“Zagros Lalo was not a typical client,” says Alistair Williamson, managing director of Lucid Innovation, the industrial design consultancy Lalo enlisted to help him to refine his idea and advise on funding and the manufacturing processes needed to develop it. “His engineering knowledge was a driver throughout the development process.”
The problem with conventional, fixed-length fasteners is that once tied in place, any surplus is either left or trimmed off, resulting in an enormous amount of waste. Therefore, Lalo’s aim was to provide a continuous reel of tie fastener that could be cut to the exact length needed. It could also be loosened, tightened, removed or reused as required.
The Lucid team, together with Lalo, initially brainstormed different ideas before sketching concepts. Once a design had been settled upon, different manufacturing techniques were investigated. The first assumption was to use injection moulding, as that is currently how fastener strips are made.
“Our objective was to develop a multi-material solution, so we looked at the relative shrink rates of different polymers. Early in the project, we believed long injection moulded strips might be a viable solution, so similar shrink rates were vital to ensure that accurate parts could be manufactured in different materials on the same tool,” explains Lalo.
However, through trialling different materials, such as polyurethanes and nylons, using injection mould tooling, practical difficulties were revealed in using this technique to produce long strips. Whereas die-cutting an extrusion enabled production in a continuous reel. In this process, a special rotary cutter is used to punch the shape from an extruded strip.
“Initially we thought the die-cutting process would create a lot of waste, but all of the offcuts can be fed straight back into the extrusion machine – it doesn’t waste anything,” says Williamson.
Lucid worked with specialist manufacturers of roll-forming equipment to create bespoke machinery to actually produce Xtra-Strap, which Zerco has since purchased. “The development of Xtra-Strap was much more than a design and materials selection project. The best design solution meant we had to create a new manufacturing process to make continuous reels of tie fasteners,” says Lalo.
Additionally, this machine enables Xtra-Strap to be manufactured in different materials to suit a range of applications. “The fastener could be made from anything; the same principle would apply,” Williamson explains. “It could even be made out of cardboard if there was an application for that, or nylon if it needed to be very strong for use on an oil rig, for instance.”
However, for the launch product a flexible PVC compound was chosen as it demonstrated the best properties for a range of applications, from bundling electric cables in an office to tying up growing saplings in a nursery. “The current offer is PVC because its combination of strength, stretchiness and softness suits the horticultural and electrical applications. It won’t wear out the installer’s hands or the material it fixes. It’s also recyclable, chemical free, UV resistant and self-extinguishing in combustion,” Williamson says.
As Xtra-Strap is available on a roll, users simply wrap it around the items they wish to bundle, then tie and trim to exactly the length required. The strap can be adjusted and also removed and re-used in another application.
“We believe that for the amount of material, Xtra-Strap can be 1.5 to 2 times the tensile strength of other fasteners but that obviously depends on what material it’s manufactured from,” says Lalo.
It’s not just the material that makes the Xtra-Strap so strong and tear-resistant, it’s also the unique interlocking design. “It has a bidirectional profile, which means that it’s very intuitive to connect and to disconnect in any direction and to link one strip to another,” explains Williamson. “The castellations between each link mean that the more tension that is put on the fastener, the better the connection.”
The Xtra-Strap has been launched and is currently available through a number of stockists. However, Lalo has not stopped there – as the manufacturing process allows for numerous iterations of shape and size, he is now developing more straps, based on the results.
“Lucid’s knowledge and creative approach to the challenges presented by funding and manufacturing processes was invaluable in the development of Xtra-Strap. Our collaboration went well beyond design into manufacturing and funding,” says Lalo.
“Collaborating to help innovative businesses get ideas to market is much more involved than people may realise,” Williamson adds. “Industrial designers can really help with strategy and ideas, and help innovators make better connections.”