Blog - How we came up with a new product

Blog - How we came up with a new product

By Paul Hughes, CEO Integra Systems

Coming up with a new product takes more than just a light-bulb moment. It takes a rare synchronicity of factors – from your capabilities and strengths, to your professional network, to your finances, to consumer demand, and then that ‘sweet spot’ for any successful product where the design intersects with humanity.

For us at Integra Systems, synchronicity was achieved when we hit on the concept of new range of sit-stand office desks, which developed into what we call the WorkSmart Collection of BioSmart and AeroSmart workstation solutions. Fourteen prototypes and a whole lot of mental and physical muscle later, and we’ve got a story to tell about how our company transitioned from creating innovative products for other businesses to creating a division which created our very own intellectual property under the subsidiary company name, Integra TransForm.

It doesn’t have to be new but it has to offer new value

We were familiar with the sit-stand workplace trend that was sweeping the globe, as we’d been asked to produce an industrial sit-stand work solution for a client’s assembly line using Linak actuators, which we consider to be the best available. This meant, from a technical point of view, we already understood how the actuators worked, giving us a leg-up to create a new kind of desk in our own unique vision.

But that wasn’t the tipping point.

I personally had been suffering from a prolapse disc in my back and, being a highly active person, was mindful of how I went about my daily business and whether I would be putting additional pressure on my already weakened spine. This led me to consider others working at Integra, and how they were dealing (or failing to deal) with their own personal health and mobility challenges.

We knew what we could create with the sit-stand Linak technology, and we knew other sit-stand products available were inferior in their structure and longevity. Anything that was robust was quite ‘clunky’ requiring a mechanical assist that forced the user to move their body – sometimes even leaning right over the desk – to raise the unit. We felt that was counter-intuitive to the desk’s purpose.

We may not have invented the sit-stand desk but we knew we could really improve on it, which became our primary objective.

Be clear on your product objectives – quality or cost?

It was important for us to make excellence our defining factor. Other sit-stand solutions had compromised quality in order to meet a certain market price-point. We recognised that our product would not be the cheapest but it would be the best.

One way we tackled the cost issue was to create two kinds of sit-stand solutions: BioSmart and AeroSmart. As the desk converter, BioSmart is the flagship product of the range, adapting to office furniture already in use rather than replacing it. As a whole desk solution, AeroSmart figures at a higher price, and is more suited to those establishing a new office or replacing existing furniture and starting again.

We were increasing our workload, as we needed to perfect two new products instead of one, but it also allowed us to service two very different markets without sacrificing quality for cost.

Know your challenges – look before you leap

We have a breakout table in our office – which just happens to be a sit-stand table – so we gathered around it as a group for some intensive brainstorming. The WorkSmart Collection started as just a few sketches on a page, and took a decent amount of time and consideration before it leapt from page to prototype.

We recognised one very definite challenge: with a freestanding unit like the BioSmart, you’re relying on one central point, which is the actuator. How do you create a secure and stable platform that looks great but is, essentially, just a pole? The actuator is only one part. The design genius comes through the engineering combined with the industrial design to create a unit that is ergonomic, attractive and mechanically functional with the kind of strength to last the distance.

Our industrial designer looked at all our sketches and worked out how to make our concepts manufacturable and beneficial to the consumer. From there, we continued to narrow it down until we settled on the winning design.

Don’t waste time on something that’s out-dated before you start

In commencing our sit-stand journey, we were mindful the market rapidly changes and that, despite the length of time required to perfect and launch a product, we would need to respond to market demands quickly – whatever they may be.

Without having the aid of a crystal ball, we anticipated wanting to tool certain parts – such as the universal joints on the units where computer screens are mounted – as well as making other advancements down the track. With this in mind, we constructed our sit-stand units in a flexible manner to allow for the product to evolve along with the user - ‘scalable manufacturing’.

Sometimes, if you go to tooling too early, it locks down creativity and then you cannot improve on your product at a later point in time. We like to keep the manufacturing methods flexible in the early stages so we can adapt to user demands. We’re constantly getting market research information so, if we were to lock in our processes, then we’re unable to respond to that information.

It is important to remain flexible, keep your design pencil sharp and leave room for refinement.

The consumer is everything, so make sure you listen

You may have a burning desire to create a certain product – but is anyone buying it? That’s the question you need to ask yourself.

We chose to develop and fund our WorkSmart Collection ourselves without the support of government funding or angel investment. This also meant we were forced to keep our processes lean and complete as much of the development as possible in-house to manage our costs.

We chose to conceive an idea and then head down a path of design before we completed the market research but our initiation into sit-stand desks and our ability to produce something entirely ourselves meant we were confident in taking this developmental journey.

Considering the groups to which we wanted to target our sit-stand units, we got into the minds of medical practitioners, patients, ergonomists and even interior decorators. Dr Carolyn Royce was one medical practitioner who proved integral to our research. Within three days of supplying these sit-stand units to her clinic free of charge for evaluation, she asked us to send her an invoice because her staff loved them so much and she felt it was unconscionable not to pay for them.

We created a prototype for an RMIT ergonomist and senior ergonomist for the Coles Myer Group. As an ergonomist, he’s a perfectionist, and put us through all manner of hoops and hurdles before agreeing to sign-off on the units from an ergonomic point of view. We’ve been through four reviews with him, which has been challenging, but incredibly beneficial to us because we now know we’ve produced a product that is ergonomically sound.

To see many of the revolutionary products Integra has created for other companies, and to learn more about our sit stand range, visit www.integrasystems.com.au

Next blog: How we brought a product to market

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Published in Blog
K2_WRITTEN_ON April 10 2017
Written by Erika Hughes