Touch Pen Update-To China and back!
Hello everyone! It has been a busy month since our project closed and was successfully funded. We have been extremely motivated and working hard to meet our projected goals to get Touch Pens completed and into your supportive little hands. The Touch Pen development and manufacturing is progressing as expected but has proven to be a much more challenging project than the TikTok and LunaTik watch kits. We wanted to take this opportunity to cover some of our insights and challenges in this update, seeing as so many of you look forward to these details.
THE DEVELOPMENT TRIPS
So far our team has taken two trips to Asia for development and sourcing. The first one was at the beginning of the project to identify potential suppliers since we would be using a new group of suppliers than on TikTok and LunaTik. The second trip just occurred over the first two weeks of March. The purpose was to kick off tooling and pre-production activities. I was looking forward to going but actually got sick 12 hours before my flight and was in bed for 4 days missing work for the first time since 1995! With a 101 degree fever, I definitely would have been quarantined upon landing in Hong Kong, no thank you! Luckily 3 others from the LUNATIK team proceeded as planned to keep the project on track. They covered a long list of issues and visited at times up to four factories a day on a grueling non-stop development, tooling trial, review and repeat cycle.
Some things that are easy for one vendor are difficult for another. This goes from industry to industry as well. A lot comes down to educating and showing suppliers how and what you want and expect. And no matter how good virtual communication and team collaboration gets, nothing replaces being on the ground and face to face. A good rule of thumb is that you can get more done in a week at the factory than you can in 2-3 months long distance.
Above all, the small click mechanism has been the most challenging element of the pens to design, engineer and develop to a point of refinement we are happy with. It is no surprise that some of the best pen brands and manufacturers have refined these subtle mechanisms over decades of trial and error. The mechanism proved to be something that we could not accurately prototype and refine even with today's cutting edge rapid prototyping. Instead we had to cut soft tools in order to fine-tune the precision geometry. This was an investment we felt was necessary in order to deliver a better performing product. It helped us learn where we actually needed to adjust things versus wondering if the issues we were seeing were due to the fidelity or tolerance of the rapid prototyping.
THE ALLOY TOUCH PENS
First look Alloy Touch Pen prototypes in the studio
We have made a lot of progress on the aluminum part. We are currently fine-tuning the anodized colors and bead blasted finish. We played with the idea of a plated brass front barrel under the grip area to make the pen nice and heavy, but decided it disturbed the balance of the pen and that the matching aluminum anodized threads looked much better together anyway. Believe it or not, one of the most challenging parts on the Alloy Touch Pen has been the clip. The iconic design was originally designed to be aluminum but we needed to switch to steel as aluminum would likely bend and not spring back to its original shape. So, we have converted this part to a metal injection molded (MIM) part. This is a very expensive process that is typically used in high end products. It is an almost magical process in which the part is molded out of a composite material much bigger than the final shape and then the part is sintered at high heat and is shrunk to its final size in an extremely precise tolerance. The part is then PVD plated like a luxury watch and finally laser etched with the LUNATIK brand name into the clip.
Another area of development has been refining the patented dual mode tip and grip. This has largely been around balancing the right coating to provide the best glide across glass and feel in the hand as well as building testing fixtures to perform abrasion and durability tests.
Here are several rubber Touch Pen tips undergoing abrasion testing. This machine slides the tips across a sheet of glass day and night to simulate weeks and months of usage in a short amount of time. If we find that the tips fail too quickly, we will modify the rubber material to make them tougher.
THE POLYMER TOUCH PENS
Surprisingly, the materials and molding of the polymer pen have been more challenging for our suppliers than the alloy pen. We are currently processing out some of the cosmetic and functional imperfections on the polymer parts and trying different approaches to achieve the best results. Most of these are things like sink, blemishes, gating vestiges, and other common occurrences in plastic injection molding and with first tooling shots.
Checking new and existing parts against our specified Pantone colors to tweak plastic pigmentation accuracy.
This is a good example of the types of things we're now working on with our molder. In each of these clips you can see a small imperfection called "blush" right above the triangular holes. This is a common blemish on the first injection molded parts off a new tool. It is corrected by changing the plastic injection process so the material flows and cools properly in the mold.
While we are creating our pen designs and internal mechanisms from scratch, the industry standard approach for most pen brands is to source the ink refills from an existing supplier. This has become the longest lead item for the pens even though it was one of the first orders we placed. We decided to go with a Japanese refill because of obvious quality benefits. The trade-off is that this quality comes with a slightly slower delivery due to the QC involved on the production and management of these components. That said, we are expecting to have refills available by ship time.
The packaging for the Alloy is a super simple structure that we designed to communicate the duality of the product at retail. We wanted to be able to show off the pen while reducing the amount of material and making it super simple to assemble at the factory. It also displays some compatible app partners on the side of the box hoping to educate consumers and promote the use of these apps.
Packaging is a hidden challenge in many product development projects. The biggest challenge on the Touch Pen has been how to communicate the Touch Pen's paper and pixels functionality to future users who may not be familiar with our Kickstarter project. We've simplified this message as much as possible, showing paper and touch screen side by side on the front of the package, with the Touch Pen appropriately situated right in between.
The Polymer Touch Pen comes in a slightly simplified version of the packaging.
We are still expecting to have parts, refills and packaging complete by mid April at which time our manufacturing and fulfillment partners will respectively begin the final assembly and pack-out. We are still targeting global shipping and fulfillment to start at the end of April.
We hope this information shared gives you some good updates of where our time has been spent over the past month. Execution is a tireless process that always reveals new things along the way and constantly keeps us on our toes…it’s why as designers we keep coming back for more! Again, we are truly grateful for all your support and are looking forward to hearing your feedback and reactions to the Touch Pen.
Best, Scott Wilson + the MNML Team
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KICKSTARTER Anniversary Collection. We wanted to do something special that will never be available at retail commemorating the 1-year anniversary of TikTok+LunaTik: An exclusive green anodized Lunatik Alloy Touch Pen and a LunaTik LYNK Watch Kit in black anodized aluminum with green silicone accents. Plus our new AnTik analog watch module that is interchangeable with your nano. Both will have matching laser-etched serialization and designer signature. Exclusive to Kickstarter. US shipping included. Add $30 for international shipping.Estimated delivery:
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