Bringing a new product to market is a ton of fun, but crazy stressful too. An idea in your head can seem flawless, and it may even be until you get to 98% complete. This is usually where the “oh I didn’t think about that” phase comes in where you realize a critical flaw. Things have a way of working out though, and most of my challenges are solved by stepping away for a bike ride or run which opens the creative thought process. Designing is only the first step, often one of the easiest, so take a gander through the phases that we go through to bring a new pack to life!
1. Idea Creation – 1 to 2 months
This is kind of a loosely guided window of course as some ideas have bloomed overnight, some take years, but “working” on a new pack to me often means just working through the logic, fit, design goals, etc, in my head for a while before beginning the development process. By the time I start to make something, there is a pretty thorough framework sketched out that we’re starting with. Our latest Endurance Pack had a fast start for 3 months or so and went through 6 iterations, but then stalled for 10 months as I didn’t feel the design was right. Then after an idea during a bike ride, I went full tilt for 4 months and 13 more iterations before we had it nailed. Total time was 2 years start to finish.
2. Crude Prototype – 1 to 3 months
Fabric and hardware are major pieces to the development process. I like to start with the materials that I plan to use, since small changes in materials can have big impacts on fit and function. So first I choose key hardware materials through my magical hardware bin, then I dig through my material books and inventory and get to work.My plastic and metal hardware bin is just a big mess of all sorts of fun widgets. I tried to organize it for a while, but in the end I found that keeping it a big heaping mess is great since digging for one item may tickle my brain by stumbling onto another. Hardware and zippers are two high risk failure points on a lot of gear, so a lot of thought is used with how we will mount something, how a user could abuse it, and if it fails how we will still be able to maintain function.
Fabric, webbing, thread, and zippers are up next. We like to overkill zippers, so we’re pretty standard on what we there. I love YKK, they make the best dang zippers and sliders on the planet. Fabric choice is a major decision as it impacts everything. Life of the product, breathability, durability, ability to stretch or not stretch like you want, minimize any rubbing or irritation, etc. It’s always my biggest worry in pack design and you can see that based upon my choice to go a tad more durable than what is likely needed in some features since I don’t want our products to fail. Applying a safety factor that adds an extra 1/2 ounce versus having a pack that has a high risk of falling apart is good by me. Then webbing and thread often bring the pack to life which is always fun to play with.
3. Begin 1st Generation Pattern Production – 1 month
This is the phase where the crude prototype starts to look good. All the rough patterns, sketches, notes, and widgets that were cobbled together before, now need to be vetted out for production. This is a phase that often opens surprises you as you work through challenges for production personnel. Making one of anything is easy, but how do you make it repeatable and consistent? Your patterns play a crucial role here and as they are finalized big changes can come into play.
4. Testing – 2 weeks to months
Once the 1st generation patterns are dialed, we make a few packs from scratch and thoroughly test. By this time the core design is largely dialed so testing should be much more brief assuming all goes to plan.
5. Production Sampling – 4 to 12 weeks
During this phase we send our final prototype to our factory to replicate and make production patterns. We’re good at knowing what we want, they are good at knowing how to make it in the most efficient manner. This is where attention to detail and communication is very important. They take our patterns, defined critical to function features, ancillary notes, and design intent, then begin the process of making it with how they see best. This ensures the most optimum design for manufacturability, while ensuring we get the exact function that we want. Open communication with our team has helped us make products local, efficiently, cost competitively, and improved the quality of our product.
6. Final Production Sample Testing – 2 weeks
Generally there are extremely small changes from our prototype to the production sample, so the test phase here is generally short.
7. Production Order – 6 to 12 weeks
We build our packs in the USA and/or a USA/Mexico hybrid method. So our time to market is a lot faster than most. The stages here are pretty straight forward. Cut the purchase order, the easiest part, and order materials. Material lead times can range from days to 12 weeks depending on the material. Our manufacture may supply some materials, but to ensure continuity and the proper materials across our line, we generally buy the bulk of everything direct. This way we can QC it prior to factory arrival. We’ve had surprises early on in production where a 1″ tensioner wasn’t the same as the 1″ tensioner that we intended. Unique colors, odd materials, thread colors, etc are often supplied by Orange Mud since our factory doesn’t use them in other product lines.
8. QC and Assemble – Varies, usually days.
We QC every pack that we order and ensure that it’s gone through our checklist of fit, function, and features. Plus we often have to install bottles, a bladder, hang tags and maybe a personal touch like a letter from me detailing why we designed the pack, how it works, and useful tips.
9. Ship it! We’re fast, talking hours!
So there you have it, a Running Hydration Pack Development 101 class in cliff notes! Check us out on the web atwww.orangemud.com, and follow our social channels @orangemud to see more about what we have cooking in the development lab.