Leardon Solutions’ customer Okotech Ltd from County Antrim in Northern Ireland, United Kingdom have been in the news lately. This led us to the latest winner of the Invest Northern Ireland Propel Programme 2012 Company of the Year to share some of their product development and manufacturing experiences with their wireless heating control product named heatboss.
We met entrepreneurs Janette and Gary O’Hagan in Belfast in 2011 as they were wrapping up the heatboss prototyping phase and were ready to launch production plastic injection molding tools for heatboss. Janette and Gary have been working together for 2 years on their start-up company. Their wireless heatboss system helps customers use their energy more efficiently by controlling the radiator settings in rooms that are not in use, resulting in heating cost savings up to 30%. The team at Okotech Ltd has recently been diligently reviewing the performance data from their first two customers in the care home sector, an industry that requires continuous heating. They are now preparing to grow into other sectors that require continuous heating requirements in regions where the product can provide the most benefit such as Ireland, the remaining parts of the United Kingdom and Northern Europe.
Janette O’Hagan describes some of the ups and downs of developing products in her interview with Leardon Solutions.
Leardon: How did you come up with the idea for Heatboss?
Janette: The continuously rising cost of central heating fuel in the United Kingdom was the big trigger, closely followed by the frustration with contemporary heating controls’ poor usability and inability to control individual rooms. We started off by going round the house and turning off the radiators in the rooms which we weren’t using during the day and that’s when we realised we could develop something to do this electronically – that’s when the idea for heatboss was born.
Leardon: What was the most important thing you learned about the prototyping and new product development process?
Janette: We’ve learned many things throughout the heatboss product development process, but the vital lesson is recognising the importance of the design and prototyping phase – and also when you’re dealing with a new hardware product remember that everything takes far longer than you think it will. The software side of things pretty much stuck to the timescales, but hardware is a different beast – resolving one issue or sourcing a small part can delay you for weeks.
Leardon: What did you learn about manufacturing a product? Did you encounter any issues?
Janette: Manufacturing a product like heatboss requires many different people with different skill sets and managing all these people can be time-consuming. If these skill can be found within the one supplier this process becomes a lot easier and less time-consuming to manage.
As a new start-up company we encountered many hurdles, but the biggest was as a result of not prototyping enough. The benefit of hindsight tells us that spending adequate time and effort at this stage will save money and time in the long run and ensures a solid product. Our eagerness to move fast and, as a result, not do enough prototyping meant that we went into tooling without all the issues being spotted and dealt with. So in the end we had to fix a couple of minor issues after the tooling was produced – meaning additional time, frustration and costs – but it worked out ok – we have a well designed product that is saving our customers between 28 and 40% of their heating costs. We’ll definitely give prototyping more attention in Version 2 though!
Leardon: Why was Northern Ireland a good place to develop the heatboss?
Janette: There are a couple of reasons why Northern Ireland was a good place to develop heatboss. Firstly, the region is one of the best for new-start funding opportunities. Invest Northern Ireland’s support has been integral to the development of heatboss. Their Propel Programme has brought us on the journey from concept to commercialisation.
Secondly, in terms of testing a heating controls product, Northern Ireland is the one of the best test-bed environments – the cold, wet and windy climate doesn’t do much for Northern Ireland’s tourism but it means that most of us have our heating on almost all year round, so we have been able to test versions of the product all year round! The other advantage is that we can therefore save our customers fuel and money all year round. heatboss loves Northern Irish weather!
Leardon: What recommendations do you have for others with product ideas?
Janette: If you have a product idea, take the time to ensure that you have good suppliers who are commercially minded and who you can trust to deliver – those, like Leardon, who have a strong track record of delivering products with efficiency, professionalism and, probably most valuable, have the in-house knowledge and experience that enables them to understand your product and help you avoid problems.
If you are interested in learning more about the Okotech heatboss product, please contact Okotech Ltd. at info (at) okotech.co.uk.
Need more information on new product development or the manufacturing process? Please contact us with any questions or contact me directly at joseph.donoghue ( at ) leardon.com.