ProtoTYPING: A ‘Perfect’ Product Idea

Some inventors strive to come up with good ideas, while others strive to find the perfect idea. Inventor Brandon Dierker has a perfect idea, and it is called the “Collar Perfect”. The Charlotte, NC resident has come up with a small format ironing device to help men and women do spot ironing of shirts, pants and skirts. He has teamed up with the Edison Nation design team to help develop the product idea, and after just a few months of design and development, is on the verge of taking his perfect idea to market.

product development

The Collar Perfect alpha prototype

Like many entrepreneurs and inventors, Brandon got his product idea from a struggle identified in his daily life. He has a demanding 9-5 job and deals with clients on a day-to-day basis. He needs to look fresh for meetings and he found that his polo shirts were not holding their crisp collar lines after a few wash cycles. After years of going to meetings with floppy collars and wavy plackets he decided to do something about it. He wanted to create a small iron that would warm up quickly and could be used to do touchup work on shirts and pants whether he was on a business trip or starting his day from home. After doing some research he found that some people were using commercial hair straighteners to iron their collars. He tried this method and it was helpful, but he found that the geometry of the device and the heat levels did not suit ironing clothing. He made some sketches of how to improve the iron to suit clothing and brought his idea, and wife’s hair straightener, to the EN shop to help him bring his vision to life.

When the EN design team met with Brandon and heard the idea, we knew it was going to be a great project. Brandon had an immense enthusiasm for the idea and the market for the device seemed really large and underserved. After hearing all of his research and prototyping work, two things were apparent. The first was that using heat to iron clothes is a well-established technology and we knew we would have plenty of existing products to use as inspiration. The second is that there was plenty of creative latitude to house the heating technology into a platform that would add value to the idea.
At the beginning of the project, the EN design team split up into two groups. The industrial designers set off to explore how to exploit the form of the device to effectively harness the idea, and the engineers delved into the nuts and bolts of the heating technologies. We looked at the existing market for hair straighteners, irons, and mini irons and bought about 10 different products. The designers used them to assess things like weight and ergonomics. When the designers were done, the engineers measured the temperature of each iron and disassembled each one to evaluate the mechanisms and electronics housed in each unit.

product development

Disassembly of a commercially available hair straightener

Once we had a baseline of the existing product, the real task of designing it could begin. The design group made a group of foam form models which explored different sizes and shapes to effectively iron the different areas of shirts and skirts. There were long and skinny versions, short and fat versions, and different tip geometries like wedges and paddles. These simple models were used to faux iron everyone’s shirts in the office. It became clear that it was easy enough to get a good shape to iron collars and between buttons, but we had no way to do any flat ironing. Then one of the industrial designers made a model with hinged tips that could be used similarly to a hair straightener to do collars, but would also fold out flat to iron on large surfaces. This made the product from a potentially niche laundry product, to a laundry solution. The EN team was excited by the break through and when presented to Brandon, he loved it too and decided that he wanted to the product to use that technology.

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Early foam form model showing the hinging mechanism

The next step was to make a concept model of the device. This step was necessary to make sure that we could incorporate the electronics, buttons, heaters and hinges in the form factor that we wanted the product to have. We made some quick CAD models of a rough product shape, and printed them 1:1 on a paper printer. Then we used those prints to carve the shape out of machinable foam to get the right dimensions. Then we hollowed out the shape to make room for some electronics that we ripped out of a hair straightener and made some faux heat plates on the Omax waterjet. Then we added some hinges, and we had a crude 3D non-working prototype of what the product could be. This gave us a good baseline to know that it was big enough to house all of the elements. It also gave Brandon a tool to share with confidants for feedback and approach investors to fund further development.

 

product development

The concept model of the Collar Perfect

Now that we had a great concept for the product and a good idea of how all of the components would be packaged, it was time to design a proper alpha prototype. The design team came up with a modern looking “high tech white” form for the product, and the engineering team used the sketches to start creating the CAD model for the product. Kurt Jordan, the electrical engineer, designed the circuit board and fed the shape of the board back to the lead mechanical designer, Patrick Bailey. Patrick designed the components, integrated a nifty locking hinge for the flat iron function, and integrated all of the components into the design. The plastic parts were 3D printed, the heating plates were borrowed from a hair straightener and heat plates were cut and welded together from sheets of aluminum. Our prototyping guru, Chris Gabriel, gave it a professional paint job, and we presented it to Brandon.

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Alpha prototype build

Like any alpha prototype, it had a few issues. The LEDs for the heat settings are not bright enough, the main spring is not stiff enough, and there are improvements to be made to the way the parts all fit together. However, it was a great first shot at a fully featured product, and most importantly it was a great learning tool to take into the next steps of the development.

Collar Perfect alpha prototype in flat iron mode.

With the help of the Edison Nation team, Brandon is well on his way to getting the Collar Perfect on the market. There is still another round of prototyping and sourcing work ahead, and like any startup, funding is key to getting the product to the finish line. The Collar Perfect has now launched a Kickstarter campaign where you can view the video and support it if you like it.

Kickstarter Kickstarter

Kickstarter Kickstarter

Kickstarter

Hidden in plain sight is a great way to describe many innovations, and the Collar Perfect fits perfectly into this category. Brandon had a problem in his life that kept popping up and he had the drive to go out and find a solution that works great and has a huge potential market. While there are plenty of challenges ahead, with the help of the EN team, we expect the Collar Perfect to be a great success.


 

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