This is the second entry in our Tech Type series where we explore the technical aspects of our products. For this episode I will be describing the process of designing a new product from initial idea to the first sale.
Step 1: Brainstorming
New products for any company generally start the same way: Sitting down and talking it out. Brad and I meet at Nock Corp HQ in Eagles Landing, GA. We sit and discuss not only what we want personally but what we think you guys want as well. Sketches are drawn, and over the next few days we go back and forth, sending each other updates on sketches and other changes we would like to see. On our Hightower case, the discussion was on the height of the notebook and pen slots as well as the length of the flap that covers the pens. These are details that are easier to think about on paper before moving to sampling.
Step 2: Finalizing Sketches and Creating a Pattern
Once the sketches are decided upon we move to creating a digital pattern. This means setting the final measurements. We have taken into consideration, since our first meeting, standardized pen slots and notebook sleeves. This makes some of our dimensions fixed based on company wide design standards. When creating the holster style pen case we keep these things in mind: Pens are different lengths, so the flap and strap relationship must be able to accommodate a number of styles. The length the strap has to be such that it can allow for three slim ball points or three thick fountain pens to fit and keep the flap snug. The depth of the pen slots determines the height of the front sleeve and the overall length of the closed case. Once we have our measurements defined and add the seam allowance (which varies with different processes in each case) we start digitizing. By creating a series of squares we can define all of our exterior measurements before we add in angles or rounded sections.
Step 3: Nesting and Cutting
After our pattern is digitized we move to the cutting software and nest the pieces. We typically use two different materials for our products, one for the exterior and another for the interior. This means that we have to make two separate cut layouts. The nesting process has a drag and drop interface that allows us to create a Tetris style set up with the least amount of material waste possible. This process is integral to maintaining not just consistency in product but also to maintain a competitive price point. Keeping things efficient is one of the most important parts of manufacturing. Along with the layout, we calculate the material usage of the product and validate the price point to see if the case is even feasible to make at all.
Step 4: First Prototypes
At this point, we take the cut pieces and assemble them into cases. We’re not trying to create a perfect product that we could sell. We want to see where we are with the pattern. If the pieces fit together, if the dimensions hold what we want, if some function that we thought we’d have is missing. The holsters are tricky to get the angles correct so that they function well empty or full. This is also where we can play around with different stitch patterns or product aesthetics. The first prototype looks like a distant inbred relative of what the final will be with top-stitches all over and squared corners where rounded corners will be, etc.
The second prototype is more refined as we work through issues one at a time. With the Brasstown case we went from a four pen tongue to a six pen tongue with more distance at the end so it lay outside of the case further. We also changed the dimensions of the tongue altogether so the case would open a little more easily and also tapered the sides so the top was wider than the base.
Step 5: Samples and Color Options
Brad and I meet at HQ again and he sees the prototype for the first time. He uses it for a few days, and we talk about it more. We may change a few more things about the pattern digitally or, minor things like this stitch looks weird or add padding here, etc. Once the design aspect of the product is complete we look through our fabric books. We have books from several vendors in leather, nylon, and polyester that we flip through. Looking through these books is quite the process. Holding potential exteriors up to potential liners, then you add in the thread book…it’s a lot to sort out. Some color pairings we know are good when first seeing it, which is how we chose our signature colors Midnight and Blue Jay. Upon deciding, we order a sample yard and essentially make a new color prototype. Then we live with it, use it, show it off to the people in our lives, and see what they say about the functionality or colors or if there is something that more than one person really thinks it needs.
Step 6: Final Sample and Production Planning
After we go through feedback and finalize the product design it’s time to address the production process. Cutting is easy: We press go. Sewing and assembly is the tricky part. Which part goes where and at what point? We have some cases that are flat with relatively few steps from first stitch to last. Others require multiple steps including turning parts inside out and top stitching at certain times. I make two, five or ten of a specific case before knowing the most efficient assembly process. This is also where I create a process sheet with seam allowances for each piece, including the development of different marking tools to make the measuring process easier. Next we match likes with likes: .25” seam allowance with .25” seam allowance, sewing this panel and that panel in series. It allows me the opportunity to decide how many machines we will need to have in the production process and what other cases the new case can be manufactured with. We also decide where the tag will be placed. Then it is go time.
Step 7: Production
When it’s time to make inventory we start with putting together master cut sheets with 20 to 100 of the case. Cutting is a one man job but after every piece is cut and sorted others come in and help us assemble. It might be one other person or three; that is determined by the number of machines decided earlier.
Step 8: Quality Control
As our very own big brother operation we check each case before it is packed or sent out because it is important to us that you get the best. This could be just snipping a loose thread or checking the pen slots to make sure we are still within our tolerance. How does the flap align with the case overall? These are all important things that you may never notice, but we do. Brad and I don’t want to match the quality of other cases on the market, we want them to have to come up and match us.
Step 9: Packaging
We design packaging for each product so we can standardize them and make sure that everyone is getting a consistent experience when opening a package from Nock Corporation.
Step 10: Use it!
You open your package and use your new Nock co. case until its ruin.