deliverables weren’t commercial products, but the underlying mechanical engineering was the same: Build a device to meet a list of client requirements.”
Examples include a better tripod for U.S. Army forward observers using targeting devices, a lightweight carbon-fiber chassis for 18-wheel trucks, and a kickback-detection system for chain saws.
This year, he changed the focus of the lab to consumer products and renamed it the Prototype Development Lab.
“As our lab continues to make its transition, some of my graduate students are still involved with traditional research and the internal-use device builds, but a number are working on new commercial products,” Parmigiani said.
Among those are a tree-limb trimmer, wheelchair accessories and a product to help people with phobias and stress disorders.
In addition to benefiting clients, Parmigiani said, the Prototype Development Lab helps the university by diversifying OSU’s research portfolio and provides a new way for industry, alumni and the community to engage with faculty and students.
Parmigiani also sees the lab as a chance to reinvent mechanical engineering postgraduate education by providing opportunities for those who want further study but don’t envision careers in academia.
“This is a master’s program for practitioners, for people who want to become engineers who build things that work,” he said. “They can gain innovation and entrepreneurship skills while applying their coursework to real-world projects and problems.”
In its history, the lab has worked with a range of companies including Blount International (multiple chain saw projects including kickback detection), Boeing, Columbia Helicopters, Daimler Trucks North America (on the chassis), Sheldon Manufacturing, Precision Castparts, Lora DiCarlo and Benchmade Knife Company.