A Project I Chose to Support Financially…

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Project Update #4: Touch Pen Progress

Posted by Scott Wilson + MINIMAL Like

Happy New Year!  We hope everyone had a great end of the year and holidays spent with friends and family.  We are officially just past the halfway point of our 60-day campaign and wanted to give everyone an update on how things were progressing.

Obviously we passed out goal in the first few days and are currently just over $200K and 270% of our goal.  Observing this we are excited to accelerate development of the pens prior to the end of the Kickstarter project.  We are also making sure that we are diligent in our efforts to ensure that we meet your expectations above all else in delivering quality products.  Quality that meets the standard established with our category-defining TikTok+LunaTik multi-touch watch kits.

We knew when we started designing, engineering and sourcing the Touch Pen that although it was a simple idea there were inherent challenges both anticipated and unforeseen.  We have been busy non-stop going through the process of refinement and development of these challenges.

THE CLICK, THE CLIP AND THE TIP

•   Click Mechanism:  This is by far the most challenging part of the product and where we are spending most of our time.  Since these mechanisms have very precise and sensitive mechanical relationships, they are very difficult to prototype and have them represent production performance.  After several rounds of prototypes which are progressively getting better we have gotten to the point where the only way to truly progress is to gamble and release for “soft tooling”.  Soft tooling will allow us to mold the precision parts we need to assess the mechanism performance before committing to mass production.  This will essentially nearly double our development and tooling investment but it will give us the confidence and quality we need in the long run.  We hope to have these soft tool parts before or right after Chinese New Year.

•   The Clip:  Many would not expect that the iconic clip on the design of the Alloy Touch Pen would be that challenging.  We have to admit that neither did we.  It has been a challenging material and process decision since the beginning.  We love the light and thin appearance as well as the way it is integrated into the top of the push button.  This design however requires specific materials and processes to achieve.  Originally we desired to have this in aluminum but aluminum was failing under certain stresses in the field and not recovering if bent past a certain point.  After performing FEA (Finite Element Analysis) on the part and discussing it with our manufacturing partners we decided the best solution was either to use die-casting or MIM (Metal Injection Molding).  MIM is extremely expensive but also a very precise, almost magical process.  We have decide to pursue MIM with a PVD coating, also another very expensive finishing process that you see on very high end watches like Bell&Ross, etc.  The logo will then be laser etched into the PVD coating.

• The Tip:  Before we even posted the Touch Pen project on Kickstarter, we had prototyped several different stylus tip geometries to optimize touch screen performance and tactile feel.  We had a tip that we liked before we made the project public, but now we are exploring the subtleties of this part.  We have experimented with different materials and durometers of material as well as different surface treatments and coatings to provide the right glide across the glass.  We think we’ve nailed this and are very happy with how the tip feels and performs.  Next up, we are working with our manufacturing partners to develop testing processes so we will know with confidence that the tip will stand up to heavy use and if we need to make any adjustments to the part to minimize performance degradation over time.

THE CHALLENGES OF CHOICE

• Metal AND Plastic.  One of the things we learned with TikTok+LunaTik was to offer choice at different price points and in different style and use models.  We have been pretty efficient in sharing many components to ensure quality consistency internally while offering value differentiation externally with premium metal materials and construction.  And we wanted to offer the plastic Touch Pen because it allowed us to mold the pen in multiple colors and make the design accessible to more people.  Plastic parts are manufactured entirely differently than CNC’d metal parts though, so we have been developing both versions in parallel to accommodate the constraints that come with each material and process.  That said there are inherent challenges with model (SKU) management within the factory and our fulfillment facility with additional versions.  Luckily we set up systems in our previous project to help manage these scenarios.

SOURCING

• With most new products comes a collection of new suppliers and sub- suppliers.  Along with this comes a learning curve to get everybody on the same page as far as expectations on quality, performance, cost, schedule, risk, etc.  We have been going through this process since before the project launched and believe we are getting to where everyone is on the same page.

CHINESE NEW YEAR

• Many don’t realize that most of the manufacturing world works around a particularly disruptive time of year known as Chinese New Year at the end of January.  This is when the factories shut down and employees return to their home all over China.  Typically not much happens the week before or the week after Chinese New Year week. Because of this we are trying to get as much done prior to this as possible.

PACKAGING

• We have spent the last several weeks designing many variations of packaging that were simple, cost effective, solved for retail constraints as well as helped communicate the unique dual modality of the Touch Pen.  While we will of course be shipping the first products to our Kickstarter backers, we felt it wise to design the packaging for retail placement in the hopes that you’ll someday be able to buy Touch Pens in a nearby store.  We’re happy to say we have a design that fulfills all of our requirements, looks great, and makes the Touch Pen look fantastic on a shelf.  We can’t wait to show you this in a future update.

CES 2012 – Las Vegas

Lastly, a few of us made the trek to the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas this past week and were proudly showing off early prototypes of the LunaTik Touch Pen.  Many of our existing TikTok+LunaTik retail partners are excited to carry the Touch Pen but we told them they’ll have to wait until we are finished developing the design to our standards as well as gotten them in the hands of our most important customers, the Kickstarter Backers.

This is just a sample of what we’ve been up to during the first half of our funding period.  So much is involved in launching even a “simple” product that the amount of work seems overwhelming at times.  But that is the life of a design entrepreneur, and we won’t stop until we have something that we love and that you will too.  It doesn’t stop with the way the product looks or feels, most of the effort is in the execution and bringing it to market.

Thanks for your comments, encouragement, and even criticism.  We always make time to read your feedback and welcome your comments.

Sincerely,

Scott Wilson and the MINIMAL team

By the way, last chance to check out another cool project:

My friend and former colleague at Motorola is taking on an ambitious and challenging project on Kickstarter and has less than 48 hours left.  Check out his Hidden Radio project. We are excited to get ours and try it out someday soon.

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