Imagine Surf, a Maui, Hawaii based paddle-board and lifestyle brand needed an answer for their drop-stitch inflatable specialty products. Specifically, their windsurf and expedition models require an alternative to the standard inserts used to mount third-party accessory items, which compromise the structural integrity of the core drop-stitch materials.
Principally, we had to ensure compatibilty with an array of third-party products. Meeting a set of industry specific criteria would ultimately determine its universality. A small footprint and low profile was a priority. Streamlining the design to minimize resistance while maintaining functionality was a test given the overall height of the base was somewhat predetermined.
We resolved to make this a two-piece system consisting of a mounting plate set flush with the deck surface, and a secondary attachment to the mount elevating its overall height to accomodate for a windsurf rig adapter referred to as a mast-foot. This allows the user an abilty to choose between two configurations. A flat-profile increasing ease of movement while not in use and while in use with most accessories, or alternatively while in use with a windsurf rig.
Finally, material usage and structural integrity was an essential consideration regarding its connectivity and lifespan. It was surmised, that a lower density polymer must be used for the mounting plate given the flexible nature of its host. The load bearing requirement of the windsurf rig demanded the secondary attachment (or windsurf base) consist of a higher density polymer.
Early prototypes confirmed a number of factors considered while in development. The flexible nature of the host surface required a comparable material density to ensure cohesion and mitgate wear. To contrast the pliability of the mount, it was molded to accomodate a series of metal tapped inserts which are used to link attachments securely in position. The secondary attachment (or windsurf base) had to be lightweight and built to sustain a substantial load.
In order to accomplish the lightweight properties of the windsurf base, it was designed with a skeletal framework that served two purposes — This internal frame creates a fair amount of volume limiting the use of material in production while providing a ridgid platform to support heavy loads. In addition, the external portion of the housing would extend around the mounting plate to produce a firm seal between the two units.
Much of our R&D and prototyping determined our design direction. Ultimately we focused on three primary factors - functionality, usability, and production efficiency. There are few components in play, each of which compliment each other in form and function. Aesthetically we kept it simple drawing from the contours of the accessories most likely to be partnered with the windsurf base. The simplicity of the design aids to its ease of use. An injection molding process using epoxy molds ensures cost efficiency in production. These early renderings illustrate those points.
Our first models display the internal framework which is the basis of its structural makeup. The mounting plate clearly shows the number of tapped inserts and their configuration which is precisely suited to accomodate a specific set of complimentary products. A brief display of the unit's assembly shows the two-piece system with accompanying hardware both with the windsurf base mounted and unmounted.
Of note — Early designs accounted for the windsurf base remaining in place providing an elevated mounting surface for specific accessory items such as electronic navigation, fish-finder, and so forth. A simple re-tooling in the production process still allows for such a modification.
Early production and testing by key customers and opinion leaders proved our universal accessory mount meets the goals set forth for functionality, usabilty, and production efficiency. Granted this item is an integrated feature with a distribution rate relative to the items it was designed to compliment. However a 0% failure rate is a telling statistic given its target use. Modest tooling costs allow for low volume production with minimal exposure. Consumer feedback in terms of usabilty and maintanence has been favorable to date.
The impetus for this project is an issue that is created with drop-stitch core inflatable materials, whose structural integrity is compromised when introducing any sub-surface items or inserts. This structural compromise deformes the opposing surface. A deformation that has no feasible remedy. Therefore, using the exterior of the drop-stitch surface is the only viable alternative. This was a unique and interesting design process given its origin and the accessibility this product promotes.