OSU Helps Innovators Get Their Ideas Off the Ground

Randy Breitenkamp of Enid has a solution to a farming and ranching problem that was common to most landowners, but he didn’t have the resources at first to develop and manufacture that solution. Attaching barbed wire to T-Posts can be a hard task. Arms get tired, skin gets scratched up and the whole process is time-consuming. So Breitenkamp created a clip and tool that would attach barbed wire to a T-Post four times faster with no twisting or reaching through the fence.

“We turned to the New Product Development Center (NPDC) with the basic idea,” Breitenkamp said. “The NPDC built the prototype and did all the testing. We did several product designs before we found one we could use.”

Based on his idea and the help of the NPDC, Breitenkamp now manufactures the clips and other ranching tools through Fence Solutions Inc. in Enid.

“We created a company around the clip, and we are in our sixth year of business now,” he said. “The NPDC was a huge help for us. They helped us with the design and patent, and I can’t say anything bad.”

The NPDC is an outreach and extension unit of the Oklahoma State University College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology which provides education, guidance, technical engineering assistance, resources and referrals to inventors and small businesses. With more than 65 combined years of experience on the team in engineering design and support — plus more than 20 years in manufacturing and nearly 20 years in extension and outreach work — the NPDC offers a wide variety of expertise and resources to help businesses expand and improve products and more. The organization accomplishes this through the Inventor’s Assistance Service, Center for Technology Commercialization and NPDC-Tulsa programs.

“The New Product Development Center is an outreach unit through Oklahoma State University that focuses on economic development,” said Robert Taylor, director of NPDC. “The Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology, also called OCAST, provides the funding for us to assist clients in Oklahoma. We are also funded by a number of small companies that reach out to us to help them with innovation.”

The NPDC began in 2002 when a group of faculty members from the mechanical engineering department and Department of Agriculture decided to do something to help spur innovation. They received funding from the Oklahoma Department of Commerce to create a group that would help develop new products in the state.

“It ran several years with part-time staff, but after a while, we realized  we needed full-time employees,” said Taylor. “The faculty was doing a great job, but they have their other job to do. We now have six full-time engineers, two full-time business analysts and two full-time programming and office support employees.”

The NPDC also has 20 student interns at any given time.

“Anytime a business brings us an engineering or business project that project is assigned to the students, who are mentored by professional engineers,” Taylor said.

The NPDC partners with organizations like i2E, the Small Business Development Center and OCAST, which send referrals to the NPDC.

“If a small business says they need help to solve a problem, we put a proposal together on ways we can help solve that problem and also give them an idea of the cost estimate,” Taylor said. “Once they agree, off we go! We want them to be involved in the process. Another aspect, which is free for businesses, is to take their project and make it the Capstone Design project for our students.”

A typical problem a small business may face is transitioning to automation, Taylor said. Many small businesses struggle to keep manufacturing positions filled, and the NPDC often works to help them institute automation to reduce employee turnover.

“If a company has a new product they want to deliver, we help them with the engineering and design and how to get it out there,” Taylor said. “Over the past three years, we’ve done projects for 57 Oklahoma companies in rural communities that are considered ‘economically distressed.’ More than half of the counties in Oklahoma are considered economically distressed, so we bring in a couple of million dollars to support small businesses in rural communities.”

The NPDC also works with approximately 60 inventors a year through OCAST. Inventors can use the NPDC to research ideas, develop initial designs and apply for patents.

“They come in with their ideas, and we do a Google and patent search to make sure it hasn’t already been done,” Taylor said. “Once we get past those two hurdles, we help with the drawings, the patents, the prototypes and resources. Oftentimes, we then refer them to the SBDC, which helps them develop their idea into a business.”

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