Product innovation and Leatherman, the original pocket survival tool

Leatherman is well known for creating cool, portable, multipurpose tools. The founder, Tim Leatherman received his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Oregon State University. Time spent traveling abroad convinced him of the need for a pliers based, multipurpose tool. Now, more than 30 years later I was lucky enough to chat with Jeff Castro, Lead Engineer in Product Innovation at Leatherman about product development.

Leatherman Wave

Leatherman Wave

Leatherman was founded by a mechanical engineer, how has this helped along the road to success?

Tim Leatherman and the original PST (Pocket Survival Tool) created the multi-purpose tool industry and this legacy of solving everyday problems is what our company is based in, grown from, and steered by. We have always led with innovative products, and the market has responded accordingly. Our brand and product DNA are high quality, long lasting, and rich with innovation; this is what Tim is about, and what we as an organization strive for in everything we do.

How are you developing new products?

Our product development is rooted in problem identification and then creating solutions to those problems for end users. We are focused on intimately understanding customers interests, habits, [and] pain points to help us create a foundation from which to innovate and exceed expectations with our products. Keeping user needs front and center through the whole product development process, from sketches to launch, is critical for a successful project.

What has changed since 1983?

A lot and a little at the same time! We have extended and lead the growth of the Multi-Tool category, and also added Pocket Knives to the product offerings. We still hold our product origins and requirements very close and in high priority during our development of new products.

How big is your team? What tools are you using?

The Engineering team (Advanced, Implementation, and Manufacturing Project) is about 15 people, and we use SolidWorks as a CAD and Engineering package.

What are your most important challenges in design and engineering?

Keeping the products rich with innovation, high quality, manufacturable, and relevant to our consumers.

We are very lucky to have 30+ years of MPT experience at various levels of the company, and feel very well versed in the current and future consumers of Leatherman product and opportunities for the future. We have very capable in house manufacturing resources, and constantly updating our manufacturing technologies to remain competitive in the global manufacturing space. We will always remain an Oregon manufacturing company, and that will continue to require investment and a look to the future.

Leatherman Wave in use

Leatherman Wave in use

What would you like to improve?

The world’s awareness of the amazing product that is a Leatherman multi-tool, and it’s inherent value for tackling everyday tasks even in this ever changing world.

How do you run a successful product engineering and design team?

By focusing on the consumer and true problem solving from the outset, have a robust, rigorous product development process, and competent, passionate, and capable people to accomplish the challenge.

How do you create lasting, timeless products?

It has to be built into the company’s DNA, mission, and core values. This is where priorities and non-negotiables exist, and without them, it’s difficult to stay focused on what’s important for a product and brand.

What are you looking for in a candidate?

Competence, drive, and passion in what they do, a willingness and capacity to be part of a tightly knit organization, and the flexibility to grow with the organization.

What recommendations do you have for young engineers and product designers?

Go after what inspires you, focus and work hard on developing a relevant skillset and accomplishments, and find ways to have fun doing it along the way.

Thank you for this interview Jeff and keep creating amazing tools!