Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bringing A New Invention to Market in Real Time – I got the first order… Now What?

Well, it seems after only about 37 years of working on my selective asparagus harvester I’ve finally managed to sell one. I got my first order yesterday.

I receive it with mixed emotions. Finally! A real Order! But there are some hurdles to overcome.

To begin with I don’t actually have the machine… I have to build it. This is a custom machine built to match the bed width and row spacing of his asparagus crop. Asparagus growers plant their asparagus in a variety of row spacing’s and bed widths. I’ve seen asparagus planted in rows as close together as 36” and as far apart as 72” with bed widths from 22 inches wide to 48 inches wide.

So we are about to build our first commercial version of our experimental selective asparagus harvesting machine. There are no commercially available “selective” asparagus harvesters on the market. There are asparagus harvesting aids for the hand crews such as little carts you can ride on to hand pick the spears, but there are no machines that I know of that will selectively harvest only the ripe asparagus spears leaving the not-yet-ripe spears for the following days.

My partner in this venture is a machine shop over 600 miles away in another state. The way it works is I do all of the design work, send them the blueprints, and they build the machine. When they get the machine finished then I drive to the machine shop, a lovely 9-10 hour drive, do the electronics work and supervise the installation of the hydraulic systems.

Then we will rent or borrow a tractor and do some parking lot fine tuning and debugging… always a few bugs with the new machine. And this new design has a whole bunch of new stuff I haven’t done before from the vertical lifting of the header which used to be on swinging arms to completely new circuit boards. We’ve never tried 1” bore cylinders… in the past we have always used 1-1/2 inch bore cylinders.

The new cylinders use gravity for keeping the blades in the correct position while in the past we’ve always used guide rods. There are just too many changes to mention here. The point is there will certainly be some debugging.

Once we are satisfied with the parking lot testing we will take the machine out to a local asparagus field and run it over a few rows of real asparagus for a week or so to do any final tweaking.

I have my fingers crossed that we don’t run into to some big expensive problem. I am however quite confident in my latest design and I am expecting smooth sailing ahead.

Another hurdle that may cause us problems is timing. It’s now the end of March and asparagus harvesting season is underway. If we want to be able to run a machine on some real asparagus beds and really harvest asparagus then we need to get this machine built quickly. The end of the season is usually at the end of May.

Cost is as always a hurdle. We have done our best to anticipate what everything will cost accurately but so many things can go wrong. We won’t make any money on this machine. In all likelihood we will lose money. But since we can’t afford to build our own machine this is about the only way we can get a machine out in the field where asparagus growers will be able to see for themselves how well the machine works. So cost is definitely a hurdle.

Speaking of hurdles, guess where the asparagus grower who is ordering the machine has his farm… Australia! Another reason we want to do thorough testing and debugging… a service call to Australia is probably not in the cards.

I’ll be spending a lot of time looking at the drawings of the machine trying to make sure I haven’t made any mistakes before sending them to the machine shop. We won’t be starting until the money is transferred to our bank account which will be in a couple of days I believe. Then it’s race time.

In case I have any readers out there, and in case any readers are interested in this project to bring the selective asparagus harvesting machine to life, I will blog frequently about the whole process.

Now please excuse me, I must begin going over those prints.