Heat activated coffee cup -

Intumescent materials expand or swell when they are exposed to heat. Sometimes these materials are used for fire safety. In the case of this ink it is used to create a decorative effect.

This is the most interesting use of intumescent materials we have seen here at Inventables. We're interested to see how well it actually insulates your hand from the hot coffee.

Exploration - Hacking Toys

Today we have the guys from RothMobot come in to teach us a bit about hacking toys. They have hacked toys into instruments in an art they called "circuit bending". We opened up an old Fisher-Price toy that had been thrown away and started doing some mods.

They brought a bag of photocells to mess around with.

There are two cool things that we were able to do with them. They become a really cool proximity switch. You can use your hand to adjust the sound, speed, and intensity of the song that plays when you turn on the toy.

When you combine the Cadmium Sulfide photocell with an LED wrap them in electrical tape and epoxy you can make a homemade Vactrol. This is cool because it optically couples the the electronics with the switch. Optical coupling is cool because it is a fancy way of saying you can turn on and off the electronics by turning on and off a light. The LED and the photo sensor are encased in epoxy so all the light from the LED goes directly into the cell turning it on. This is interesting because there is no chance of the electronics ruining the input device (like your computer or arduino).

Part 2 - Cost Comparison & Temperature

We continue our multi-part series on plastic compounding with a posts about using cost comparison & temperature to choose the correct thermoplastic composite. So we don't have to recreate the wheel, RTP Company was nice enough to send over a white paper they put together that breaks the process down into five steps and this is step 2 of 5.

Cost Comparison & Temperature
Cost is an extremely important consideration when choosing the base resin from which you will build your composite. My experience has been that you can usually develop a composite to meet even the toughest physical requirements, but if it does not
meet the customer’s cost expectations, they will not buy it and your development efforts will be wasted!

Thermoplastic resins can be arranged into three basic categories based on their cost: low cost/commodity resins that typically have large volume market costs of less than $1.50/lb, medium cost/engineering resins that typically fall between $1.50-$3.00/lb, and the high cost/high temperature resins that usually cost above $3.00/lb.

If one compares the costs of all thermoplastic resins, they see a direct correlation between the cost and the temperature resistance of the resin.
Temperature resistance can be measured in a variety of ways: melt temperature, heat deflection temperature, glass transition temperature, and continuous use temperature; but the resins that will offer the highest capabilities in each of these categories will be the most expensive. For example, a couple of the top thermal performers
include Polyetheretherketone (PEEK) and Thermoplastic Polyimide (TPI) and both cost over $30.00/lb. This is why it is so important not to over-specify the thermal requirements of your application or you will needlessly drive up the cost
of the composite that can meet these requirements.

Although we usually discuss costs in the plastics industry in terms of $/lb, a thrifty part designer will always calculate costs in terms of the cost it
will require to produce a certain volume of parts:
$/in = $/lb X Specific Gravity X 0.0361

If you are ever outbid by a competitor in a situation where the competition has a higher specific gravity material, calculate the $/in3 and you may be surprised to find that you actually have the better price.

By combining the morphology, cost, and thermal requirements (as depicted in the following chart), one can see that you can quickly zero in on your choices to two or three resins that will best meet your application.

How do I choose the correct thermoplastic composite to meet the application?

We continue our multi-part series on plastic compounding with a number of posts about choosing the correct thermoplastic composite. So we don't have to recreate the wheel, RTP Company was nice enough to send over a white paper they put together that breaks the process down into five steps. Over the next 5 posts we'll be publishing excerpts from their white paper. The full paper can be found here.

They advise choosing the correct composite using the following basic fundamentals:

1) Resin Morphology
2) Cost Comparison
3) Temperature Resistance
4) Property Enhancement Using Aspect Ratio
5) Ultimate Performing Long Fiber

Resin Morphology
There exists over 60 thermoplastic base resins that
can be used to produce your composite, so it is
very important to start breaking these choices
down to get to the correct one. Something helpful
in doing this is to understand a little about
thermoplastic chemistry and, in particular,
understanding morphology.

Although morphology sounds like a complicated
term, it can simply be viewed as the orientation
that the molecules of the polymer (plastic) take
when they go from the melt state to the solid state
during processing, such as injection molding. A
thermoplastic resin will fall into one of only two
categories of morphology: either an amorphous
morphology, having a random molecular
orientation, or a semi-crystalline morphology,
having ordered or crystalline regions of molecules
dispersed within the random amorphous

By knowing the most important requirements for
your application (dimensional stability, tight
tolerances, moldability into thin wall sections,
chemical resistance, transparency, wear resistance,
etc.), you can identify which resin morphology is
best suited and, by doing this, roughly cut your
resin choices in half.

FIRST Robotics - Midwest Regional - 2010

Inventables has been a long time fan of FIRST Robotics. The mission of FIRST is "to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership."

Each year the game changes and teams have a 6 week "build season" to build their robot. This years game is similar to a soccer match with a few modifications. The field has 4 goals, two on each end. There were 12 soccer balls used in the game. Each goal counts as 1 point and if the robot can lift itself up on the return scaffolding above the platform it's worth 2 points. The games are timed and have two phases, the autonomous phase, and the remote control phase.

Here's a clip of some of this year's action.

After each match the scoreboard shows the audience the results. The crowd anticipates the final score and when it's shown the stadium erupts with cheers.

FIRST's mission is very similar to the mission of Inventables so naturally we get excited about FIRST events. Last year we made a financial donation to help support the Midwest Regional. Obviously cash is always appreciated but we've been thinking about how to make a more scalable an repeatable contribution that grows exponentially over time.

John Abele is the Chairman of the Board for FIRST and he had talked to us about the idea of creating a "girl scout cookies" type program for first. One of the original ideas was that students participating in FIRST could sell robots door to door. After hearing this idea we started thinking about all the different materials on the Inventables website - there had to be a connection.

John introduced Inventables to Dennis Roberson who is the former CTO of Motorola, the current Vice Provost of IIT, and the head of the Midwest Regional for FIRST. Working with Dennis and the Chicago Knights we started alpha testing, and now beta testing a program where students can be hired by the vendors that showcase their materials in the Inventables Marketplace and earn $250 to create a video of the material. If the program is successful it will be a win-win-win.

It's a win for FIRST because it could turn into an evergreen funding source where students use their own effort, intellect, and video editing skills to earn money for their robots which cost $10,000 - $100,000 to build, it's a win for the vendors that make the materials because they get a nice video to demonstrate what their material or technology is and how it work, and it's a win for Inventables because it helps buyers that come to our site learn even more about the material before deciding the contact the vendor helping us deliver on our brand promise "Sales leads worth your time".

Later today we will be announcing a paid summer internship opportunity for a FIRST participant that is going off to college next year. Their job will be to work at Inventables and launch the program tis summer out of beta testing into production for next year's FIRST season.

The atmosphere at the Midwest Regional was electric. The teams from around the midwest have converged on the UIC Pavilion and thousands of people are in the stands. In a few hours we'll find out who is going to the World Championships which are being held in the George Dome where the Atlanta Falcons play.

Housewares Show Wrap Up

On Monday 3-15-10 I walked the show this year looking for products that made use of materials and design to differentiate from the other commodity products in their category. At 3pm I sat on a panel hosted by the IDSA to discuss product innovation at the show. This blog post is a round up of what I found. Based on my 4 hours walking through the three buildings of the show it seemed like this year was a year of repeats and incremental improvements. I did not see as many new products or new innovations as I had seen in years past. I assume this is because of the economy and the fact that manufacturers and retailers were busy figuring out what to do with the excess inventory they had as well as how they might be able to take additional cost out of their products.
This impressive display of Kitchen Aid mixers caught my eye. The product has become a design icon that most brides to be add to their registry. The classic design is beautiful enough for people to want to showcase it on their kitchen countertops. This year they had a rainbow of colors from pastels to primaries with the classic white, black, and chrome.

Terraillon was back with a gorgeous brushed aluminum scale. The scale retails for about $80. The detail on this scale was impressive. The pictures below do not do it justice. To create a circle of brushed lines the manufacturing process requires a piece of aluminum roughly two times the size of the scale. As you can imagine manufacturing a circle can present challenges. If you are looking for a high end scale to match your luxurious new bathroom this scale might be for you.
This next product is a two in one bedside lamp and humidifier. Most of the humidifiers on the market look medicinal. Traditionally humidifiers tend to resemble something you would expect to see in a hospital or a doctors office. If friends come over to your house you might be a bit embarrassed about having your humidifier out as you give a tour of your house. This product tries to tackle that problem and save you some money. It's dual function makes it nice enough to place on your bedside year round as a lamp but in the dry months it doubles as a humidifier that looks more like a vase than a piece of medical equipment.
The economy might be causing fluctuations in material costs and it might be making shipping more expensive but brilliance isn't part of your bill of materials. The folks over at World Kitchen collaborated with Smart Design to create this clever measuring cup. The innovation is that the measurements are written on the inside of the cup rather than the outside so you don't have to pick it up or crouch down to the counter level to see how much you have filled it up! As you can imagine printing the measurements on the inside was not an easy task. Demand for this clever new design is high so it might already be sold out on store shelves.
I thought these iconic salt and pepper mills by Fresco were gorgeous. They reference the past with a look into the future. The shape seemed very modern and up to date, the product used a soft touch TPE and the choice of colors seemed like they would fit well with most modern kitchen designs.
Over the last decade manufacturers have been using materials and design on traditionally functional products to make them feel more luxurious. I think about this from the perspective that with each year as there are new products and new innovations our society creates more wealth. A by product of this is that our standard of living increases and the cost to make new stuff tends to go down. This gives rise to "new needs" in our homes. After the survival needs are filled and our functional needs like cleaning are nailed down we start looking for solutions to make those functional parts of our lives a bit nicer. This set of cleaning tools is designed with chrome handles and it makes the tools look a bit upscale so you might not be embarrassed to have them out when a friend comes over or even hang them in a laundry room used as the main entrance to your house from the garage.

Everyone is familiar with the transition from chalk boards to dry erase boards. It's much nicer to use a dry erase marker instead of a piece of chalk because your hands don't get all messy. In a classroom a big white board seems to match the decor but in your kitchen it can be an eye sore. The ladies at Three by Three in Seattle have come up with an upscale Bamboo dry erase board. A nifty added benefit is as you can see by the photo it is also a magnetic surface.
When I walked into the Human Scale booth I was struck by the design of their shower accessories. They are designing products that help make your bathroom feel more like a spa than a residential bathroom. Pictured below is a beautiful decorative bamboo shelf that hooks on to your shower head. They also make home versions of soap and shampoo dispensers so you don't need to have all the ugly plastic bottles siting around in your shower.

That's a wrap for the International Home and Housewares Show 2010 - we'll see you next year!

Inventables at the Housewares Show

On Monday March 15th at the 2010 International Home + Housewares Show at McCormick Place in Chicago Inventables CEO Zach Kaplan will be panelist along with Carl Cepress, Leonard Rau in the Design Theater from 3:30 – 4:20. The conversation will be relevant for designers and other attendees interested in product development. Three perspectives will be represented: materials used in the products, marketing, and design.

Each panelist will discuss their favorite items at the show and provide an explanation of why they are fond of them. The panelists have been instructed not to hold anything back so the controversial "worst products at the show" will be discussed as well.

The conversation will consider material usage, branding, design, trends, and overall innovation. Each panelist has been given a photo-badges and will be taking pictures during the show. These photos will be used as part of the conversation. Vendors are invited to join the conversation during the Q&A section.

Where can I find specialty plastics?

Product designers and engineers visit Inventables to find new materials for their projects. One kind of vendor that lists products on our website is called a plastic compounder. To educate our buyer community on these companies we are doing a multi-part series on them. Today we talked with Kirk Fratzke, the marketing coordinator for RTP Company. RTP Co. is a plastic compounder with global locations that include their headquarters in Minnesota, USA with additional facilities in Europe, China, and Singapore.

Inventables: I’m familiar with plastic compounders but for some of the engineers that visit Inventables they might only be familiar with companies like DuPont and their engineering polymers division. For someone that does not have experience in the world of compounding how would you explain what RTP Co. does?

KF: In a nutshell, RTP Co. is called upon by product manufacturers when the "virgin" or "natural" form of a plastic material is does not meet the engineering requirements of a particular design. In a given calendar year RTP Co. will manufacture over 6000 unique compounds for clients. Some of the more commonly used materials include Polypropylene (PP), Nylons, and Polycarbonate (PC).

Inventables: That is a little confusing because some of the major resin suppliers claim to do to some compounding if their virgin material doesn't meet a customers requirement.

KF: That's true it is a bit confusing. We do custom compounding, that means we will formulate a material to exactly meet the requirement a customer needs. The bigger resin suppliers typically have specific versions of their "off the shelf" resins that include specific a percentage of an additive they will sell. We are referred to as a custom compounder because our business is made-to-order which means we can accommodate small runs.

Inventables: What are the main areas that you compound plastics in?

KF: We really focus on compounding plastic in the following five areas:

1. Coloring - Adding pigments to get the exact right color

2. Conductivity - Making plastic conductive, typically for antistatic applications. Sometimes these compounds get into the range of EMI shielding to block radio waves

3. Flame retardant - Some plastics are inherinetly flame retardant however, if you take a blow torch to any plastic it will still burn. We include additives that prevent plastic from being an ignition source in an over heating situation.

4. Structural - We put glass fiber into plastic to increase it's stiffness. A less expensive approach from a structural standpoint can also include the addition of Earth derived minerals into plastic.

5. Wear resistant or internally lubricated - We put lubrication into the plastic to reduce the wear over time. PTFE (TeflonTM) is one of the most common additives used for these application.

Inventables: You mentioned in a given year you will sell 6000 different materials which come from about 60 base resins. How is an engineer to know which one they need?

KF: We start the discussion with the engineer with cost because that will often be the biggest limitation in a project. With a clear understanding of what the engineer can spend on a given part it will naturally eliminate a number of materials. From there we look at what kind of temperatures the plastic is going to be exposed to. Then we will think through other environmental conditions for example if the part will be exposed to oil from human skin or in contact with gasoline. Once you get an understanding of the requirements of a particular application you can narrow the options down into a family resins.

Inventables: I read on your website that HiPer Technology, Inc. a Kansas based corporation that develops and manufactures ATV accessories such as carbon fiber racing wheels for motor sport vehicles. Racing fans know these as HiPer Racing Wheels. How did that project come about?

KF: When regular materials couldn't take the abuse you might expect on an ATV the team at HiPer Technology went looking for stronger materials for their bead lock ring. In this case the rest of the wheel rim was made out of carbon fiber and they wanted a similar composite material. They were not interested in metal because weight is an issue on an ATV. They make high end ATV accessories and when are able to say you use composites it implies high tech. Their products are used by folks on the professional circuits. Long fiber compounds are used a lot for metal replacement. In this case they knew of our sales rep, materials from other sources weren’t working so started looking for a customized material. We aren't always the first call. Typically our customers start with something basic and they keep moving up the value chain until they find a solution that meets their requirements.

Inventables: How long should an engineer budget from the first time they contact you with an idea until they have parts shipping?

KF: To get from an idea to an active application typically takes 6-24 months. If when they first contact us they are just researching it can be a long time. However if they have a material that is failing and they need to replace it things go much quicker. Everyone has different product development cycles. The process typically starts with us talking about requirements. We recommend a material and get some feedback from the customer. When everything checks out we produce a sample. Other steps can include making a mold, conducting a molding trial to produce parts that can be used to determine if the material fulfills their mechanical requirements. Then once you get all your materials approved and specified you start ramping up for production.

Inventables: In the next few years where do you see growth for RTP Co.?

KF: We're seeing a lot of growth in automotive because of the need for weight reduction to improve fuel economy.
Healthcare is a growing market because it is an industry growing worldwide. The population of United States is aging and China is getting better access to medical care.

A lot is going on in the energy market because the government has put a big push into renewable sources like solar and wind power. The big windmill blades are not made from thermoplastics, but it is such a growth area there is actually a shortage of carbon fiber because they are making so many windmill blades.

Aerospace and defense is a growth area anytime there is a war going on.

Things that used to be industrial are moving into consumer markets. Home treatment devices are becoming more popular in heathcare. Consumerizing of insulin management systems, the devices people use to read the sugar levels in their blood. Things that used to be only in the hospital are becoming more consumer oriented.

Midventures25 - Big Check from Inventables

Congratulations to the founders of G2.fm for winning $1000 from Inventables for winning the 2010 MidVentures25.

Tonight over 250 people gathered at MidVentures 25 in downtown Chicago. The event was a showcase of 25 startups from Chicago and the surrounding Midwest.

Fred Hoch from the ITA donated an entire floor from their building and the startups gave demos at tables. The panel of judges went around to each startup to learn about what they were doing.

A few of the startups there were Fippex, Thinklinkr, and G2.fm. All 25 startups are listed here.

The kings of the night were Jason Weingarten and Bobby Aguilera of G2.fm.Their site connects musicians venues and fans around the world. You might think of them as the online community where bands/artists share music and connect with the venues and fans. They came up with the concept for G2.fm from their personal experiences as musicians, promoters, and booking agents. Their successes, as well as lessons from past frustrations, inspired them to streamline the booking process, saving Artists time and money, while creating new revenue streams for their partners.

Tonight all the hard worked paid off when held the $1000 prize check from Inventables!

TEDx Windy City - Building Blocks

TEDx Windy City was an independently organized TED event in Chicago.

The evening started with an address by Kurt Haunfelner the Vice President, Exhibits & Collections at Museum of Science and Industry. He welcomed the audience and explained how MSI is growing their involvement as an arbiter of innovation in Chicago. He also talked about some of the big changes you’ll see at MSI in the coming months. They are installing a 40-foot tornado as part of Science Storms! They have a new medical diagnosis exhibit and high-tech Human Patient Simulator. The changes and improvements are remarkable.

Roth Mobot is the Chicago based Circuit Bent musical duo of Tommy Stephenson and Patrick McCarthy. Roth Mobot's "recursive jazz" controls the random juxtaposition of improvised dark ambient drones, languid melodies, randomly discovered rhythms, percussive accidents, the humorous language of toys, and common discarded electronic audio and video devices. The guys from Roth Mobot did some of their circuit bending creating some unique musical sounds. They hacked old toys and hooked them up to some DJ equipment. This made it possible to "play" the toys like musical instruments. It was an interesting blend of technical and musical "making".

During the talk on Inventables, founder and CEO Zach Kaplan talked about building blocks. Specifically he walked through how the building blocks you use dictate the end product you will build. The purpose of Inventables is to give designers and engineers new building blocks to work with. Discovering materials like:


give designers and engineers fresh ideas and fresh perspectives. Zach walked through how he learned this lesson by playing with all sorts of construction toys as a kid ranging from Legos to Construx (check out a video of Zach's talk here). The talk closed with the story of another Chicago based entrepreneur named Craig Diamond. Craig has used the building blocks on Inventables website to create some new fight shorts that protect your crotch from nasty blows. Craig is so confident in the materials used in the shorts he's seen testing them out here with a real MMA fighter.

With Craig as your inspiration go find your own building blocks and make something.

Inventables awards $1000 to winner at Midventures 25

On March 11th over 250 people will join 25 of the top Midwest startups at Midventures 25. Inventables will be giving the winning startup a check for $1000.

The event goes from 5:00pm to 10:00pm at 200 S. Wacker Drive, 12th Floor, in downtown Chicago. The event will showcase 22,000 square feet of the best investor-ready early-stage startups demo'ing their products and services.

The following judges will decide who the lucky startup is:
Andrew Mason, CEO, Groupon
Chuck Templeton, founder of OpenTable
Jason Heltzer, Principal, OCA Ventures
Biju Kulathakal, CEO, TradingBlock; co-founder, RedBox
Adam Siegel, CEO, InklingMarkets
Ted Souder, Head of Regional Industry - Travel, Google

The 25 presenting startup companies include:

Adapt.ly, bln.kr, blurtt, Confer, CorkShare, eMotion Group, FanGo, FIPPEX, Flexhire, G2.fm, Genlighten, GiveForward, Halo Monitoring, HaveMyShift, iCubed, Intelligent Generation, JoeMetric, KnowledgePay, Medic8 Manager, Quirkit, RentMonitor, Spreedly, Sunflower Solutions, thinklinkr, and Watermelon Express.

Over 20 other exhibitors will be on hand in the mV Demo Area to display their products and services.

We hope to see you there!