Happy Chinese New Year to everyone! (Kung Hei Fat Choi!) It's been a profoundly busy month for Catalyst so we have a lot to update you on! First off, we want to thank those of you who have taken the time to write to us, post comments or send emails. We want to apologize for not always being able to be in communication and respond quickly since there's only 2 of us and we've been simply swamped with tasks on our to-do list. We really appreciate your support and your patience as we've been overwhelmed with the steady level of interest and emails from you, new interested customers, distributors, retailers, the press and our family and friends who check in on us every so often to make sure we're ok.
What we have accomplished in the last 30 days:
- Tooling was completed
- Trial 2 shots were injected for all parts
- Created 10 fully assembled T2 samples of the EscapeCapsule
Built new website ( i.e. works better on iPhones ;-p )
- Celebrated New Year's with our love ones
- Attended the Consumer Electronics Trade Show in Vegas baby!
- Designed and prototyped the packaging
- Visited family in North America
- Celebrated June's Birthday!
Mid February: Trial 3 (T3) shots and fully assembled units for testing and evaluation
End February: Pilot Production Run of 100 fully assembled units (potential to delay till early March)
Middle March: Production run of 5,000 units (potential to be delayed until April)
End of March to April: Testing / Quality Control and shipping
Recently we have had a few people express their disappointment in the delayed timeline based on the original estimated delivery date. We really get your frustration as we are right there with you. This is our main focus in life right now and each day it is delay has a huge impact on us as people. When we posted the project we had a very optimistic timeline from our engineers, and if all had went according to plan, we would have been in production and shipping products before Christmas. As the old saying goes: "the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry." That is to say, the most carefully prepared plans often go wrong. In hindsight, it would have worked to have add a few months to the production schedule in the event of potential delays. In this case our tooling drawings were complete and we were already meeting with the vendor before our Kickstarter project completed. Upon inspection the vendor was concerned about some of the small sliders in the tool cavity. There was a lot of back and forth communication... Essentially the factory was unwilling to cut final tooling until it was proven that the tooling concept would be workable for mass production. This meant we had to create a prototype tooling to prove our concept for mass production. Prototype tooling is a lot less expensive but ultimately takes just as long to create as normal tooling (approximately 45 days). After the proto-tool was complete, it then took several weeks to test inject parts to ensure the tool concept's reliability. This was a major delay that we could not have foreseen. Often there are challenges when dealing with a factory's internal tool engineers and their experience of what is or is not feasible. The prototype tooling worked just as Kaspar and Stefan had intended, and as a bonus we learned a lot about general problems with flow marks, venting and filling that we could address before we made the final tooling. Our second key delay was in the over mold tooling as we realized we could adjust a few small parts that would dramatically improve sound quality for making normal phone calls. We felt this was a very important improvement. Along the way we have also encountered a few small setbacks that were unforeseen, such as sourcing the super thin membranes that do not require us to make a minimum purchase order of 500 kilos or more. Our sound membranes are tiny and 500 kilograms of this material would serve to create billions of membranes. Not to worry, we have that sorted as well. One important point to note is that we are a tiny start up company, and even though our factory likes us and our product, we are not a big priority when they have orders from other clients that turn over hundreds of thousand of units. Lastly, communication between adjustments and refinement with the factory simply takes time so making changes is sometimes longer than we've planned for.
This is the normal journey of product development and most people do not get to see what it takes to create something. Josh, Kaspar and Stefan have been developing products for well over a decade each and have seen the process for lots of products. Product development for some products goes profoundly smooth, under budget and right on schedule... and some projects do not go as smoothly with multiple unforeseen setbacks. We work not only to deliver a great product, but also to be in direct communication about the process and journey along the way. It can be a challenge in it's self as some people love the story and details and others would rather have the facts. At the end of the day, we are on this journey together. We are confident the result is something we will all be proud of. :-)
Results of the Trial 2 injection and Assembly of the first 10 EscapeCapsules:
Since our last update, the tooling has been completed and we have a handful of each of the parts to evaluate how it all works together. (see photos below) Overall, the product looks great. The lids snap on nicely, the o-rings seal well, the over-molding looks and feels great. The buttons work great through the rubber. Touchscreen works great through the membrane. Sound membranes work as designed. (Josh has really enjoyed the novelty of sending a few texts while listening to a podcast in the shower.) Oh, and the glowing TPU on the over-mold really glows well!
That being said, there are several areas we are improving as we fine tune the tool. There is still issues with flash occurring on the over-molding. This is really normal with any over-molded product, and it is simply an issue to the fine tuning adjustments of the tool fitting as well as the pressure and heat used to inject the rubber known as injection parameters. We will have 3 new types of TPU rubber to inject in the Trial 3 shots. The headphone jack plug also needs some re-work as the tolerances are off due to some shrinkage in the part. We have already fitted a solution for this that will result in a nice and tight plug for production.
Of the 10 cases only 2 were workable for submersion. Several were having leaks around the membrane for the noise canceling microphone at the top of the phone. This is one area we are reworking as we fine tune the tooling in the next two weeks. The rework is to increase the area the membrane will attach to where the leaks are happening. At the same time, we are also working to create a process for assembly that will ensure a consistent application for all membranes. The engineers are working out solutions for assembly processes in the final assembly line.
Also we conducted a non-scientific test of the depth of the working T2 case at pool . Essentially we just tied a weight to the end of the product and lowered it underwater to see how it would perform. We submerged the case to 8 feet underwater and let it sit for 20 minutes. No leaks! Woohoo! If all goes well, in the trial 3 run, we will use the assembled products to run more scientific tests in a pressure chamber to simulate submersion at a variety of depths. We will use the units from the pilot run to apply for our IPX rating at an official testing lab. In production all products will be tested before they leave the factory.
Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas:
We had the good fortune to be able to attend the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. We were generously invited to set up in a corner of a booth owned by a good friend named Petur Olaffson with his company OnanOff. He also has a great product that he will launch on Kickstarter next week called the Sound Cover for iPad. It is a case with a stand for the ipad 2 that has a built in flat panel speaker that increases the volume by 300 percent. We were displaying our product videos on an ipad while using pre-production sample of his sound cover. The volume and clarity the speaker puts out is incredible even considering the background noise at the trade show. We're definitely going to buy one ourselves.
CES was an unbelievably intense, amazing, inspiring and exhausting event. For 4 days straight we were overwhelmed with people who were interested in our product - the press, individual buyers and wholesale distributors world wide. We even had one individual fly from Japan just to meet us at the show. (Toshi you ROCK!) We received our T2 samples which were sent straight from the factory just in time to demonstrate them at the show... We have to say they are beautiful. They withstood being immersed in a fish bowl for 9 hours each day during the show. We're happy to report that based upon the quality of the T2 samples, we got a lot of interested customers, retailers and distributors that we need to follow up with. Our priority to is get the product made and in your hands, and it looks like soon after that... the EscapeCapsule will be out in stores. Our biggest challenge is to figure out how to make enough for the demand. At the show people were consistently complimenting us on our design. They are initially impressed by how well the touch screen works through the case. Also, as they put it, our case is interesting because it bridges the gap between a fashion case and a fully covered rugged case. I.E. they really thought it looked cool. Ohhh! and we got to meet Seth Green, which was super cool.
We did a lot of interviews at the show so you can check out one product demo Josh did for HD TV and see some of the articles that mentioned us at the show.
Again, were have to thank our friend Petur Olaffson who gave us some space in his booth. His profound generosity was a huge boost for us to move forward with. Also, to save some cash for our trip we went couchsurfing the entire time we were in Las Vegas, and we would really like to thank Myles Schnorbus and Mike, Carol & Chad Cintron for letting us crash at their homes while there. It was so nice to be able to hang out with them, have some great conversations and a break from the craziness of the trade show.
Sorry that this update is so packed. We've been up to lots and so there was a lot to share with you. Thanks again for being a part of this whole process with us.
Lots of love,
Josh & June