One of the world’s leading makers of innovative home cleaning products had a problem. Its NPD program had slotted a launch for a breakthrough tool to revolutionize one of the most reviled homemaker chores: toilet bowl cleaning.
To our customer’s dismay, its toilet cleaning system was beaten to market by an archrival. The competitor’s product had powerful appeal, but largely because there was nothing else like it on the market – yet.
The customer’s original design solution wisely targeted the competitor’s Achilles heel. “Brand X’s” toilet cleaning system included disposable refills – but they were not flushable.
With speed-to-market an imperative, the customer came to us with its proposed design. It incorporated a flushable and septic-safe cleaning pad. Such a design had built-in razor-and-razorblade trade appeal that would keep consumers coming back for pad refills, year after year.
But while the arc-shaped cleaning tool was sleek and elegant, there were key elements that needed refinement. The design needed revision in order to slash tooling lead times and shave unit costs to maintain a competitive price point. Further, it had to deliver durability, quality, ease of assembly and good looks. Such attributes are required in this age of ruthless competition and shelf space scarcity.
Under the relentless pressure of a go—no-go timetable that was measured in weeks, our team dug in. What consumer-friendly alternatives were there to the previously-proposed screw-together design? What construction and material options were available, given the complex, albeit ergonomically pleasing, arc-like handle shape? How could design be optimized to enhance packaging efficiency and attain the retail grail. That is, an optimized revenue-to-square foot ratio?
THE SUSSEX IM SOLUTION:
The Sussex team of Keith Everson, President & CEO; Ed Fabiszak, Sales Manager; and Bill Pfister, Tooling Manager, analyzed the proposed design. Areas of improvement, in terms of visual, tactile, functional and operational considerations, were identified.
Design for Six Sigma (DFSS) methodology helped minimize process problems from the outset and optimize process efficiency.
A key issue was the six-piece screw-together design. More pieces mean more cost and more work for the consumer, along with the potential for compromised durability.
Another issue: each “flapper” – the piece that actually gripped the cleaning refill – was originally designed as a separate piece, held in place with screws.
And then there was the question of maintaining color uniformity within each individual piece, given the multi-part arc design.
Our team proposed a streamlined four-piece construction for the curved handle assembly, which would reduce tooling lead time and unit costs. Ultrasonic welding would be incorporated.
Conventional wisdom was that the welded approach was difficult, if not nearly impossible. With this technique, high-frequency ultrasonic acoustic vibrations are applied, under pressure, to create a sturdy, solid weld – without screws, bolts or adhesives.
This would allow for a secure and compact design that could be easily, quickly and securely assembled by even the busiest consumer – and that would appeal to profit-minded retailers seeking optimal on-shelf profitability.
In essence, it would permit the consumer to snap together two handle pieces until the tabs locked, for hassle-free, permanent assembly.
SussexIM’s welded design had to withstand an anticipated five-year lifecycle. The optimal design solution was a result of the team’s deep understanding of in-home consumer behavior, shaped through ethnography and shop-a-longs. How do consumers actually use such products? Where are these cleaning products stored in the bathroom?
SussexIM’s accumulated knowledge led to the design of rigorous repetitive-motion product testing. In addition, the customer’s ran product torture tests that rivaled procedures used by leading automakers and other big-ticket branded products.
The team soon discovered that their revised design solutions would easily withstand five years of consumer punishment. Swirl tests. Impact tests. Torque tests. The design withstood everything the team threw at it.
Another example of the team’s direction was the pad retention mechanism, or “gripper,” cleverly integrated into the cleaning brush wand. The original design was slick, but expensive.
SussexIM expertise with living hinge design resulted in a secure and user-friendly textured “jaws” solution that held the cleaning pad firmly, and released the pad effortlessly. The product flappers were no longer held in place with screws, thus eliminating parts.
In addition, the team developed a sliding button mechanism, which allowed easy pad release. Lock/unlock was accomplished with a secure, audible “click.”
To ensure perfect match in color for each multi-part piece, two eight by eight family molds were configured, with three weld stations around each press.
Prototypes were ready in just eight weeks. The process proved the efficacy of the ultrasonic welding approach. Production was fast-tracked.
THE SUSSEX IM SUCCESS STORY:
Ultimately, the team’s enhanced design of the completed piece was a success in many vital ways. Yes, it was number-two to market. But pad refills outsold the competition and product production was 24/7.
A new product category was invented.
Unit costs were minimized by reducing the number of parts and intelligent selection of materials and production techniques. The compact unit assembles to a full-sized 19 inches, yet was efficiently packaged to maximize on-shelf revenues and meet the measurement requirements of leading big box stores.
At the same time, the revised product was packed with features that enhanced perceived value for the consumer. In this way, long-term, rapid retail turns were ensured.
In the home, the product has proven to be durable, effective and cosmetically superior to old-fashioned “Johnny Mops” and lesser “non-flushable” toilet cleaning systems.
For the SussexIM customer, the reduced unit costs and overall trade and consumer success of the product resulted in years of multi-million unit sales of the clean-pad kit, with revenues further amplified by the number of cleansing pad refills sold.
The product is completely made in the U.S.A. Taking all factors – including materiel transportation and mold making – into consideration, the cost to produce this household product in centrally located Sussex, Wisconsin, with skilled U.S. labor, beat quotes from vendors around the world.
“Our solution led to a highly successful household product,” says Sales Manager Fabiszak. “And we are proud to have developed the revised design under intense deadline pressure, with our skilled U.S. workforce, right here in Sussex. As a result, our customer quickly launched a superior product that blunted competitive threats, sold exceedingly well in the long-term and further reinforced the company’s positioning as innovative, trusted makers of household cleaning products.”
Adds President and CEO Everson, “This was another example of our collaborative approach, which results in breakthrough product solutions. In tandem with our customer, and under difficult marketplace pressures, we identified, validated and executed on improvements that resulted in a product that makes the lives of consumers easier, enhances retailer profitability and delivers year-in and year-out for our customer.
“The success of our work speaks to our company’s passion for plastics, and I could not possibly be prouder of our entire team,” Everson said.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
This breakthrough household cleaning product remains an industry success story, with 15 million sales of the brush/insert kits alone, to date. Such volumes sparked sales of 100 million refill packs.
Based upon tabulations from the customer’s meticulously monitored consumer hotline, there has not been one reported failure – in more than six years. Line extensions have been successfully introduced, with more on the way.
The effort enjoyed the quickest development time of any product in the customer’s history.
Sussex IM continues as a go-to supplier for this industry innovator.