Hoefler opens new doors for product development with his inventiveness.

Author:Alpern, Peter
Position:Visionaries

Brian Hoefler has always had an affinity for unlocking doors. In college, when he wasn't working as a caddy for the PGA, he served as a locksmith. In fact, for years, he never carried a single key--opening doors with his set of picks simply came as easily as snapping his fingers.

Though his job has changed, Hoefler is still analyzing and manipulating ways to open doors. For Valenite, Hoefler has overhauled the product development department, which he says had grown stale with time.

"We had gotten away from developing solutions, and the infrastructure had eroded as well," Hoefler said. "My role was to renew that, to bring an inventiveness, to create an atmosphere of creativity with a disciplined approach."

Valenite is processing 15 patent applications this year alone and has already put out patents at a rate 10 times that of just three years ago. While the demand throughout manufacturing is for new and more creative ways in which to maximize production, Hoefler said there is an equal demand for simplified solutions.

"People get confused when things get complicated," he said. "When I was at Kennametal, we did a survey. What we found was that more than half the quality issues and complaints we received had nothing to do with the quality of product. We led them in the right direction. We just didn't create enough solution. It was complicated--even though we thought it was simple enough."

As an example Hoefler cited a prototype he's working on for an insert for turning that requires no fasteners. It simply snaps into the pocket.

"Can you imagine a tool where the customer has no spare parts to worry about?" Hoefler asked. "It basically snaps into the pocket. Very simple solution. Not complicated."

For Hoefler the fun lies in the challenge.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Brian Hoefler

Manager of Product

Development

Valenite LLC

Madison Heights, MI

Statistics

Age: 43

Education:

MS mechanical engineering, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL, BS mechanical engineering, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI

Experience:

Senior product marketing manager, Kennametal Inc...

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