22 manufacturing ideas for small businesses

Do you work at or want to start a small manufacturing company and need product ideas? Here's 22 technologies invented in defense laboratories that are available now to small businesses or startups.

TechLink provides no-cost licensing assistance to small businesses who want to access technology invented by defense laboratories. (Terje Sollie/Pexels)

TechLink has thousands of technologies available to businesses of all sizes, including dozens of manufacturing ideas for small businesses.

Many are complex and might require expensive research and development before a product is ready, but others are straightforward items with simple designs that are ready for production.

And TechLink has long been helping entrepreneurs and small businesses to license technology from defense laboratories for manufacturing.

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To help get the search for your next successful product started, here’s a list of manufacturing ideas for small businesses pulled from our database of available technologies.

Click on the title to find out more information about these exciting manufacturing ideas for small businesses and who to contact.

Improved Mooring Cleat

Illustration of the Navy’s improved mooring cleat design.

Navy engineers have developed a new ship and dock cleat that allows for fast attachment of a line without the need to feed it through a cleat or chock and without the need to knot the end. The open design has an overlapping horn with an angled slot that allows a line to be dropped into the fitting at any desired position and restrains the line against pull in any direction. While the rope can be attached in multiple patterns, slipping the rope through the angled slot at the start or end of the pattern produces a more secure mooring.

Adjustable Pistol Grip for M4 Carbine

A patent illustration shows the adjustable, ergonomic hand grip.

A patent illustration shows the adjustable, ergonomic hand grip.

A Navy engineer has developed and patented an adjustable ergonomic hand grip that allows the grip angle to be modified, by push-button or screw, to accommodate different shooting stances. By rotating the grip, wrist fatigue and injury can be minimized by allowing the shooter to hold the weapon at, or closer to, the natural wrist position. Additionally, the rotatable grip could be folded up to the body of the firearm to make it more compact for concealment or storage.

Auto Belay Insertion System

With the need for a safer method to rapidly descend from a helicopter in a controlled way and still allow the operator to quickly detach in a manner consistent with their experience with other harness systems Air Force personnel have developed the Auto Belay Insertion System.  This is an integrated three-component device which includes existing commercial auto-belay technology. The system mounts in military, as well as search and rescue aircraft and addresses the special needs for hostile environment insertion.

Improved Intubation Mouthguard

ImageThe U.S. Army has developed a patent-pending intubation mouth guard that protects facial tissue compromised by burns or other injuries. The Army device also provides enhanced protection of a patient’s teeth by shifting the load from vulnerable incisors to the more robust molars.

Mobile Device Arm Mount

Mobile Device Arm Mount

Mobile Device Arm Mount

The Air Force 711th Human Performance Wing has devised a wrist- or arm-mount cuff assembly that enables ready, hands-free access to communication devices and other tools. The cuff uses a multi-layer blend of soft and rigid components that conform to the muscle and structure of the forearm. The tensioning system achieves a customizable, non-slip fit that can be adjusted with one hand. The modular device mount can be adapted to accommodate mapping, communication, and music devices, as well as a rail system for attaching a flashlight and other tools.

Low-cost Ground Release

ImageHere’s a great manufacturing idea for a small business. The Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center has developed the low-cost ground release to address parachute payload delivery in military operations. It has potential uses in a broad range of applications within allied military organizations, humanitarian relief efforts, and backcountry drops by organizations such as the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management. Integration into commercially available payload parachutes may give the user more certainty of successful delivery over traditional payload parachutes.

Non-tangle Winch System

This naval innovation aims to resolve winch issues by providing a unique guide combined with a two spool system. The guides keep the line from tangling, and the system is designed to maintain constant tension on the line when operating in both directions.  Expected applications for this winch include marine or freshwater research, over water rescue, laying of ground lines, and operations in the snow.

Highly-configurable Shipping Pallet

Navy engineers have rethought the pallet and created a new device to secure loads.  These new pallets are self-contained eliminating the requirement for additional tools for assembly or to secure cargo. This transport and storage device is modular to accommodate full or partial loads of varying sizes, arrangements, and shapes. The system includes a top frame and a bottom frame to sandwich the load and a linking system between the two structures.

The linking system comprises extendable rods on each side connecting the top and bottom frame. The cargo facing side of the top and bottom frames contain adjustable separators, which further help to secure the load. These separators may be fully collapsed to lie flat.

Reusable Breakaway Mounting Device

This invention is a reusable breakaway mounting device that can be customized according to the amount of force required to break away the mounted device. There are two versions of the device. The first uses a maximum strength o-ring to prevent damage to the mounted device. The o-ring is mounted within a groove to provide stabilization while a toothed ring is tightened around the o-ring. The spacing of the teeth provides a way for the o-ring to compress and release itself when the threshold force is reached. A second version uses a magnetic field between the breakaway plate and the mounting brackets. Using magnets allows a simple way to customize the minimum breaking force that preserves the mounted device.

Modular Protective System Multipurpose Guard Tower

Multipurpose Guard TowerDesigned by the Army, the MPS Multipurpose Guard Tower is capable of providing overwatch for entry control point and perimeter protection. The system can be configured as an elevated guard tower, mounted on a Quadcon container, or positioned for ground-level fighting.

Protection is provided by a multi-layered armor panel system that allows security demands to be tailored based on the threat level. Protection capabilities against small arms, indirect fire and blast threats for the system have been validated through laboratory and field demonstrations.

Stand-off Explosive Charge Holder

Hand-placed demolition charges are typically put in direct contact with an intended target surface such as a building support beam. However, some applications require the use of stand-off charges. Navy researchers have developed a bracket to properly hold a stand-off charge at the desired distance. The bracket can hold up to 7 lbs. at distances up to ten inches away from a target. It is collapsible and user adjustable, another great manufacturing idea for small businesses.

Water Saving Nozzle

The Naval Air Warfare Center, Aircraft Division at Lakehurst, New Jersey, has developed, tested, and patented a high-efficiency nozzle that atomizes water with 80 percent less water pressure and is adaptable to other applications where low liquid use is desirable. The novel nozzle sheers a water stream into droplets 100 microns in size. The droplets expand into a layer of fine mist that is carried to the target on a pressurized stream of air.

Life Preserver Locator System

The life preserver locator system consists of a water activated balloon and inflation system that deploys as soon as the wearer hits the water. The helium gas lifts the balloon on a tether above the person to a height easily seen by searchers. A strobe attached to the balloon provides additional visibility in cloudy weather or at night. This simple solution can be combined with other location methods and applies to both civilian and military uses.

Convertible Trailer

The trailer is shown in its goose-neck, flat-bed configuration.

Shown in its goose-neck, flat-bed configuration

To fill a gap in the market such that one trailer can accommodate multiple hitch configurations, Navy scientists and engineers have developed a trailer that can be quickly reconfigured to adapt to either a gooseneck or bumper pull hitch. The trailer has four wheels to handle heavy loads and is made of either aluminum or steel. It can be reconfigured by one person in minutes.  Additionally, the trailer can be converted to a flat surface which would allow for loading of a vehicle or to a walled version which could properly contain smaller or loose cargo.

Insulated Container for Cold Beverages

Army ice chest

The small version of the Army’s patented ice chest

The Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center has developed an insulated container for bottles and bladder-filled water to replace commercially available insulated coolers that became projectile hazards during improvised explosive device scenarios, due to soldiers being unable to effectively restrain the coolers.

Blast Debris Protective Harness

The blast debris protective harness provides significantly increased lower torso protection over the current groin panel due to the ballistic inserts, comprised of overlapping layers of seam allowance uniquely sewn in opposite directions, creating a convoluted path for any small blast fragments to pass through. In addition to increased coverage, the blast debris protective harness features adjustable buckles allowing for the harness to fit snugly against the inner thighs and groin, offering increased mobility, less snagging on the surrounding environment, and for the wearer to easily doff and don the harness.

Portable Optical Fiber Cable Reel

Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division, has developed, patented, and field-tested an easy-to-use cable reel suited for 100 lb fiber optic cable that can be operated by one person. This technology reduces failures, increases the capability of the cable by protecting its shape during reeling, and increases mean time between failures. The cable reel has a patented bearing system that allows the discs to spin independently from the spool.

Tactical fiber cable reel allows easier deployment of cable

Cable reel allows easy deployment

This allows easier rewinding with a hand crank, whether the reel is stationary, rolling on the ground, or in the back of a moving vehicle. The long side will unreel from the top, and the short end side will unreel from the bottom. Alignment tabs are used to help align the reel when removing or installing on a trailer. Also, the cable reel reduces the amount of manpower required for setup and teardown.

Remote Excavation Tool

Navy researchers have developed an excavator that can be attached to a robotic platform, tractor, or be manually propelled. The cutting end is an array of blades spinning up to 2,500 RPM and oriented perpendicular to the ground. Angled brushes inserted between the blades throw excavated material out of the way. The device has been designed to utilize a “high cycle, low force” methodology that enables greater control of the cutting depth.

The Ruck Dock

The Ruck Dock

The Ruck Dock

The Air Force Research Laboratory seeks companies to license and manufacture the Ruck Dock, a load carriage connector system designed to enable rapid mounting and demounting of personal load bearing equipment. The Ruck Dock consists of two mating halves that allow connection under various angles of approach. Despite a heavy load, or being unable to view the connector orientation, the end-user can reliably and quickly couple and decouple the system.

Body Heating and Cooling Garment

The heating and cooling garment is breathable and launderable and will maintain comfortable core body temperature under diverse conditions, whether indoors or outside. The vest can be connected to a faucet or a cooling unit and unhooked briefly for mobility, or be more permanently tethered. The technology includes both a method and a pattern board for adhering tubing to a fabric substrate, to construct a heating and cooling garment.

Polygonal Asymmetric Reflector

Polygonal Asymmetric Reflector

Navy researchers have developed a unique way for aircraft to identify a person who has no radio. The device’s geodesic structure can be quickly assembled or inflated by the ground-based person. Configurable panels of the structure are designed to reflect or resonate an RF signal emitted by a plane or unmanned aerial vehicle passing overhead. Based on the design of the panel, a signature signal is reflected back to the aircraft, which is compared to a library of stored signals.

Magnetic Pest Control Device

The Navy Entomology Center of Excellence has developed a novel method and device to control insect and small rodent pests. Upon consumption of a bait material infused with metal particles, pests become inescapably bound to a magnet. Preliminary trials have demonstrated success with adult and larval mosquitoes, fire ants, houseflies, and cockroaches; however, this technology can be applied to virtually any pest species that can be induced to internalize the ferromagnetic particles.

Is your small business interested in manufacturing these technologies? Get in touch with TechLink’s experts for no-cost licensing assistance.

Want more manufacturing ideas for small businesses? Search TechLink’s database of available technologies for more opportunities to grow your business.

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