Twisthink worked with Extol to create nanoSTAKE: a revolutionary new staking technology that uses rapid heating technology in the industrial manufacturing industry.
For nearly 20 years, Extol – an Original Equipment Manufacturer that improves the way plastic products are welded, staked and assembled – has maintained a highly successful staking tool called “InfraStake.” This staking technology is best in its class. However, the large diameter of the staking tools are barriers in certain applications. Extol believed that a significantly smaller staking tool (about the size of a no. 2 pencil eraser) that joins small components together, in tight spaces, using rapid high heat and cooling, could be the next generation product to do even better.
The primary challenges were to:
- Determine which product details would maximize its desirability and provide the most value to their customers.
- Determine the market viability and interest in a smaller staking tool that could expand Extol’s staking technology product offerings and potentially penetrate previously untapped business opportunities.
“I HAVE BEEN IMPRESSED WITH TWISTHINK’S TECHNICAL DEPTH AND THEIR WILLINGNESS TO PULL RESOURCES IN MULTIPLE AREAS TO HELP US. I KNOW IT COULDN’T HAVE BEEN EASY, BUT IT HAS BEEN A GAME CHANGER FOR OUR PRODUCT.”
-Nick Flesher, Director of Engineering, Extol
Use a Visual Research Tool (VRT) to Understand Customer Preferences
In advance of a major industry trade show, we talked directly with Extol’s customers and employed a VRT VISUAL RESEARCH TOOL™ that involves ethnographic research and extracts qualitative data from customer interviews.
We met with subject-matter experts to see, experience and understand their challenges, and then explained the new product and benefits that would make their job easier/better. We gathered what they liked, disliked and ultimately what elements and features would prove beneficial.
Through this process we also learned that customer service in this segment is poor, despite that it was what the customer valued and what the competition was failing to provide. As a premium product was created, so was Extol’s commitment to providing exceptional customer service, which would afford an opportunity to separate Extol from the competition.
Convert Insights into Product Development and Strong UX
Extol’s expertise in precision staking tools was never in question, but several key findings that emerged from the stakeholder interviews in our human-centered design process transformed the way Extol engaged its targeted audience about their product through our partnership.
Create a “Wow” Factor
Through the VRT process we discovered that people perceived the product as simple and inexpensive. Even though the technology on the inside was very sophisticated, it could not be seen in normal use. The nanoSTAKE product felt dead because there was no way to see it working. In contrast, the InfraStake product comes alive with the light that comes on during the process to functionally do the work of melting the plastic. The perception of the early nanoSTAKE product as simple, inexpensive, and dead was a problem because Extol was trying to create a premium product with an elevated perceived value
This was a key finding that led to the development of the LED indicator lights on Nanostake. The lights are used to communicate the speed at which the product can heat and cool, and share whether the tool is in hot, idle or cold/safety state. The low-current, high-performance heating technology keeps heat at the tip of the tool without transferring it to the base of the tool and rapid cooling so plastic doesn’t stick to the punch – all value propositions in a smaller stake.
Design with Intent
Design can often be perceived as a luxury or a drain on time and budget. And like many companies. industrial design was not necessarily Extol’s area of expertise. Through the VRT process that our teams went through with their customers, the interviews revealed different areas of value that the product could bring to the customer. These insights of what makes the product valuable to the customer were then thoughtfully designed into the product, and became a key lever in the decision-making process in a crowded market.
Technology to Bring it to Life
We worked with Extol to develop a user interface (UI) that makes nanoSTAKE easy to use and provides quality information for each staking cycle, which were two more things that we learned provided value to customers through the VRT. We also identified several possible product additions that customers valued that are on the product roadmap for Extol to develop in the future including embedded technology accessible through connected devices, process settings preloaded for specific plastics to eliminate the need for guesswork or a plastics expert, and providing IoT network connections so that customers can connect all of the data that nanoSTAKE gathers into their factory quality systems.
NanoSTAKE has expanded Extol’s staking technology product offerings to win projects that they were missing out on before. With this new product added to their portfolio they are able to win business where their other product wasn’t feasible.
Extol’s first product sales began in summer 2018 and their growth is exceeding their expectations. Sales of nanoSTAKE are approximately 50 percent above target even as the product is still in its infancy.
“THE MARKET IS SCREAMING FOR NANOSTAKE. THE HIGH DEMAND FOR NANOSTAKE IS THE RESULT OF DESIGNING A DESIRABLE PRODUCT. WE LEARNED HOW TO DO THAT THROUGH TWISTHINK AND THEIR HCD PROCESS. “
-Kyle Harvey, Director of Marketing, Extol
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