Got a product design dilemma? This local firm has an answer.

Optimal Design Executive Team in their Micro Factory

Got a product design dilemma? This local firm has an answer.

In the complicated world of technology, the creation of a new product can require input from myriad directions, from electrical and mechanical engineering to software programming and ergonomic mapping and aesthetic styling. For its growing roster of big clients, Optimal Design in Arlington Heights has all the bases covered.

Optimal has emerged as a leading engineering design firm, regularly winning contracts in competition against rivals from both coasts. A few years ago it showed Singer how to build a better sewing machine and USG in Chicago how to install drywall more efficiently. With each, Optimal was tinkering with century-old traditions. More recently, the firm has emerged as a key player in the advent of 5G cellular technology in building phones and transmission networks for Motorola Mobility and others.

“We take a multiprong approach, offering clients complete solutions,” says CEO Sajid Patel, who co-founded Optimal in 2003 with Dan Williams, chief product officer, and Joe Wascow, chief marketing officer. All are in their late 40s; Patel is a Purdue University mechanical engineering graduate who later worked at Motorola and U.S. Robotics (alongside Williams) in Skokie. Coming out of the dot-com bubble crash in 2001, Patel and his partners noticed tech companies downsizing their engineering staffs. “It was then that we shared the dream of having our own business and replacing the expertise that was being lost as companies were shrinking,” Patel says.

The business was started with an investment of $6,000 from each of the founders and has not taken on any outside capital. A staff of 65, most of them engineers, is housed in a 30,000-square-foot space in Arlington Heights that includes a small factory, plus a modest design studio in the West Loop. Revenue jumped more than 25 percent last year to $14 million.

Optimal recently has concentrated work on devices made for the new internet-of-things era. It has worked with a Chicago client called CareBand in devising wearable tracking devices for patients suffering from dementia in institutional settings. It devised a mouth guard for athletes that senses everything from heart rate to hydration. For Phoenix-based Knox, it helped design an electronic key system to give emergency personnel quick access to locked commercial buildings.

“Fire departments are our target market, but now delivery services including Walmart’s grocery division are showing a lot of interest, too,” says Joe DeLuca, Knox’s vice president of engineering. “These devices were really complicated to design, but Optimal had the cross-functional capabilities to pull it off.”

The Void, a company based in Pleasant Grove, Utah, is building out a chain of virtual reality playrooms in malls around the country; one is scheduled to come to Old Orchard in Skokie this year (at least it was before the pandemic hit). The chain employs headsets, battery backpacks and “blaster” guns to put customers into participant characters in games ranging from “Avengers” to “Star Wars.” Customers pay $35, or about a dollar a minute, to play.

“Optimal essentially designed the hardware for our virtual reality games,” says James Jenson, who co-founded Void in 2015. “We looked at several other design firms initially who didn’t want to tackle the hard problems we were confronted with. Optimal had the expertise, particularly in working with wireless systems, that we needed.”

View the full article from Crain’s Chicago Business here.