Posted by William Mullane | September 30, 2014
Not all inventors go back 4,000 years to find stimulus for new ideas. But then, Mark Melni is not your run of the mill inventor. In addition to running Microchips Etc, a family electronics business for 20 years, Mark is a classically trained pianist who published the “Lost Arts” album with his son, Paul. This renaissance man is an example of a new type of Idaho business person – the ”Inventrepreneur” – who combines the innovative mind of the inventor with the drive, passion, vision and business sense of the entrepreneur. Combining the mindset of the Inventrepreneur with the skills and experience of the TechHelp New Product Development (NPD) Team at Boise State proved to be a Melni’s recipe for success.
Having spent most of his adult life working with computers and wires, it pained Mark to see his staff at Microchips Etc wear out their hands crimping wires in the traditional manner. He knew there had to be a better way. His mind latched on to the idea of the Chinese Finger Trap as a potential way to join wires together. The finger trap is a simple device that traps the victim’s index fingers in both ends of a small cylinder woven from bamboo. Trying to pull the fingers out only tightens the trap.
In the summer of 2007, Mark invented The Melni Electrical Connector in his garage. With a design concept similar to the Chinese finger trap, this revolutionary invention contains an electrically-conductive spiral. Once the connector is twisted, the spiral is able to “grip” stripped wires, cables, and other elongated elements and securely connect them. This eliminates the time-consuming, unreliable and expensive crimping, soldering and wrapping that is prevalent with many current electrical connectors.
It’s a long way, though, from Chinese finger trap to a UL approved electrical connector that can withstand 41,000 volts of electricity. Thankfully, Mark connected with the NPD Team at Boise State to turn his finger trap into a reliable electrical connector.
The TechHelp NPD Team at Boise State provided assistance in the form of a diverse mix of mechanical engineers, professors, engineering students and an artist. The team took Mark’s idea from the back of a card and helped him evolve his concept using 3D modeling and solid prototyping into a patented, finished product.
- The NPD Team worked with Melni to finalize design parameters and materials of the Connector using SolidWorks. This sped up the development process by allowing Melni to test materials and design options without actually having to build prototypes.
- NPD later used a Stereo Lithography Apparatus to build a series of prototype iterations to test form, fit and function of the connector.
- TechHelp’s NPD Artist produced “show ready” prototypes that Melni used to market his idea with customers and at trade shows. A Vice President of a major distributor thought the prototype was the real thing.
- NPD helped Melni sort through UL testing requirements that can be cryptic and intimidating and worked with Melni to conduct tests based on UL 486 guidelines.
- NPD acted as the main point of contact with testers, lawyers and manufacturers for technical details on the connector designs.
- NPD worked with Melni to refine designs that would improve function based on field testing and to adapt the connector to other applications.
- NPD provided ongoing assistance with product refinement, testing, and redesign.
When it comes to joining wires together, the Melni Connector is faster, safer, more reliable and more secure than existing methods. Side by side tests, (see video here) proved that installing a Melni connector took 43 seconds, or only about one-sixth of the time it takes to complete a standard crimp splice. Overall, a traditional crimp splice takes at least 12 minutes longer than using a Melni Connector.
Here is a story about the Melni Connector produced by KMVT News in Twin Falls:
Impact & Other Results:
- Today, Melni has a patented product that he is marketing to customers and potential investors around the world.
- Melni has a purchase order for $550,000 for new products.
- Melni’s success led to his hiring or retaining six employees.
- A Boise State College of Engineering Graduate returned to Idaho to continue the work he did with Melni as a TechHelp student employee.
- Melni saved costs of $1,000 and investment of $250,000 thanks to TechHelp guidance.
- Melni made productive investments in plant, equipment & information systems of $87,000.
- The initial purchase order for Connectors exceeded Melni’s entire first-year projection by 10,000 units. The product will be produced in Meridian and Twin Falls, Idaho.
- Melni received a United States Patent # 7794255 on September 14, 2010, with an amazing turnaround of only 13 months. He generated four United States Patents in three years.
- Melni pitched the Connector to one of the largest electrical connector companies in the industry and developed excellent relationships with some of the most respected electrical connector companies in the world.
- Melni LLC was voted the 2010 Entrepreneurial Idol for the State of Idaho and awarded the $10,000 1st prize.
- The Melni product pipeline has grown to include a Solar Connector, a Modular Connector, a Battery Terminal, a Lug Terminal, a Zap Nut Connector and an immediate Response Connector
See Melni’s latest patented product, the MPV-4 Solar Connector:
“As great as they were, I wonder what Tesla or Edison might have done with a resource like the TechHelp New Product Development Team at Boise State. The NPD Team has always been a great resource to me. Without them, the Melni Connector would still be just an idea in my head. They’re knowledgeable and can provide a range of unique services at a decent price. It’s been a pleasure working with them! Our product is disruptive and ‘out-of-the-box’ and we feel that the ONLY source for true innovation in bringing our idea (invention) to the market is TechHelp and the New Product Development Lab at Boise State.”
Mark Melni, Owner/Inventor, Melni Connector