One physician + one tool maker = A great partnership that started at LSSU
Posted: June 13th, 2014
KINROSS -- If you dabble in home improvement or a hobby that involves hand tools, it’s likely at some point you faulted those pieces of equipment for their limitations. You may have ideas on how to improve a tool and wished you could do something about it.
Lake Superior State University alumnus Jeff Peterman MD ’93 and current LSSU student Don Plumm have been in that position. In their quest to build “a better mousetrap,” they formed P & P Power in Kinross, Mich., with Plumm as president and Peterman as vice president. Together, among other projects, they have been making improvements to a couple of tried-and-not-so-true products, including a construction cutting tool and a “tip-up,” a device that has been used by ice fishermen for decades.
They started with a metal roofing cutter, the VING, which stands for versatile, innovative, non-galling cutter. It is a rotary-shear cutting device, sort of like an industrial can opener. However, this cutter does not leave jagged edges, and it’s quick. It came about when Peterman, who has long worked on construction projects, became frustrated with what was available in the industry.
“Thirty years ago, I used a similar tool to what we’re producing now,” Peterman said. “I’ve looked but couldn’t find what I needed. I’ve hated cutting metal because of it. What’s available is cumbersome to use, slow, and doesn’t do a good job. I started thinking that we should make it.
The VING cutter
“Don is patient and he knows manufacturing,” Peterman continued. “In a weird coincidence, he had the old tool that used to be available. So, things started to brew. Now, it wasn’t ‘why couldn’t we build it?’ but ‘how can we build it and make it better?’”
And so it began – with a lot of help from LSSU along the way.
Don had some contacts in the indoor power tool industry from his work over the years, but David Leach, of Pickford, formerly an engineer with LSSU’s Product Development Center and now teaching engineering at LSSU, connected them with a friend.
“As a result, we’re buying components for our product from the same places that the big guys are,” Plumm said.
Others helped along the way. The father of Peterman’s partner in his Sault Ste. Marie medical practice is a patent attorney. He helped with legal aspects and patent procedures.
“It all boils down to connections, to people,” Peterman said. “Without them, we would have been dead in the water. It was a series of lucky coincidences getting started. Something always fell into place. It’s been that way for several years and it has gone from an idea and guts and sleepless nights to a product.”
Don Plumm in the P&P Power shop in Kinross
“Lake State was a huge help when we started working on this,” Plumm said. “We started with David (Leach) at the LSSU PDC, which was working on a project at the same time for Marble Arms (Gladstone, Mich.). We started the concept and basics there, and it gave us a big jump start.”
Peterman might say that LSSU’s role in this story has been playing out since the early 1990s, when he was a “non-traditional” student who finished his degree later in life than most. Upon graduation in 1993, he was accepted into University of Michigan Medical School.
That year, UM accepted the oldest and youngest medical students in its history, and both were from LSSU. Joining Peterman at UM was Anita Saluja, 16, daughter of longtime LSSU Prof. Madan and Sault High Teacher Karuna Saluja, who graduated from LSSU with a math degree at age 15.
Meanwhile, anyone familiar with machining in the Eastern Upper Peninsula knows Plumm. He worked for Superior Fabrication for 29 years and felt the need to study business when he and Peterman started mulling over their ideas. So, at age 52, he enrolled at LSSU.
“I was there to learn everything I could about business,” Plumm said. “Prof. Ralf Wilhelms was intrigued that I was in business and yet studying business. We formed our business plan thanks to him and others.”
Although Plumm was a new student, Wilhelms suggested that he take a senior-level class, BUS 466 Business Policy/Business Plan.
“He said, ‘I know you can do it,’” Plumm remembered.
He did do it, and more. He took accounting from Mindy McCready, which he said was tough, as was the formulation of the business plan.
“Before I had taken the class, we had tried different sources for funding, but everyone turned us down,” Plumm said. “After I took the class and made the business plan, two or three possible backers called us back. It was a good experience. Prof. Wilhelms still helps us.”
P and P does a lot of precision machining at its shop that is unrelated to the VING cutter and its other products, including “The Fisherman,” a tip-up to beat all ice fishing tip-ups.
Ice fishing tip-ups have been modified since the first one was made many years ago. Their limitations center on difficulties in keeping them operational in the unfriendly conditions of being dipped in and out of the water and ice.
“We looked at everything that we didn’t like about an ice fishing tip-up and fixed it,” Peterman said. “This one keeps the line from tangling. There’s a flap over the hole that keeps the hole from freezing and filling up with snow. It’s strong, not brittle, and it wraps up nicely to fit in a storage bag that we make.”
In addition, The Fisherman employs a built-in spring and rod that sets the hook when a fish takes the bait. The product starts with an attractive wood base that the user can select – black ash, spruce, pine, cedar, curly maple, and black cherry, to name several. People who enjoy wood products find it appealing, as do fishermen looking for something that works.
“This product starts with me in the woods with a chainsaw,” Peterman said. “I cut the wood. Don does the metal parts. He makes it so it has the right tension to hold and see the hook properly.”
Jeff Peterman MD starting another batch of 'Fishermen.'
The two businessmen complement each other’s skills throughout the business.
“Don runs the business. He goes to business expos and gets contacts. He’s the face with the name,” Peterman said. “I’m a doctor. I like to help with ideas and problem solve.”
What’s next for P & P Power? The two are continuing to let things brew while building upon what they have done already.
“We’re on to the next thing, if the next thing is what’s intriguing,” Peterman said. “I like not knowing right now what that is.”
Find out more about P and P Power products at pandppower.com.
CONTACT: Tom Pink, 906-635-2315, firstname.lastname@example.org; John Shibley, 635-2314, email@example.com