If you’re looking to innovate in the worldwide food and beverage industry, doing business from remote New Zealand may not be the most likely place to start. However, mechanical engineer and product development expert Edward Scott has done just that. In a few short years, one of Scott’s inventions has become a global sensation in the packaging industry. The product, a “spoonless” yogurt cup that’s a hit with busy parents packing lunches around the globe, has risen from its humble beginnings in Scott’s garage workshop to being featured in Saturday morning TV commercials.
In collaboration with another Kiwi inventor/business partner, Scott developed a new product design for a squeezable yogurt cup. Marketed as the crush cup, the product is designed in such a way that consumers can squeeze the outside container to eat the yogurt without the need for a spoon.
“What the mums are doing, which is really cool, is freezing the yogurt cups and then putting them in the kids’ lunch boxes to keep their tuna sandwiches cool all day,” Scott said.
Because the cup design uses a bellows that allows for expansion and contraction—as the volume increases as the yogurt is frozen—it doesn’t cause cracking or leaking as the liquid freezes or contracts. During the initial crush cup design phase, Scott needed money for two things: market research and proof-of-concept vacuum forming tooling.
“We needed to do a bit of research to figure out what the market was looking for and then make sure we designed the package to suit the design,” he said. “The next hurdle was trying to manufacture a mold to make the product ourselves. We started using stereolithography (SLA) processes to make the vacuum forming molds for the cups and we had sort of limited success in doing that.”
With the SLA prototype tooling costing upwards of $5000 for a single cavity vacuum forming tool, seed money was running out in short order. Scott, with his background in tool and die design, decided to try his hand at making molds on a standard milling machine, but quickly realized that the complicated nature of his mold design made a CNC mill a necessity for the project.
He continued, “At that point I approached my business partner and CEO of the business and said, ‘Look, let’s just buy a CNC mill and do this ourselves.’ But, unfortunately, he wasn’t interested. So essentially what I did was take it upon my own bat to find a milling machine that was a good value for my dollar and would enable me to do what we needed to do.”
Undeterred, Scott took a high interest personal loan from a local bank and borrowed enough money to buy his own equipment. Scott shopped around for CNC milling machines online before he discovered the Tormach PCNC 1100.
“During a scheduled sales trip to the US, I decided to take a look at the Tormach facility and quickly determined that the PCNC 1100 was the right tool for me.” Scott purchased a mill and had it delivered back to his garage workshop in New Zealand.
With his PCNC 1100 to experiment with molds and the product design, Scott’s ability to do R&D from the confines of his own workspace helped him prove the concept to manufacturing partners.
“The cup itself is unique in its shape and functionality. Vacuum forming is not an exact science; it’s more of an art. The design made a lot of engineers quite weary, because it wasn’t a standard cup and it required quite a bit of finesse. It’s got venting in weird places and has a bit of an odd shape to the design.”
“The main question I had from the engineers was always the same, ‘Is this going to work on our production machine?’” He continued, “Multi-million dollar machines make these products and they were questioning the viability of this technology on their production lines. So, what I needed to do was go into their facilities, figure out how their machines worked, go back into my garage and try and duplicate a rudimentary version of it.
“I designed and built my own vacuum forming machine that duplicated the production setup.” The next stage was then to design and build the molds so I could duplicate the entire process.
”This ensured the mold would work and give them the confidence the new tooling line would perform in full-scale production.”
After licensing the product in New Zealand, Scott started traveling the world to showcase the invention to large multinational companies. By using his PCNC 1100 to develop different variants of the product, Scott was able to leverage his initial investment by licensing the design in worldwide markets.
“The product has generated an excess of 100 million dollars in revenue for US-based companies,” Scott said. “The product is used throughout the United States. It’s now in China and also in South Africa and has pretty much spread its wings. But without the Tormach and the ability to produce the product in my garage it may never have happened. Because at $5000 a mold, we would have run out of money pretty quickly. A fledgling company would have totally gone bust had we not had the tools to do the R&D on our own.”