Sam Feller’s latest at-home invention might have sugary origins, but it also stands as a case study about using the latest tools — and a bit of creativity — to make solutions to simple problems.
We’re living in a golden age of Oreo innovation — Kraft Foods has been hard at work cramming more cream into their cookies while a Ph.D. has developed a machine to scrape the high fructose corn syrup stuff off. Still, despite being a $2 billion dollars a year product, food scientists have not yet figured out how to dunk these sweet cookie sandwiches in a glass when the milk gets low. Some think a new utensil is the answer, but self-proclaimed “Awkward Engineer” Sam Feller thinks that’s a hack solution.
Instead, he offers his own fix: a custom chalice that could stylishly serve Snoop Lion if he had a case of the munchies, but also maximizes milk displacement for the engineering-minded. The cup has a wide mouth and an Oreo-sized pit that makes dunking easy no matter how much milk is left.
The Boston-based engineer is looking to raise $25,000 on Kickstarter to bring his cavity creation to market.
While it may seem like a crazy idea concocted mid sugar high, Feller has a track record of successfully delivering oddball products. His first invention, the “Panic Button,” is a light switch based on emergency stop buttons that’s sold at Urban Outfitters, ThinkGeek, and other stores. Despite the button’s success, it was assembled from off-the-shelf components. For his followup, Feller wanted to create a product from scratch.
The cookie dunker started with a sketch, became a CAD model, and ended up as a series of progressively nicer 3-D printouts. Rough prints created on Feller’s kitchen table helped him refine the general shape and plastic thickness and a $700 SLA print became the star of his Kickstarter video.
But as useful as 3-D printers are, Feller doesn’t think they’re going to replace high-volume manufacturing any time soon. “It wasn’t laser printers that made books obsolete — it was the Kindle, he says. “It won’t be 3-D printers that replace manufacturers, it will be something else.”
To manufacture his cup, Feller decided to work with some smaller local manufacturers and fulfillment houses instead of partnering with bigger companies like Protomold and Amazon. “We don’t just work locally for ethical reasons, but for practical reasons as well,” he says. “If we want to do a hands-on technical review, or do a face-to-face training for an assembly procedure, it’s only an hour drive. The kind of service we can get helps us keep hassles to a minimum.”
Those in-person meetings can be a lifesaver for a first-time product patron. Feller has been a practicing mechanical engineer for the last five years, but the process of manufacturing the cup has still posed some serious challenges to his skills. “I know how to design for injection molding, but I don’t know how to design a mold,” he says. “These manufacturing engineers have a tremendous amount of knowledge and were able to offer a lot of useful guidance.” They helped Feller select a BPA-free plastic and make a few tweaks to his design that made it easier to manufacture.
The self-proclaimed “Ultimate in Cookie Dunking Technology” looks simple, but required many iterations. Luckily, user testing has never been tastier. “I ate more cookies during testing than I could count,” says Feller. “I’m proud of the rigor of our development process, but a little horrified at how many cookies I ate.”