“Half of the inventions in this world are just improvements,” says Doug Harris, owner of 3D&L in Cape Fair, MO. He knows about inventions, because his have taken him from being a plumber and contractor to being an innovator and manufacturer. Harris was the 2020 winner of a new business pitch contest conducted by eFactory, a business incubator and resource center located in nearby Springfield, MO. RMI Business Finance helped sponsor the contest.
Because of Covid19, Harris and four other companies presented their new business ideas via the online meeting platform Zoom. After some deliberation, the contest’s trio of judges awarded 3D&L with the grand prize—a check for $10,000.
Executive director of RMI, Zola Finch, was one of the judges for the eFactory pitch contest: “It was wonderful to see the ingenuity and grit each of the contestant businesses demonstrated,” she says. “All of the judges were impressed with how Doug and his team identified a need, then set about coming up with clever, tangible pieces that solved the problem. It was really inspiring.”
An old adage states that necessity is the mother of invention. However, in Doug Harris’ case, the impetus for innovation was delivered through a customer’s demand.
It was in 2018 when a corporate client specified that Harris and company use PEX plastic tubing on a construction project rather than the copper pipes he typically used. PEX tubing is much more flexible than copper or PVC, and that same flexibility often makes the best of installations appear somewhat untidy.
“It’s hard to make PEX look good or professional,” says Harris.
Harris began to imagine and sketch what a support system might look like for working with PEX. After his son Logan acquired a 3-D printer, they began to shape working prototypes of what would eventually become their product line.
“The beauty of the 3-D printer is that we could tweak the design, then prototype without a lot of expense,” says Harris.
In addition to 3D&L, Harris has owned and operated a plumbing business, Missouri Plumbing Crew, since 2001. As he and Logan turned out new prototypes, Doug gave them to his crew to try out in the field. His team’s real-world feedback helped steer the design and usability of the pieces.
An appreciative Harris put the $10,000 prize money to good use. It paid for patent attorney fees and helped cover the costs of dies used in the plastic injection molding process. The remainder was spent on marketing the new products.
Looking to the future, Harris’ first priority is to bring in revenue by producing and distributing the current products. “Then, chances are I’ll expand the line and develop more pieces,” he says. “Because I’ve already got other ideas in my head.”