Murray Fenton is the founder and owner of Adept - an Auckland-based company that specialises in developing and manufacturing products for the meat industry - and Adept Medical, a medical device developer and manufacturer. Adept also develops and manufactures products for other firms.

Can you tell me about how Adept came about and your background in terms of product development?

I started back in 1970 by building a moulding machine in my backyard to get into plastic injection moulding as a business. The business grew steadily making engineering parts and products for other New Zealand companies.

In 1977 I started developing a product for the meat industry - a clip to close the oesophagus in lambs after slaughter - which took more than a decade to develop to full commercial success. Adept continues developing and producing both new and refined similar products for the meat industry worldwide, and we're the world leaders in this field.

Around 1990 I made the decision to invest in CAD - or computer aided design - as well as toolmaking as essential components to make us successful in product development. We've continued investing in this area - in both people and equipment - and now we consider ourselves unequalled in this area. That's a bit of a skite, but I think it does come down to the people we have.

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Can you tell me about your product development process? How do you go from idea to market-ready product?

For our own products we find it essential to research the real need or needs for a new idea. A lot of time and effort here pays off by eliminating the false assumptions that most new ideas encompass about the desirability or commercial viability of the product.

For ideas that come externally - when we're developing things for others - we've found that the person with the idea must be intimately involved with the industry they're targeting.

Once we have confidence there's a true market pull - which means there's a need as well as a market with volume and value - then we combine the talents of the designers, toolmakers and technicians to determine the concept and optimise it for suitability, quality and production.

This involves lots of meetings and discussions. There are usually a lot of arguments to be resolved or compromises to be made. Particularly with medical devices, the regulatory requirements can also impose enormous restrictions. We spent $1.5 million, for example, taking a device right up to being market ready only to have it not meet one requirement for similar devices even though that didn't affect our product's safe use.

What factors do you think have made you successful in the product development space?

Thoroughness and persistence. While the occasional brilliant flash of inspiration can set you on the right path, it's the perspiration that counts. Successful products need continuous improvement otherwise someone else will do it. Time to market is one of the most important factors in success, but taking the time and effort to get it right actually speeds up the true time to getting something market ready.

What are the major challenges you've encountered developing a product development company?

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Apart from those working in larger or multinational companies, I think most people in smaller enterprises don't appreciate the work involved in fully designing and developing a product, and don't have a suitable budget. An attractive rendered drawing is only a starting point with a new product and to use our team to their full potential requires a substantial amount of time.

When developing our own products we accept that most of the research and development we do is an investment in our future advantage, which is supported by the manufacturing side of the business.

What kind of support or external resources have you been able to tap into when developing products? And what's your take on the support available to Kiwi companies developing new products?

Adept hasn't used any external resources and we're fortunate we have sufficient internal funding as a successful manufacturer. We don't consider the time delay and paperwork involved makes it worth applying for government-sourced funding.

That said, there is quite a lot of funding around. For a small enterprise, though, I think this can mean losing control to an angel investor, or struggling to convince a government funding body that your proposal is better than myriad proposals from universities or institutes where they have the skills inhouse to write very persuasive and targeted proposals.

Lastly, what are the three key pieces of advice you'd pass on to others looking to develop new products within their companies?
1. Be certain you're fully aware of the real needs and size of your target market.

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2. Test your prototypes thoroughly and don't let the 'additional benefits' stifle the soundness of good design.

3. If you can, make one source responsible for all aspects of the project.

Coming up in Your Business: How do you outsource offshore? What are the options, how does it work on a practical level, and what are some of the pitfalls? If you've got a story to share, drop me a note: nzhsmallbusiness@gmail.com