We hope you are all enjoying the pleasant Spring weather! We’re back again with the latest on the Sa development!
For those looking for a quick summary rather than the full read, skip ahead to the end of this update.
First, let’s start off with a recap of the last update. We last left off just before the lengthy Chinese New Year break with the umbrella awaiting finalization on a few components as well as a round of testing for our newer H-profile ribs. Ideally, we were hoping to finish all of these remaining aspects of the project before the break began in order to recommence production immediately following the vacation. We had also arranged for a new team of outsourced engineers to step in and assist for the Sa Compact and/or the Sa, if necessary, in order to speed up the process.
So, just a few days before the Chinese New Year holiday began, I headed to China to meet with the manufacturing team to make sure all was still moving forward as scheduled. The lead engineer from our newly outsourced engineering team also joined along to observe the progress and advise accordingly.
Thankfully, the manufacturing team were able to achieve the goals we had laid out for them and had successfully finished and finalized all of the remaining parts of the umbrella! This was fantastic news! Although eager to pop out the champagne already, this meeting did also come with one unfortunate setback as well.
Upon a repeated test with our newer H-profile rib design, which you can see in the photo above, this time with full fabric and canopy embedded components included, our team found that our ribs still sagged to a degree which we all agreed was not acceptable. This was really crushing news. Everyone involved, in particular yours truly, were all so eager to finally get production underway at long last, so it was with heavy hearts that we decided to head back into development on the ribs.
With this project, we are committed to delivering an exceptional product of only the highest quality and consideration. For that reason, and although the aforementioned rib was certainly close to what we were hoping to achieve, we all concluded that it was simply not adequate enough for the final product. At the same time, we want to assure all of you that we will not spend all of eternity developing this project, and are only making decisions such as this when they are truly necessary.
That being said, during the rest of our meeting we discussed a variety of options for improving our rib design. It was also very helpful to have our new outsourced engineer along as well since he brought a lot of great suggestions to the table. After our meeting, heading into the Chinese New Year break, we left with a new proposed design which was essentially a H-profile rib with an additional hollow cavity for a high-carbon steel core to be added into in order to resist sagging. However, all of this development was unfortunately on pause until the break concluded.
Eager to not waste time, I met once more with the outsourced engineering team, who are actually located in Seoul, and further discussed the rib development. We came up with a few alternative solutions, but agreed it would be best to wait and see the results from the manufacturing team before changing the plan, since any significant change in design would cause further delay.
We were both optimistic with the new rib design, however we were also reasonably concerned that the new ribs would follow suit with our other carbon fiber ribs and sag a bit too much. Despite the alteration of the shape, at the end of the day, certain materials have properties that cannot be overcome through design alterations. Furthermore, while high-carbon steel has the potential to correct our sagging issue, it also comes with it’s own unique complications and challenges.
In any case, one of our top considerations following this discussion involved pre-bending the rib. Essentially, in such a design, we would slightly curve the rib so that when the weight of the fabric is applied the rib would appear flat. This method would however require an alternate manufacturing method in order to be realized and would also require more rib components since only the lower portion would be curved. We also discussed other viable options, but in any case, we decided to wait and see our manufacturing team’s results before proceeding on any of our ideas.
Following the Chinese New Year break, our manufacturing team went straight to work and sent out for the new prototype parts. As we’ve mentioned before, these prototypes all take time to manufacture, often weeks at a time. As much as we would like to speed up this process, it is the unfortunate reality of the situation. However, during this time, in an effort to remain as productive as possible, I decided to research some potential alternate rib materials. Industries as old as the umbrella industry tend to overlook the modern array of options at their disposal simply because they are not aware of their existence.
The ironic thing about the carbon fiber ribs that we had been testing is that their great strength comes from their highly resilient flexibility. While this property is advantageous, it is also this same attribute that has been giving us issues. In order to match with our design, our ribs need to be straight and flat, whereas the carbon fiber, being so flexible, naturally sags when an outside force is placed upon it. For this reason, I attempted to find another material which would be suitable for our application.
After researching, I found a material which seemed very suitable for the Sa! In particular, I am excited about this material because it is completely new to the umbrella world! The material I am talking about is a high-grade composite ceramic called zirconium dioxide, which is commonly referred to as zirconia. This material is used in a number of applications, from engine parts to engineering applications, but most commonly you may know it as the material used for ceramic knives.
This material is fantastically strong and resilient. Compared to carbon fiber it is drastically stiffer and harder, which will give us the flat profile we are looking to achieve and will prove immensely resistant to wind. Then, it’s flexural strength is also enormous, meaning it can handle a lot of flex before reaching it’s breaking point. It also has interesting attributes, such as operation in high temperatures and anti-magnetic properties, which we won’t be utilizing, but are useful nonetheless. The one concern with zirconia is that it can be brittle, meaning that it has the potential to crack or chip under very high stress. However, with the dimensions and application we are considering, this should not be an issue.
In addition to zirconia, there are many similar high-grade ceramic composites with other desirable properties. Depending on the application, certain ceramics can prove advantageous to others. Some ceramics even find themselves in race car brakes! However, for our umbrella, aside from zirconia, the only other ceramic that would make sense is aluminum oxide, also known as alumina.
After researching ceramic options I got in touch with our manufacturing team, who had finished the high-carbon steel inserts you can see in the photo above, but were still waiting for our prototype carbon fiber ribs. The lead engineer was excited about the potential for using zirconia and also saw the merit in testing it. He began to research into it more himself and met with a ceramic manufacturer to discuss the potential for using the material in our application. Following that, we heard from our carbon fiber prototype factory that they had some issue with the construction of the cavity section in our newer rib design. After testing we also found that the high-carbon inserts were not sufficiently strong for our application.
At this point, both myself and all of the engineers involved felt that based on our expectations of results and with the potential for zirconia to prove to be a better alternative, it would rather be best to pause further development on the carbon fiber ribs and to attempt to prototype a zirconia rib at this point in time. If we were to continue with carbon fiber, it does appear that we must inevitably opt for the pre-bent design as mentioned or provide a supplemental supporting material to compensate for the sagging, if not consider altering the design in some other fashion.
So, for this reason we went ahead with the plan to prototype a zirconia rib! Beyond what has already been mentioned, another beneficial aspect about zirconia for our application is that due to the nature of it’s manufacturing, we can merge all of our rib components into a single part, whereas with our carbon fiber design, we had to bond a steel mounting bracket to the rib since the manufacturing process did not allow us to alter the shape of the carbon fiber.
With our new strategy in place, our manufacturing team reached out to a handful of ceramic manufacturers to find a good match for our project. The challenge in this case was finding one that could make an object as long and thin as our rib and in a high enough quality zirconia, since this kind of design is uncommon in existing applications. It took a while, but we did find a suitable partner manufacturer! We sent out an order for prototypes both in zirconia and in alumina. We are currently awaiting those parts, and are eager to test them once they arrive! We anticipate to have those in the next few weeks.
In the mean time, so as to be as efficient as possible, we decided to do a quick, but informative test. Zirconia has the same elasticity as steel, which is fantastic, because we can essentially preview how much a zirconia rib will sag before spending the time or effort to make a prototype. With that, we quickly found a flat steel bar with very similar dimensions to our ribs and tested it. Thankfully, and as predicted, the steel was very rigid and did not sag whatsoever, even with the added weight of fabric and other components. This is fantastic, since it proves that we will not have sagging issues with our zirconia ribs.
We have high confidence in the success of our new zirconia (or perhaps alumina) ribs. Our only concern is the potential brittleness, but we feel that given our specific application and the thickness of the material, we should have no issues. You can try and imagine how difficult it would be to break a zirconia bar twice as thick as a ceramic knife with only wind and rain in real world conditions. I am guessing it will be strong enough for me to stand on, but let’s wait and see!
Lastly, while zirconia does certainly appear to be the miracle material, it should also be mentioned that it is way more expensive of an option than anything else we had been considering. As many of you may recall, we have decided to position the Sa at a very premium position in the market, thereby allowing us to create a truly significant product without sacrificing quality or cutting corners.
This decision is what has allowed us to utilize the wide array of premium materials and manufacturing processes we will use in the final product. Of course, all of you reading this can rest assured since you already have your Sa orders in place regardless of the premium price tag to follow! We can only hope that the exceedingly high quality nature of the final product can in some way make up for the incredible wait you have all so patiently endured!
The Path Ahead
So the great news is that, as it stands, the umbrella is complete! Pending a positive result from our new rib prototype, which we anticipate, we can finally move back into production. Based on the final rib design, we may have to take the time to adjust the embedded fabric components since they connect directly to the rib, but this adjustment shouldn’t take long to accommodate.
As for how much longer this will take, it is as usual, hard to anticipate with complete confidence. If we are successful with the ribs, then we can recommence production in as little as a month from now, but most likely in June. This setback with our ribs has certainly cost us time, which is very unfortunate so late in the game. Since it has shoved us a good three months behind schedule, with still three to four months of production and testing left to follow, that should place us on track for an Autumn delivery, or perhaps late Summer if we are lucky.
The good news is that the entire outsourced engineering team in Korea will be on the Sa project in full force starting in June. Up until now they have been acting in more of an advisory capacity and were on deck for the Sa Compact. Of course, we hope we are already starting production by that time with the manufacturing team in China, but should we hit any speed bumps or snags between now and then, their involvement will guarantee results.
As we have mentioned before, they are honestly overqualified for the job, with a background including massive smart tech projects and advanced medical equipment, so I have no doubts that they are being realistic when they say that they have complete confidence that they can finish all remaining development within three months of starting and production within four months from then. They may even take over some of the production duties in order to speed up the process. Although we anticipate finishing sooner, with their involvement, we know with a high degree of certainly that we will have results by the year’s end.
In any case, once we know for certain that the new rib design works and production has recommenced, we will be able to give everyone a way more concrete delivery date. I know many of you are eager to know when your Sa will finally arrive, and I most certainly hope it is sooner than later! I really can’t thank you all enough again for having stuck with us this long. Your patience and ongoing encouragement has been very much appreciated.
Then, we do understand that the wait is simply too long for some of you. We want to say thank you nonetheless for sticking with us this far, and we completely understand your decision if you choose to request a refund. For those individuals, please message us directly and we can help you to process that. You are always welcome to join back before deliveries commence, so please don't feel ousted if you do change your mind in the near future.
For me at least, this process has felt like running a marathon that gets another mile longer right before the finish line, over and over again. But the good news is that we are really finally approaching the end! We really are at the very last step. The umbrella sits completed with only one part left to finish. Please join me in this very last leg of the race and let’s cross the finish line together! Thank you all again!
With just a few weeks left to go until the longer Chinese New Year holiday began, in order to begin production immediately following the break, we set out to wrap up the last remaining changes for the newer Sa components and to test out our new H-profile rib design. While we did successfully hit our goal and finish all of the remaining components, we did find that our newer rib design still sagged too much for it to be acceptable.
After a number of discussions, further research, and with the assistance of our newer outsourced engineering team, we decided to try prototyping the ribs in a high-grade ceramic composite material called zirconia. This material is immensely strong and has very high flexural strength, however, it is very pricey and comes with it’s own set of challenges. We have high confidence that it will be a good match for the Sa, and we should have a new prototype to test with in a few weeks.
Aside from the ribs, the umbrella stands completed, so once we have proven the new rib design is viable, we will recommence production straight away. Our outsourced engineering team in Korea will also be helping complete the project in full force from June. Given this, we expect the Sa to realistically be complete by Autumn, if not late Summer under ideal circumstances. Thank you all again for your patience as we complete this project once and for all!