Few things are more frustrating at a backyard cookout than ruining a great piece of meat because you spent too much time enjoying the company of friends and family, and not enough time hovering obsessively over the grill. Luckily, help is at hand.
To find out more, we sat down with James Hammer, CEO of start-up Loki Products, to talk about their new wireless meat thermometer.
Q: Thanks for meeting with us today, James. Let’s start by talking about your new product.
A: Our initial product is a WiFi-based meat thermometer to help you monitor, track and record your cooking. It makes your cooking a lot more convenient – you don’t have to hang around the grill. We have a real-time app that’s available to you from your home network to your mobile phone, or even when you’re out at the park or the grocery store. If you have something cooking in a smoker for eight or more hours, or a turkey at Thanksgiving, it’s very convenient to not be tethered to your oven or grill.
The thermometer has a circular wireless module that’s outside the grill, and a wired connection to up four probes inside the grill. Each probe is color-coordinated and unique, so you can do chicken, pork, and beef at the same time, or anything in between. You pick your food from our guide, which shows the safety requirements for consumption and steps you through the process of setting up the probe for that particular meat or fish.
Unlike a Bluetooth device, our probe uses WiFi and connects to your network for extended range inside your entire home. There’s also an interface to a cloud-based service so you can get notifications on your iOS or Android phone anywhere you have an internet connection. We can send messages to multiple people.
Q: How did the product get started?
A: The product actually stemmed from us being a family company – I have two brothers and my mom. We get together every week for a family dinner. It’s always on Wednesday and we post what we cook: check our Facebook feed! One of us would prepare a brisket or a pork shoulder the night before, then we’d get up early in the morning and put it in the smoker, or maybe a turkey in the oven. Then we’d go to work and we’d wonder what’s going on, so at lunchtime one of us would run home and check to make sure everything was fine.
In our other businesses, we do wireless devices for audio, and we do a lot of networking and user experience software for the cable industry. So we thought, why don’t we make a WiFi-based meat thermometer that will allow us to monitor cooking from outside our home?
That’s really where the concept came from – to make our cooking more convenient. From that, we added a load of features: notifications when the temperature drops or gets too high, or when the cooking’s done. It’s been great for us as a family and friends to be able to hang out, socialize, and just get a notification that the meat is done. Someone’s not stressed out about having to open the oven, probe the meat, or change the temperature. Now you can set it and forget it and enjoy everybody’s company.
In the app, we have another way to bring people together, too. Users can share their own recipes and temperature profiles either with their friends or publicly in a social area on the app. We’ll have a database of user ideas, complete with photos, that people can try out.
Q: How does Kickstarter fit into the project?
A: Kickstarter is a whole new concept for us and we’ve never launched a product this way. We use Kickstarter to raise awareness, to have a platform to market the product, and also get critical feedback from our customers. There’s been a huge response from retailers and we have several lined up for when we start shipping in January.
We’ve had some really good messages on Facebook as well as private messages on Kickstarter: people showing interest and enthusiasm for the product, giving feedback on features they’d like to have. We use that feedback to make the product the best it can be for our customers.
Q: Do you have any specific examples of suggestions that you’ve incorporated into the thermometer?
A: A lot of the suggestions are for features we’ve already implemented, and reinforce what we’ve already heard from within our own community. We have a unique probe, with a sensor in the tip and another sensor near the handle where it goes into the meat, so we’re measuring the temperature inside the meat as well as the ambient temperature inside the grill. That’s how we can send out a notification that the temperature has dropped; perhaps you’re out of fuel or a vent was left open. That was one suggestion that we’ve already implemented.
A lot of people have been asking why it‘s not 100% wireless – a self-contained system with the WiFi inside the probe. We’ve had to explain that it’s a problem from a reliability and quality of service perspective, getting the data outside of a metal chassis.
Q: What’s next for this product line?
A: Our next product is a wireless product for sous vide, which that cooks food in a temperature-controlled water bath after it’s sealed in an airtight plastic bag which also contains a marinade. It’ll be a self-contained wireless WiFi meat thermometer that’ll be very useful for commercial kitchens as well as consumers.
We’ve been working with several manufacturers to bundle the device with their sous vide ovens. This imposes some new product requirements, such as the ability to withstand immersion in a meter of water. The form factor is critical, and there’ll be a visual indicator to show when the meat is done. That’s really important in a commercial kitchen where they’re cooking large numbers of items at different stages. We’re looking at launching that product in Q3 of 2017.
Q: Ok, great. Let’s talk about Arrow and their involvement with Loki and your other companies.
A: Within our group, we’ve been using Arrow for a long time, close to ten years. They’ve always been one of our key distributors and we have great terms and great relationships.
Their field application engineers (FAEs) are incredibly knowledgeable with questions about parts. The sales people are also able to hook us up very quickly in comparison to other distributors, so they’re more responsive. We’re able to progress on a design much faster with their FAEs and sales engineers, and also find the right bill of materials cost reduction to make us more competitive in the market.
In that initial engagement, Arrow helped us to start off pointed in the right direction, helping us eliminate a part during the first go-around so we’re not endlessly re-spinning development boards. For example, the sales engineer recommended a temperature reference that would maintain the same feature set but reduce cost and lead time.
That’s at the starting point of the design. The most beneficial aspect is when it goes into production. The fact that Arrow covers such a broad line card and has such a diverse offering of products means that we can build a next-generation wireless meat thermometer and be competitive. We can also reduce our time to market because the supply chain is all there; it’s in place and intact.
Lead times are easy to get from the sales people, so we can pull inventory in and make sure we hit the market quickly and effectively.Arrow is helping us get to market months ahead of schedule by reducing our preproduction revisions, saving us 6 months or more.That translates into hundreds of thousands of dollars in cost savings.
Q: Where are these manufactured? Has Arrow’s worldwide reach been an advantage to you?
A: These are manufactured in Asia and yes, absolutely it’s been an advantage. The ability to talk locally and then have it translate very easily and quickly to our Asia CMs is really critical. We don’t have to pick up and move somewhere else from the prototype phase to production and start over. Everything we’re discussing here, we can seamlessly transfer over to the Asia market where it’ll be built.
Arrow is very well known worldwide, so when you talk to any contract manufacturer, whether in the US, Mexico or Asia, everyone has a relationship with them. I’ve always been able to work on a product here, transfer it over to my CM, and they’ve been able to order from Arrow locally. There’s no headache getting up and running quickly.
We can manufacture something literally anywhere in the world, and Arrow has the reach to those locations. There’s never any concern about getting product there.
Arrow has always been a trusted partner in our designs and development in new and current products. It is a great feeling to know you have a partner that will support you for cost reductions and product support.
Arrow is a one-stop-shop product creation resource that we will continue to utilize to maintain a competitive edge.