It all started simply enough. Standing in line to grill hot dogs at a church camp out, one of the children (Dan Brodland) carved a raw frankfurter with a penknife, much in the same way his grandmother did when he was a small boy: one cut on the each side for arms, one cut in the middle for the legs and three slits at the top for the mouth and eyes. Once on the grill, the hot dog transformed into a crude figure; arms began to curl outward, the legs separated and a grin appeared.
The “hot dog man” was an immediate hit. All the other kids in the line wanted their dogs cut that same way, too.
John Twerdok, who was volunteering as youth director, recalls being impressed by their enthusiasm. "I thought, I cannot afford the time (and risk) of so many children wielding knives to cut a slippery piece of meat. I should design something that safely and quickly stamps these things out," he recalled.
After the camping trip, Mr. Twerdok still had the idea in the back of his mind when he took his college-bound daughter on a tour of the University of Pittsburgh' s Swanson Product Innovation Center. Amazed at the center's capacity for design, prototyping and some limited production, Mr. Twerdok asked the center's director at the time, Dr. Mike Lovell, about the hot dog man idea. Sometimes the Swanson center takes an idea from the public and develops it as part of its Product Realization class.
"John wanted to pursue this and I thought it was very innovative and creative." Dr. Lovell said. The project was approved and Mr. Twerdok acted as a mentor, helping the students develop a prototype and a marketing plan.
Five years and more than $40,000 later, Mr. Twerdok was awarded the patent for a "device for shaping a food product." He partnered with Mr. Brodland and the pair named their creation: Frank Former.
On advice of friends, they found their way to the Plastics Technology Center at Penn State Behrend College in Erie. Tom Moyak, project engineer for the center, said they design and develop new products and solve manufacturing issues for customers who don't have plastics engineers available. Under Tom’s direction, the Frankformer design was optimized for manufacture via the plastic injection molding process.
Today, the Frankformer is under production at Omega Plastics in Erie, PA. Mr. Twerdok states, “Hot dogs are an American tradition, and therefore, we are proud to say that the Frankformer is 100% made in the USA!”