Redesigning An Industry
Moments before stepping into the water with the World’s first additively manufactured sailboard.
Stepping in was euphoric. It happened quickly, some last minute adjustments to the fin and the third person GoPro rig. I rigged a 7.1 sq meter sail and attached it firmly to the now breathing Mark 1. I slid my hand into her footstrap and took the boom, raising the rig off of the sand and towards the water. She was light. So very light. Dark and wide, thin and ready. The wind filled my sail. Taut battens snapping solidly into place. An increase in the breeze pulled me out of the water and in an instant I was riding the Mark 1, an organic connection between her deck and my feet was an overwhelming sensation. The wind was light and variable 6-10 knots, just the lightest of breeze and she took off. Her tendency is to slice through the water. She cuts, she knows where she is going, she has a personality. I had a hard time believing that I was sailing upon the Mark 1 – it was surreal in every way. Tack. Spinning on her tail towards the wind, she tacked effortlessly and headed back to the beach. I jumped off – stunned and elated. We had just accomplished what had never been done. We created an end-use product through additive manufacturing, a better way to solve a problem, a board built as a response to its environment, an idea that could be held. Many runs followed that maiden voyage. She performed in the flat protected waters of Key Biscayne and cut through the surf of the Atlantic off of West Palm Beach. The Mark 1 loves to sail and gave us more than data, insights and ideas, she gave us an experience.
Back To The Future
It started with a simple question, “Has choice become overwhelming?” What’s the underlying need for so much equipment and, for that matter, so much of anything? Choice plays a part of every aspect of our lives as consumers, from the exceptional to the mundane. It seems more often than not, the solution to choice is redundancy and excess. Why do we have sets of 16 forks, knives, and spoons in a family of four? How many do we actually use? Need? What’s the cost of those purchases, beyond acquisition of the goods? Would it be easier to have less? Remove the need for a dishwasher? Would this make life simpler?
Humans are collectors, pattern makers, builders, creative. We also face an era of increasing scarcity, not limited to consumer goods, but finding its way into the foundations of civilization from fresh water, rare metals, gases, fuels, and food. There are answers to these questions, and more importantly, solutions to these needs. I believe there is a better way to solve these problems and I hope you do too. That’s why MADE was founded. That’s where it begins.
The First Step
Questions arose faster than I could write them down, in between there were fast-paced, idea-laden conversations, and three too many cups of coffee. Was it possible to redesign an industry? An industry that, for no apparent reason, has not changed since its inception.
Technological advancements are not analogues for change – they can be, but in this industry they haven’t been. In board sports prices have risen even as manufacturing is shipped overseas, equipment pairing has become more diluted and complex, resulting in confusion, overlap, unaffordability.
There’s a simple solution: make less, make better. A reduction in choice is not to be confused with a reduction in control – we aim to remove overwhelming choice by handing control directly to the rider. This is where technology becomes an ally, this is how technology changes the experience. We designed Volume to reduce complexity and increase understanding. It’s a transformative performance analysis and tracking application. Volume will help you better understand your needs on the water, how to increase the amount of time you spend participating, while working with your life and your preferences to simplify everything, releasing you into an immersive lifestyle sport.
The Mark 1
Next? Translate the data we are collecting into digital models of performance dynamics. We would require a new construction process that would allow us to transpose our digital models into physical objects. Forging, injection moulding, CNC, are all viable shaping mechanisms – all sharing one unacceptable flaw – tooling. To create the shape, first we’d have to create the tool. As well, reconfiguration would be a lengthy process that could only be offset by large scale manufacturing processes. It’s not the manufacturing processes that are antiquated – it’s the thought process behind them. It’s a thought process that was designed to create profits, not better products. The efficiencies of mass production are not measured by your satisfaction, they are measured by the bottom line. I’m not satisfied by that approach, I believe we can do better.
There’s a better way.
3D printing has long since played on the periphery of my awareness. I knew what it was, what it was doing and was very excited by its potential. My first steps into the additive space were excited, bounding, leaps. When faced with the new, I run, then run slower, then when I should reconsider walking, I run faster – so this was a perfect playground. There was so much potential, so many answers. Simple and elegant answers that reduce waste, reduce toxic processes, and allow for completely reconfigurable shapes on the individual level. That’s when I knew what I was looking at – it was the flow-state. Data-driven. Infinitely configurable. No mass-production constraints. Cost tied to material output. Reduce materials, reduce waste, reduce cost. Breathe.
A Visionary Benefactor
We called Bill DeWitt at RedEyeOnDemand, an on-demand service bureau (and subsidiary of Stratasys, the printer manufacturer) and starting playing with some rudimentary models to gain a better understanding of what we’d be facing in terms of material costs, build times, technology, and feasibility studies. This was a period fraught with hand-wringing, modeling, re-modeling, modeling again, calling Bill and asking him things like “are you sure that’s the right price, it seems awfully high?” I owe Bill a debt of gratitude (and a phone call), because he very patiently walked us through the nature of the additive manufacturing business. He also introduced us to Rodger Reaume. Rodger, became our Stratasys connection – and Santa Claus. Rodger asked to see the models we were working with and delivered a board segment off of the Fortus 900c. He invited us out to Schaumberg, Illinois to meet, and see the machines in action. We were greeted by a huge smile and an excited Rodger who was just as blown away by the concept and the output as we were. There, sitting on the conference table at Fisher Unitech was the piece I modeled, the very first segment of what would become the world’s first additively manufactured production-ready board.
The Fortus 900
Sitting in front of it, was nothing-short of awe-inspiring. I knew at that moment what we had, and what we’d have to do to bring this to the market. I knew that we were going to transform many industries. Boards are a start, sails are next, what’s after? Think wings. I don’t like constraints and I dislike realism even more so.
This simple piece of ABSm-30 was an idea that had become real. Exactly as I had designed it – an extension of my thoughts. We walked through the space and were further inspired by the machines. Quiet, matte grey, cool, shielded with glass, exact, precise and in the middle of an office. This is the manufacturing plant of the future. This places the burden squarely upon the design, the power of the idea – not how many of the same you can make to meet your margin.
Surrounded by the future is a humbling experience, not one we experience every day. We stood at the depositing needle – the exact point at which millimeter by millimeter the future was being constructed. Simply, inspired.
The following months were a mad-dash towards testing a full-scale prototype, building a world-class predictive performance and tracking application, a user-centered digital strategy, a social platform, a business that is designed to create real experiences, not just sell boards. A brand that is a democratization of design, of knowledge, of ideas. Revenue and profit models to ensure its survival. Countless presentations, cost models, and 3D models. Conversations with Rob, Terry, Ryan and the team at Stratasys, the first of our benefactors, our protectors, sharing our vision and ensuring progress. We wouldn’t be where we are right now without Rob, Terry and Ryan’s hands on commitment to the board, while providing engineering insights along the way.
The Mark 1, packed up and ready to go
Tracking number. Heart racing. Rob’s Dropbox photos uploaded. Heart pounding. Three days later – a massive box arrives, guarded by 2x6x96 boards. This was the moment when Indiana Jones removes the cover of the Ark, this is the cautious looking, peering into the unknown. We removed all of the packing materials and freed the board from it’s tie-downs.
The box fell away as I lifted this incredibly light, spry skeleton from it’s box. It was remarkable. Barely occupying space, weightless – like a bridge, impossible in it’s presence. I’ve heard that anyone can build a bridge that stands but only an engineer can build a bridge that barely stands. We’ve come very close to that.
Pride is not a strong enough word to describe what it felt like to hold this beautiful object – this manifestation of an idea, the collaboration of many ideas into this one representation. The future in our hands, more beautiful and simple than we imagined, and she’s alive.
This boards internal architecture moves. It’s not the rigidity of components that are permanently locked into place. This is a step towards responsive. As we perfect our technology we will deliver boards that can respond to conditions as you ride.
Piezo electronics operating at microscopic scales making real-time adjustments to ensure you are riding on the performance envelope, connected to visible feedback systems that help you understand when and where to turn, where to place your feet – how to become a better rider through the simplest of visual cues. 3D is the basis, 4D is where our vision is set. Our future will be written in what’s possible, not only incremental improvements based upon what works. Possibility over profit.
We stared. We filmed. We cautiously inspected. New, unique, the only of its kind. The only one ever. The first of its kind. I could say it a thousand times (and probably have, apologies). But it’s an amazing thing to behold, and one that you’ll be able to witness first hand. MADE will invite every customer to be part of the build process of their board if they wish. To experience the technology first-hand and help inform our design process as much as we will help you understand how it works. Day after day there were more deliveries, tools, materials, more materials. This build required a bamboo substrate, wrapped in fiberglass. The simplest approach for testing the Mark 1. Layer after layer, insights were made, improvements for the Mark 2, printed components, further reducing cost and increasing strength and further diminishing subtracting processes.
All great ideas start in garages
Layer after layer she took shape. She formed a soul, a spirit. It’s rambunctious, untamed. The Mark 1 has a presence, dark and stealthy, like a battleship. On her first day of testing an older gentlemen said she reminded him of the Merrimack, low-slung, black, brooding. I also feel intimately connected to this board, partly because I built her, but the real connection comes from the fact that she is the manifestation of a vision, the realization of a creative act. She is me. She is what I would be if I were a board and that is EXACTLY what every MADE customer will feel. We will work tirelessly to ensure it.
The Fingerprint of the Mark 1
The coming weeks will be a continued, fast-paced, and deliberate march (running march) towards financing this venture and delivering MADE as a brand to the world. A brand built on the idea that your experience is unique and without equal, that products can’t solve problems and that you deserve better. Your choice to spend your money with us will be met with promise, a promise that will strive to innovate, improve, explore and discover. If MADE is successful you will have had a great deal of influence and power in that success. I’m excited to see where the wind will take us.
Posted on: April 21st, 2013 by Shanon