Pittsburgh Technical Council

It's All in the Jam!

It's All in the Jam!

Article Published: February 10, 2016

What happens when you mix talented designers, makers, entrepreneurs and artists with a classic small manufacturer? Stir in a little innovation, a dash of inspiration and the proverbial sprinkle of perspiration. What do you get? If you combine the ingredients per a Design House recipe, you get new, potentially game-changing products that can positively impact local economies and communities.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 At 4.45.23 PMBelieving that he can bring more manufacturing and innovation back to the United States, Paul Hatch, Founder and President of TEAMS Design USA, launched Design House to support local manufacturing by using existing capacity as inspiration for designers to develop new consumer products.

Instead of starting with the idea and then finding a manufacturer, Design House reverses the process: start with a local manufacturer and then ideate around their particular talents. Success means new runs for existing machines; success is products made locally; success is innovation by bringing design and manufacturing closer together.

Launched in Chicago, Design House chose Pittsburgh to open its first chapter and conduct its first Design Jam outside of its homebase. Tim Fletcher of One BusinessDesign is leading up the local Design House chapter to connect designers and
manufacturers.

The Pittsburgh chapter and Design Jam launched at the Pittsburgh Technology Council and Catalyst Connection’s “Design Matters: Revitalizing Local Manufacturing with Reverse Engineering Innovation” event this past fall.

“Pittsburgh is the best place that we could have come to,” exclaimed Hatch to kick off the jam.

Bally Design President Randy Rossi couldn’t agree more. Bally Design works with national and international clients to provide strategic product and service solutions—from discovery through development.

“Pittsburgh is a great location for this. Look at the heavy
industry we had and how we have evolved from that,” Rossi said. “Pittsburgh also has such a strong industrial design presence with Bally, Daedalus, MAYA and with Carnegie Mellon serving as a feeder for the industry.” 

The jam would bring together a few dozen of Pittsburgh’s top industrial designers, makers and artists with one of Pittsburgh’s top small manufacturers: Ace Wire Spring & Form Company.

Founded in 1939, Ace is a family owned and operated custom manufacturer of compression springs, extension springs, torsion springs and wire forms.

Bob McCormick, National Sales Engineering Manager at Ace, was curious and excited to take part in the design jam. He wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this new concept.

“Springs make the world go round,” he said.  “We work with the biggest companies and the smartest minds.”

“We come up with new products every day,” continued McCormick. “Innovation is at our core. We also work with companies to innovate and make products more economical. We even have three springs on Mars.”

He explained that NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover uses springs manufactured at Ace’s McKees Rocks plant.

Hatch warmed up the jam’s participants by overviewing a confluence of trends and undercurrents that are making
Design House relevant and important. Hatch noted that over the past decade, the farm-to-table and handmade movements emphasize local business to ensure better quality and less impact on the environment. Hatch also noted that an entire generation is starting to value handmade goods, as they create more of an emotional connection with the consumer and his/her community.

At just the same time, new technologies—such as crowdsourcing and 3D printing—have disrupted traditional manufacturing to allow inexpensive and small-scale production.

Hatch said that manufacturing has become entrepreneurial again, and e-commerce platforms, like Etsy.com, have
become accessible distribution channels for these goods and products to reach consumers worldwide. These trends and undercurrents have come together to fuel a maker movement.

“There is a spirit of experimentation,” said Hatch. “There is an inventive spirit.”

Design House is channeling this maker movement and connecting it right to traditional manufacturing, helping both sides to create new opportunities.

“Let’s get designers and manufacturers working together and let’s do it locally!” said Hatch.

After a quick break to fuel up on pizza and refreshments, the jam began with participants breaking into three distinct groups to innovate potential new products for Ace.

Groups would jam around “Universal Design,” or products that work for every user. Designers could join the “KickStarter Campaign” table to design a product aimed at any price point or end-user. The final jam category rallied designers to create a product that would retail for under $20 and would be sold in a local, small-scale store.

Plus, one simple rule was laid down: the new product didn’t have to be a spring.

Fletcher, who was co-supervising the jam with Hatch, said, “There’s a lot you can do with wire…Don’t think just springs!”

The groups convened quickly. Conversations and ideas began flying as sticky-notes filled up the workspaces in AlphaLab Gear. After the dust settled, a number of rough concepts came to the forefront, ranging from knee braces to bobble heads. Nearly a dozen ideas will now go on to be further refined, prototyped and brought back to Ace Wire Spring & Form this winter. Ace will review the concepts and determine manufacturing viability and feasibility.

Made in PA will report the next steps, potential new products and more in the next issue. Let’s find out what might be Ace’s newest product!

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