By: Rick Shapiro, Designer-Inventor
I've had friends and acquaintances ask me what my design company, Pancake Wheel LLC does: some have seen pictures or a news article. I thought I would write an article that explains the long arc of how design innovations eventually become state of the art products. My field of interest is narrow: designing compact, fold flat consumer wheeled products (carts, wagons, strollers, joggers). Several years ago I was approached by the owner of an Austrian golf products company. The company, Big Max, is very successful in the European golf cart and golf accessory market and they were considering expanding their reach into baby strollers, initially to be offered in Europe. Licensing several of my U.S. and China golf cart and baby stroller/jogger patents could be strategic to a new fold flat stroller design. While many consumers wouldn’t notice, the wheel design of portable golf carts can be similar to the wheel design of some baby strollers or baby joggers.
THE DESIGN PLAN
The owner of the Austrian golf company had an idea for introducing a new, ultra-compact collapsible baby stroller and already had a very rough first idea for the design, and a factory we worked with already had an early prototype. I was invited to both license my existing patents, and also work as a co-designer to try to refine and improve the factory’s first rough idea. As part of the planning, I agreed to travel to a factory in China working with the Austrian golf company, and then to engage in remote design work, via email or skype.
HOW INNOVATIONS OCCUR
At the very first design plan meeting, the factory had already worked up a very rough frame idea for folding the wheels in a very simple way. One of those rough first prototypes of a 3-wheel stroller is shown below, which would have a push pull portion of the lower frame fold all the stroller wheels.
I had a brainstorm to merge or meld the simple push/pull metal frame handle idea with the type of handle commonly used on typical luggage (see below) onto a baby stroller.
Then, in most every European nation, before a product can be sold, it must pass a rigorous inspection process, like UL in the USA. A manufacturer must address any problem areas that the design laboratories find that may not meet any criteria set forth for that type product. Evaluating pinch points, impact and vibration testing are some of the testing mandated under the standards applying in Europe.
The long arc of this state of the art fold flat baby stroller process lasted almost 3 years, and involved design engineers at the factory, and another German designer brought in to adopt the simplest reliable mechanical internal parts. Ultimately the new design, co-invented and co‑designed by myself and my design company, Pancake Wheel LLC, along with two other co-inventors, was introduced in Europe under a new baby stroller brand called Nikimotion, see the setup video for details.
Rick Shapiro of Pancake Wheel LLC is an independent designer-inventor with 19 U.S. patents who works with companies to develop state of the art fold flat wheel products.