We are just now entering summer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s too early to start thinking about getting outfitted with winter gear—especially if it means getting in early on a Kickstarter product.
Developed by Ireland-based Rotation Design across two winters and tested in the harsh weather conditions in Iceland, the TUSK multi-functional snow shovel might just be your new best friend on those cold, wet, and miserable winter mornings (don’t worry—we’re still quite a few months off).
Built as an all-in-one tool for a variety of snow-related tasks, the TUSK combines an impact resistant, lightweight chassis with features including a snow shovel, a retractable steel digging spade, an extra wide scraper sheath, and durable elastomer wipers.
“On a cold icy morning, the idea for TUSK was born from the frustration of using a bad ice-scraper to clear a car window and wondering why these types of products are so bad,” explain the Rotation Design team. “The idea for the TUSK evolved quickly and we wanted to build it into the meanest ice scraper out there and we decided to build in extra functionality to cope with other scenarios. The unit became a multi-function survival adventure shovel comprising of the ice scraper tip, shovel bucket, retractable steel spade, rubber wipers and buffers and dual handle ergonomic design for maximum usability.”
SolidSmack caught up with Rotation Design’s Alan Harrison to get a bit more insight into this clever take on solving a myriad of winter problems.
How did the idea for the TUSK Survival Shovel come about?
The Tusk was born from a 24-hour design challenge that we set ourselves. We have participated in these kinds of challenges before; in college and at other design forums. The goal is to fully ideate, concept, design and develop a product or solution in one 24-hour stint. They can be incredibly fun while being very challenging.
24 hours for one project? How did that go?
One Wednesday afternoon in late 2016, we were tied down on a project and were stuck in a rut. Another brand we design for Stayhold was growing quickly and we were working full-time on this. We hadn’t done any meaningful product design work in a while and thought this would be a fun way to try something new.
We made sure our studio was prepped, meaning we hoarded snacks, sharpened pencils and made sure we had raw materials – cardboard, hot glue, sheet plastic. We really wanted to look at ice scrapers as an area as winter was starting to hit. Our frozen cars in the morning were a pain to clear. We felt there must be a better way. We kicked off at noon, brainstorming for an hour, rounding out all the areas we felt needed attention. We had purchased a plethora of ice scrapers at our local Auto and DIY stores to have a general idea of the market. Then we moved quickly onto sketching out a few ideas. We quickly concluded that competing with the bottom of the range, cheap generic ice scrapers wasn’t possible. We knew we needed to add value in a different way. It was then we realized that we need to look at winter as the problem, not just ice. The idea for the tusk was then born. An all in one winter survival tool. The idea was to make a multi-functional device that could deal with various automotive winter-related problems. Part ice scraper, shovel, spade, snow plow and window wiper.
An all-in-one kind of design, right? What direction did you take with it?
We quickly began iterating how we could tie some core functions together and what a unit such as this would need to look like and how one would use it. We wanted it to be compact so it was car friendly, both for storage and for access. We wanted it to be really easy to use and secure in the hand(s). The dual handled design was chosen to allow it to be compact while leveraging its digging capacity. The shovel allows you to dig in places that were awkward or hard to reach.
By now, you’ve created some prototypes – how did you make them? Did you use any 3D software?
We like to use cardboard and hot glue to mockup shapes quickly and get a feel for how a product might handle, this is something we feel gets omitted from the design process a lot these days. After a few hours, we had one person on SOLIDWORKS mocking up shapes while another designer continued building sketch models, testing out shapes, ways to use the product, to validate it and we used both processes in parallel to refine each other and make changes on the fly. By late that evening, we had a design direction finalized. Over pizza, we resolved the design intent and had preliminary CAD. At around midnight we started to build our first prototypes. 3D printing or CNC a prototype would be too slow. The quickest way to build a proof was to cut sheet material by hand and try to assemble it the best we could. Using the table and band saw we carefully cut out each piece in sheet acetal. A router was used to add fine detail, slots etc. By sunrise we were assembling the pieces, drilling pilot holes and bolting the pieces together, allowing them to self-tap. After our brainstorming session earlier we had the foresight to order some ice to test out and validate our design. It was due to arrive at 8 am so it was a rush to get done quickly. We spent the morning putting the final touches on it and stopped for a quick breakfast.
And how did the testing go?
It easily tore through shredded ice however we knew we really need to test it in the wild. It was a mild winter that year for Ireland so we scouted locations for the ideal testing ground. We ended up choosing Iceland, as it literally was the land of Ice.
By this time we had done some more development and had gotten some CNC glass filled prototypes made and had added a retractable steel spade.
We spent a weekend in the north of Iceland in Akureyri near the Arctic circle, under 1 foot of snow and sub-zero temps, mostly -15°C. We shoveled snow, dug our 4×4 out of a few tricky situations, shaved ice of the windscreen and tested out all the features.
So, what happened after the design challenge to get it production-ready?
When we arrived home we knew we had a really exciting product on our hands that actually was a must have winter tool. While in a bar in Iceland we hashed out some of the finer details and made plans for our return. Back in the studio, we started implementing some of the tweaks in Solidworks so we could get another round of prototypes. One of the biggest challenges was to design a mechanism that allowed the stainless steel spade to retract effortlessly while being secure and durable enough to survive being rammed through solid ice. Our original 24hr design had hex head bolts that had to be undone to adjust the spade, allowing it to slide in and out. We quickly found out in Iceland that these were too awkward to use, especially when cold. We needed a solution that could be operated with thick winter gloves and numb fingers. We ended up designing large push buttons that would flex enough to lock and unlock the spade. In SOLIDWORKS we were able to refine these and test the flexibility of the material to ascertain the size and length we needed.
Once we had made all of the iterations, we ordered CNC milled PA6 parts from our manufacturing partners. They also made the Stainless steel spade and attached the TPU wings. The manufacturer really delivered in making prototypes that looked fantastic and were representative of the final injected molded parts.
Did you have opportunities to test it along the way?
Yes. Earlier this year we got another chance to finally put the Tusk to the test. An arctic blast called the “beast from the east” hit Ireland hard. The whole country came to a halt. Snow drifts of up to 7ft blocked a lot of the smaller rural roads. Our office was closed for a few days but fortunately, we had the Tusks with us. Our cars were constantly covered in snow, each day requiring multiple clearings of snow. The tusk made it a breeze. We were able to quickly clear the entire car and scrape off any ice build up. A few times we became stuck but we were able to quickly dig ourselves out. This left us incredibly mobile, even able to deliver groceries for snow logged neighbors. We also ended up getting some incredible content. We knew this product was perfect for winter and we had to get it ready for the next snow storm. With winters getting harsher and colder we didn’t want to wait around.
Why did you decide to launch on Kickstarter?
We decided to launch on Kickstarter with the goal of being able to fulfill rewards by the beginning of the coming winter. A snowstorm may not hit Ireland again this year, but somewhere will definitely need it whether it be the east coast of America or daily life in Iceland.
What started as a 24hr design challenge has now become a developed product which would not otherwise exist had we not decided to do a creative binge to combat some of the mundanity associated with other aspects of a growing business. This project reinvigorated us and made us realize that we were getting too bogged down in business startup land and as industrial designers, we needed to get back to creative process and work on more new projects. Since then we have decided to launch a new studio alongside our core product business STAYHOLD® Products called ROTATION Design.
We are committed to launching the Tusk under the new brand MMTH Gear and have ideas for some new survival tools to follow it. We are also working on, amongst other things, a range of new STAYHOLD® products to address storage solutions across an array of vehicles.
Head on over to Kickstarter to purchase Tusk for the limited-time price of just $46. Not a bad price for making those early winter mornings a little bit more bearable.