Leardon Solutions has seen it before.
Its principals have been through the process of getting manufacturing right. Earlier in their careers, each of them saw firsthand how a company at the top of the Fortune 500 worked through its challenges.
Big companies are typically familiar with manufacturing, but what is a small company to do, asked Joseph Donoghue, Leardon’s president and co-owner.
“This stuff isn’t easy to do,” he said.
Leardon saw an opportunity to market its engineering and manufacturing expertise, opening its doors in 2005. Today the firm, with seven full-time employees and six part-timers, counts more than 100 customers.
Its strong suits are mechanical, electromechanical, electrical and firmware engineering.
‘Like a General Contractor’
Leardon’s clients are typically small- or medium-size business owners who suddenly find themselves needing a better grasp of the engineering or manufacturing process. Sometimes those clients arrive in the middle of a project with the complaint, “How did I get here? Get me out of this.” That is according to Mike Hoggatt, the firm’s director of product development.
Any factory in China can tell a businessman, “I can do it, no problem,” said Donoghue. But things happen. In the last year, Donoghue said he traveled to China three times and to Turkey twice to make fixes.
“We’re like a general contractor,” Hoggatt explained. The general contractor at a building project understands the big picture. The plumbers and electricians on site don’t want to discuss challenges with the homeowner; they want to deal with the general contractor, who talks the same language, Hoggatt said.
Under the arrangement, the client focuses on sales, marketing and financing, said Hoggatt. Leardon Solutions focuses on design, engineering and manufacturing.
Variety of Devices
The company shares space in Mira Mesa with Cal-Comp USA Inc. The table in the office set aside for Leardon is spread with devices that the company has engineered. They are as varied as a pool skimmer, an egg-shaped device to warm cosmetics, and a tap for a beer container.
Here is a horse massager, roughly the shape and size of a baker’s rolling pin. It has a handle on each end, and rolling, textured discs between the handles.
Then there is the device marketed by Carlsbad-based Aculief.
It is deceptively simple. It is a U-shaped piece of plastic. The clip applies pressure to a certain part of the lower hand called the LI4 acupressure point, relieving tension.
Leardon made at least 10 prototypes of the clip before getting it right, Donoghue said. The project was difficult because the clip could not be bulky. Nor prone to breakage. It had to apply force to the region. And, while doing all this, it had to look attractive, the president said.
Donoghue, Hoggatt and company co-founder Murray Learmonth learned their craft working with Hewlett-Packard Co.
It was a valuable experience, Hoggatt said. HP gave the team a “1,000-foot view” of what it takes to develop a complex system, such as an inexpensive printer that would ship by the hundreds of thousands every month.
Teams from various disciplines in various parts of the world worked on the projects, he said. The work was complex, the pace was fast and the attitude was getting it right the first time.
There was also an intense interest in the customer — who that person was and what their expectations were, he recalled.
Today, Leardon is not locked into any particular technology. It doesn’t have an injection molding machine in the backroom that it needs to keep busy, Donoghue said, so the staff is open to all options of solving the problem.
A full third of the company’s business is from the United Kingdom and Ireland. “We are an export company, believe it or not,” Donoghue said. The partners said Leardon is thinking about setting up an office in the British Isles.
Leardon does not publicly report its revenue. In addition to its seven San Diego employees, the company has five employees in Taiwan (three of them full-timers) and a part-time employee in the Republic of Ireland.
Other products on the table at Leardon are a handheld laser diode device for treating hair loss, a heat therapy device that puts a person’s hand in a vacuum-sealed cuff, and nasal tubes for use in a hospital setting.
Prototypes have an important place in the manufacturing process, company leaders said.
Frequently companies want a prototype to show investors what the finished product will look like, Learmonth said. Very small firms that want to fund a product through Kickstarter Inc. or a similar crowd funding website need a prototype, Hoggatt said. Self-funded enterprises care less about being “cosmetically correct,” Hoggatt added, but still need to figure out whether there are any engineering roadblocks ahead.
A prototype product is good to have, Donoghue said, showing off the pool skimming device.
There are enough surprises during the manufacturing process, he reasoned. You don’t want the look of the product to be a surprise too.