My Wonderffle Story
My name is Mike Bradford. I'm an engineer, culinary enthusiast, and world traveler. I earned a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering from the University of Oklahoma and worked as a welding engineer at a General Motors assembly plant before launching a 12-year career as a software developer for various startups in Atlanta and Austin.
For years, I had dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur -- I just always thought I'd start a software company. I conceived the idea for The Wonderffle Stuffed Waffle Iron one afternoon in September 2014 while I was having lunch with coworkers at 24 Diner on Austin's famous 6th Street. One of my colleagues had ordered a plate of chicken and waffles (a dish that seems to have exploded in popularity recently) and I was struck by how large the portions of chicken and waffles were. It got me thinking about waffles in general. I realized that there's no easy way to eat them on the go -- not with the things we typically eat with waffles. It would just be a big mess trying to eat a waffle with syrup or fruit (or fried chicken) while in your car or walking around. So I searched for some type of product like those sandwich makers you see in the stores but only for waffles. Finding none, I decided to finally make use of that Mechanical Engineering degree I had earned many years prior and started designing one myself.
I wasn't the cook of the family, so I was considering asking my older brother, who had years of professional cooking experience, to partner with me in starting a food establishment. However, before we could seriously talk about the idea he passed away suddenly. Distraught, I actually abandoned the project for about 5 months.
But then one day I saw an advertisement by a major food retailer for a breakfast sandwich comprising sausage, egg and cheese between two waffles and realized that the world was ready for a better way to eat deluxe waffles on the go. Reenergized, I completed my design, had it machined and finished, and began cooking stuffed waffles for friends and family who encouraged me to get this product out commercially.
I began by investigating existing market offerings and found no other cooking device created specifically to cook the kind of waffle I had envisioned.
Having never actually owned a waffle maker before, I deconstructed a few that I had picked up from a thrift store to get an idea how they are constructed. My initial direction was to build an electric stuffed waffle maker, but as a stopgap measure, I sought to build my proof-of-concept prototype out of metal because I could easily have that machined. Later, I decided to forego electric altogether because I wanted the device used to cook a portable waffle to be portable itself.
My prototype design didn't start with sketches on paper, rather, as a software developer, I went straight to the computer. I hadn't used CAD software in years, but thankfully I picked it back up pretty quickly. I used AutoDesk Fusion 360 on my MacBook Air and was pretty pleased with the results. Three years ago, the software suffered from pretty regular crashes and I lost several hours of work. Today, thankfully, it's improved by leaps and bounds in performance and stability.
I originally designed the vertical indentions strictly as an aesthetic feature. However, they would later become an integral part of the device's functionality, as they allow the cooked waffle to be easily removed from the waffle iron using the waffle iron itself.
Starting the prototype phase by printing a 3D model usually makes sense. Having never used a 3D printer, I became a member of TechShop where I took some classes on the subject and got some help from other members.
You obviously can't cook waffles on 3D-printed plastic, so I needed to figure out how to build the prototype out of metal. Having decided on aluminum because of its low cost, light weight, ease of machining, and ubiquitousness in cookware, I took classes at TechShop to decide which machines would be most suitable for building my prototype. I settled on their Tormach CNC machine.
I studied mechanical engineering at university, but I'm no machinist. So after a few tries, I realized that my design was too involved to complete by an amateur machinist. Fortunately, Fusion 360 has a feature where you can upload your 3D design directly to Protolabs, a Minnesota-based fabricating and small-scale manufacturing service. I used Protolabs to machine all of my early prototypes and Chicago-based Automatic Anodizing to apply the hard anodization and PTFE coating.
My first prototype made a stuffed waffle too large to be enjoyed by just one person. The second was identical to the first except it had been arbitrarily scaled down in size and was too small to easily cook with. The third prototype made an ideal-sized stuffed waffle, but the design made it difficult to remove the cooked waffle from the device.
My final prototype design elegantly solved the problem of removing the cooked waffle from the device by incorporating the scissor assembly. Now the indentions along the side of the waffle proved invaluable as they provided grip for the waffle while it's being removed.
SECURING A MANUFACTURER
In July 2016, I began to work with a Texas-based manufacturer to mass produce The Wonderffle Stuffed Waffle Iron. Together, we refined my design to make it tooling- and production-ready. Our first production model was completed in September 2016.
Based on feedback from professional cooks and other testing, my manufacturer and I have made two important design improvements to the first production model.
The first is that we have added a hinge to hold together the waffle pans. The hinge fits the two plates together using a locking system that allows for easy separation of the pans for cleaning.
Secondly, heat-resistance for the scissor assembly handles will be achieved with a stainless steel-reinforced thermoplastic.
Tooling began in June 2017 with production set to start by August.