URBANA — Bryan Wilcox and Mercedes Mane started The Product Manufactory nearly two years ago, expecting to provide a workshop that businesses could use as needed.
But it soon became clear that businesses were more interested in The Product Manufactory's people and their array of skills, Wilcox said.
So over the last year and a half, their team has taken on design projects for companies including Molex, Oso Technologies and Horizon Hobby.
For Molex, a maker of electrical products, The Product Manufactory built an LED lamp that Molex could use to demonstrate its lighting technologies. The lamp has a rail to which magnetic lights can be snapped to provide the type of illumination needed.
The Product Manufactory was contacted about the project last August, and by Black Friday in November, the product was available on Amazon, Wilcox said.
For Oso Technologies, which markets a system that tells you when to water your plants, The Product Manufactory came up with refined prototypes for the moisture sensor and base station.
Oso devised the system, and The Product Manufactory worked on the size, shape and color of the components, Wilcox said.
"It needed to be fairly unobtrusive," he added, noting that a neutral color was chosen that would fit with various indoor environments.
The Horizon Hobby project was to develop an add-on feature that could be incorporated into a radio-controlled helicopter. That feature, however, has not yet hit the market, Wilcox said.
The Product Manufactory's team is led by Wilcox, who has a doctoral degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois, and Mane, who has a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Purdue and a master's degree in aerospace engineering from the UI.
The couple lives in Mahomet, and both are 30 years old.
As president, Wilcox handles business and client relationships for The Product Manufactory, while Mane, the chief operating officer, concentrates on meeting timelines and getting products shipped. Both are deeply involved in product design.
Working with them are Mane's sister, Armela Mane, whose responsibilities include electrical engineering and marketing, and Marc Yanni, who does computer-aided design and translates designs into workable models.
The business also has several contributors including Cliff Shin, a UI assistant professor of industrial design, who is the company's director of industrial design.
While in and out of school, Wilcox worked in industry, with stints at General Electric, Northrup Grumman and John Deere as well as with a startup, Variable Torque Motors.
He said he came to realize that companies have core products and missions on which they must focus. But they also have side projects they'd like to pursue, but don't always have the time and people to do that.
Using firms such as The Product Manufactory, they can pursue projects that add value to their products, without making long-term commitments to the projects, he said.
The Product Manufactory is in the Lincoln Commerce Centre at 722 W. Killarney St., U — just southeast of the Interstate 74 interchange with Lincoln Avenue.
It has 4,500 square feet of prototyping and design space that houses equipment for woodworking, painting, sanding and other processes needed for finishing prototypes.
"Everything is on wheels, including the conference room," Wilcox said.
He's not exaggerating. The mobile, soundproofed conference room was developed at Lawrence Technological University in Michigan, and the concept could eventually be used as quiet space for team meetings on factory floors, he said.
Besides having a flexible workspace, The Product Manufactory also serves as a second home to Wilcox and Mane's dog, Vespa. The dog is a Labrador-German shepherd mix that greets clients and serves in a "public relations" role.
The Product Manufactory
Business: Provides product design and other services to companies that may not want to devote internal resources to special projects.
Services include: Product concept and development; modeling and prototyping; mechanical design and analysis; color and shape design; packaging and design; electrical design layout.
Clients include: Mimosa Acoustics, Cobalt Digital, Littelfuse, Frasca International.
Address: 722 W. Killarney St., U.
History: Started in mid-2011 and moved to Urbana's Lincoln Commerce Centre in early 2012. Open house scheduled from 5 to 8 p.m. Aug. 23 for businesses to see space, capabilities.
Ownership: Bryan Wilcox and Mercedes Mane own 73 percent; remainder owned by small group of private investors, including Serra Capital.
Employment: Four full-time employees, plus a team of contributors.