Product idea: NMU students help U.P. sheet metal worker develop concepts

Sheet metal worker Ron Aho is the inventor of the Tinknocker Tool duct cleat drier. He invented the device to reduce muscle fatigue and increase efficiency. (Photo courtesy of Northern Michigan University)

MARQUETTE — Sheet metal worker Ron Aho walked into Invent@NMU on the Northern Michigan University campus with a product idea that would save time and effort on the job. He had spent years manually hammering in drive cleats for air ducts.

The repetitive motion of pounding upward put a lot of strain on his shoulder, eventually leading to rotator cuff surgery.

Aho invented the Tinknocker Tool to reduce muscle fatigue and increase efficiency. The device attaches to a drill and quickly installs drive cleats, outperforming the traditional hammer method.

The Tinknocker Tool was reviewed by Dr. Wallace Pearson, orthopedic surgeon at Advanced Center for Orthopedics and Plastic Surgery in Marquette.

“It’s almost universal for people who do overhead activities that they are going to end up with some wear and tear-if not a full tear-of the rotator cuff,” Pearson said. “I have reviewed a video of The Tinknocker Tool and it makes perfect sense. What doesn’t make sense is why anyone was doing this activity prior to this device.”

Justin Morris, student and Invent@NMU engineer, works on the Tinknocker Tool duct cleat driver in his Computer Numerical Control operations class. (Photo courtesy of Northern Michigan University)

Invent@NMU led Aho through product validation, the first step in its five-step process, and did not find anything like his prototype on the market.

Invent@NMU then introduced Aho to lower Michigan legal firm Varnum LLP for help preparing and filing Aho’s provisional one-year patent. Invent@NMU’s student team created several iterations of the prototype to prepare it for mass production.

Cale Polkinghorne, associate professor of engineering technology and Invent@NMU advisory panel member, saw the Tinknocker Tool as an opportunity for his advanced Computer Numerical Control operations class to gain real-world experience producing a marketable product.

Aho’s son had taken the class and Aho agreed to have the students manufacture the pilot run of 50 units.

“It’s incredible when we can provide a service to the community, while at the same time providing an excellent learning opportunity for the students,” said Polkinghorne. “Although chaotic at times, the opportunity simulates the industry the students will be working in upon graduation.”

Aho said the Tinknocker Tool would not be possible without help from Invent@NMU, and Polkinghorne’s class.

“There are ideas out there,” Aho said. “Invent@NMU is a place that wants to help you take that idea and turn it into a product. My advice for people is to just go on into Invent, tell them your idea and they will get you started.”

See more on Aho’s product and related videos at

Invent@NMU helps people bring their concepts to market with its staff of inventors, designers, engineers, entrepreneurs and educators. For more information on the program, visit or like its page on Facebook.