Meeting the Challenges of Innovation – The 1990s Inventive Story of the Zip Drive

Ever wonder about the difference between invention and innovation? Or how they might interplay in the development of a truly market disruptive product?  The 1990s-era story of the development of the super floppy for data storage will be told here. The critical insights, competitive pressures, and inventive challenges behind the Zip Drive are described.  Products such as the Bernoulli Box, Floptical, LS-120, HiFD, Clik! Drive, industrial espionage interlopers such as the French Company Nomai, and the infamous Zip click-of-death are all part of this technology tale. Ultimately, this presentation will examine, through a few select engineering challenges faced during the development of the Zip drive, how the confluence of directed invention can deliver market innovation of the first order.  The rise and fall of a technology and product is described by one of its principal innovators.  An interesting story with a few product innovation insights is the target of this discussion.

Fred Thomas’ Bio:

Fred Thomas received a BS in Mechanical Engineering with a Minor in Physics as well as his MS in Mechanical Engineering from Bucknell University in 1982 & 1990 respectively. His Master’s Degree work at Bucknell was directed at control systems and non-linear dynamics via the construction of a Chaos Machine for his thesis.

Mr. Thomas has been employed at Hewlett-Packard for the past six years, initially as Principal Hardware Architect–MediaSmart Home Servers; and since 2010, as Champion for Innovation Intent—PC Ecosystem and Responsiveness. Previously Fred Thomas was Iomega’s Chief Technologist in Advanced Research and Development where he worked for 14 years. In addition, he was the owner/engineer of Prototype Devices, and an Electro-Optic Systems Engineer at Texas Instruments for five years.

Fred Thomas’ technical interest is in the fusion of new technologies for the enhancement or creation of new products. With 50-plus issued and many pending US patents, Fred has demonstrated his ability to deliver innovation to products that ship and are market successes. This creativity has been demonstrated in several fields, including data storage, sensors, actuators, mechanisms, electro-optics, machine vision, nano-technology, data security, network attached storage, and intellectual property. His work at Iomega Corporation was essential to the Zip, Jaz, Clik!, DCT, Floptical, Peerless and REV removable storage products. His work on subwavelength optical data storage, which allows for multiple 10s of fold increase in the capacity of DVDs, is embodied in two issued and one pending patents.

Mr. Thomas’ awards include the International Design Excellence Award in 2009, Industrial Forum Product Design Award in 2008, “Nano50 Award” for “Subwavelength Optical Data Storage” in 2005, Lemelson-MIT “Inventor of the Week” Award in 2004, Iomega “Exceptional Invention Award” in 1999, and Laser Focus World “Electro-Optic Application of the Year Award” in 1994.