PART 2: Innovate Pets ramps-up production in new Loudon facility
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final article in a two-part series describing one of the area’s newest manufacturers that is part of an effort to bring manufacturing back to the U.S. After finding and building-out a suitable building, the Innovate Pets team recently began selling its new product.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
So, what is it that Innovate Pets is producing at its new facility in London?
It is a product for Global One Pet, a California-based company that markets several brands targeted at the pet sector. In this case, it’s a new offering named Dentables Toothbrush Chews, a patent-pending product made from easily digestible fat and lactose free milk proteins named caseins.
If you imagine a small toothbrush, you got it.
“It’s one of their (Global One Pet) first endeavors in this country,” Scott Huff, Principal of Innovate Pets, says. “We wanted to be able to provide them a manufacturing option in the U.S.”
You are probably thinking that ramping-up the plant and making the consumable were not a big deal. Well, you would be wrong. It was challenging, but not Huff’s first rodeo in that regard. He formerly owned a plant in Cambodia that manufactured pet products.
“It’s not the known unknowns that get you,” Huff says of the ramp-up. “It’s the unknown unknowns.”
So, what were some of the hurdles in ramping-up?
Let’s start with the core ingredient – casein, part of a family of related phosphoproteins that have been found to have specific medical and dental benefits. They include helping reduce and even repair tooth enamel by remineralizing it, being more effective at reducing/repairing tooth enamel loss than Fluoride, possessing antibacterial properties to help kill bacteria to help freshen breath and prevent tooth decay, and being a protein rich source of essential amino acids and Vitamin E for dogs.
The raw material goes through a preparation process in a cleanroom before it is transferred in a contamination-free way to one of two molds where the product is made using injection molding.
“We went through at least 15 different modifications to the 3D CAD design,” Huff said of the molds that are used to inject the consumable and produce the final product. “We had to make sure it was still manufacturable. That’s not an easy task.”
Another challenge that any new plant faces is workforce preparedness.
“We are continuously developing the talent,” Huff says. “We’re still in the steepest part of that curve.”
Innovate Pets currently employs about 20 people. The cleanroom and big mold equipment require highly-skilled workers, while the final assembly does not have the same level of skills.
Huff was confident Innovate Pets could meet its launch customer’s requirements, thanks to an overseas network of molding, tooling and compounding resources that he had built during more than a decade of living in China. Innovate also continues to operate two manufacturing facilities in the country.
“It’s a holistic effort,” Huff says of the supply chain, equipment vendors, banks, and investors that he developed. “Every robot we use here, we are also using in Asia.”
That said, making the commitment to the new facility did not come without risk.
“We’re threading a thin line to make it work,” Huff said.
With an ever growing consumable pet market and recently secured approval to be able to export product to Canada, the Maryville resident is confident Innovate Pets will be another successful venture in his long-term goal of bringing manufacturing back to the U.S.