limited production :: hand crafted :: high performance :: rechargeable :: premium flashlights

This is my blog about creating a startup LED flashlight business. I'm a designer, fabricator, and strategist and I'm passionate about making ideas real. I believe that products are about people, that they should be built to last, deliver real value, and that we need to do a better job than we have in the recent past.

Most of my career has been contract or freelance work and I've crafted products and strategies for both big international companies and startups. I also used to work in the "industry" fabricating special effects for film and TV, along with the occasional hot rod. Bottom line, I love making things.

I'm starting this blog so you can follow along, from day one, and see what it's like to start a business, or fail in the process. Only time will tell, but I hope you find this interesting enough to stay tuned, comment, link, like, tweet, and (most importantly) participate in turning this idea into something tangible and valuable.

For a good place to get started with general info about who, what, why, etc., check out the "Stickies" on the left side of the page. Thanks for stopping by and please don't hesitate to ask questions and get involved!

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Design for Dissasembly

I've always been frustrated by things that break and that I may not fix. Notice I didn't say that I "can't" fix. I mean things that are designed and constructed in such a way that it's impossible to fix them. Or rather, the only fix is to throw them out and buy a new one. My breaking point was about four years ago when I had a drip coffee maker overflow out the top. The water ran down the front of the machine and shorted out the circuit board. I won't even get into how ridiculous it is to put electronics in a coffee maker in the first place. Anyway, the water fried the circuit board. A call to the manufacturer confirmed the repair solution was to, "send it back and they'll send me a new one." Great customer service, incredibly stupid design.

My current coffee setup
So, I decided to deconstruct coffee making. One great way to avoid the disassembly/repair trap is to not assemble the parts in the first place. It might spread out the footprint more but it means every part functions independently from other parts. The part that actually makes the coffee is on the left...the clear vacuum flask and ceramic Buchner Funnel. Now I let gravity do the work instead of a circuit board. I won't explain the whole thing, but if you want to know what all this has to do with flashlights, read on after the jump.


I've talked to some people and they have mentioned discussing the subject "repair" might make my lights sound less robust. On one hand that's true. On the other hand, I think by providing an explanation I can rely on you to make sense of it all. Just in case you haven't noticed...things break, especially if you use them. It's the natural course, entropy at work. My lights are meant to be used. Eventually something will fail. When that happens I want you to have options. "Throwing it out and buying a new one" is not one of those options.

Since the lights can be easily disassembled (because I designed them that way) they can be fixed. If you don't want to do it, send it back and I'll do it. If you are the tinkering type and have some basic mechanical and electrical skills (or know someone that does) I can send you the part and you can fix it yourself. The same principle applies to upgrades. Want to install a different LED? Send it back or do it yourself.

Swap out the on/off switch with no tools. Cool right? 
One of the most common failure points (for any light) is the switch. It sees a lot of mechanical wear and tear and any mechanical system has a finite number of cycles it can withstand before it fails. A lot of lights require a special tool to swap out the switch. Mine just screws in and out (with a special tool) called your thumb and index finger. I'll offer replacement parts for sale, so if your switch breaks I'll send you a new one and within about 30 seconds you'll be back to dominating the dark.

As I said, I've always been frustrated by things that are impossible to fix. I like to fix things. I'd rather have the satisfaction of fixing something myself than dealing with the manufacturer, RMA procedures, shipping costs, turn around times, and other headaches associated with getting something fixed. It wasn't until I was introduced to the idea that "design for disassembly" should be a core principle of any product design, that I realized the true extent of the disconnect. "Back in the day" everything was repairable (more or less). Things also lasted a lot longer. Ever hear the adage, "they ain't built like they used to be?" Ever wonder why not? Well, I'm building flashlights with that in mind.

Nathan Shedroff (the Chair of the MBA Design Strategy program at CCA) wrote a couple of books about the current state of design and sustainability. "Design is the Problem" is his most recent work and well worth the read. I learned some new things but, more importantly, I was made aware of some things I "knew" but never gave a lot of critical thought design for disassembly. I also realized that I could do something about it instead of just complaining.

I like this book and if you have read this far, I think you'll like it too
My lights are more expensive than many and much less expensive than a few. Like anything, you get what you pay for. For example: old world craftsmanship and a product intended for a lifetime of service. Remember my post about cheapo flashlights from big box retailers? You get what you pay for. I started this adventure because I wanted to do something that I can care about, something that reflects my values and the way I see the world. A flashlight isn't as necessary as food, water, and shelter...but when it's dark there are very few substitutes for light.

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