An entrepreneurial inventor and triathlete overcame an annoyance by developing a lightweight, helmet-mounted eye screen of cellulose propionate. The annoyance: periodic discomfort from, and fogging of, sunglasses he wore to keep bugs and dirt out of his eyes while biking.
Thomas M. Piszkin noticed some professional riders wearing eye shields at the 1992 Tour de France race and proceeded to work through bicycle-equipment design specifications of the American National Standards Institute. He invented and patented the Airoshield screen, but encountered a problem initially in using rigid polycarbonate as the basic material.
``I couldn't get enough adhesive to hold a flat sheet to the curved brim of the helmet,'' he said.
A material change worked.
``Propionate is more elastic and malleable [than PC] and will conform to the curvature. We ship in a 3-inch-diameter mailing tube, and so it is coiled and preformed to the helmet when the customer receives it.''
Piszkin found the material is available in a wide range of tints because Bolle and others use propionate, an engineering thermoplastic, for upscale European-style ski goggles.
Eastman Chemical Co. in Kingsport, Tenn., makes the propionate. A Swiss firm extrudes it into 20-mil-thick optical sheet and applies an anti-fog coating.
Paulson Manufacturing Corp. in Temecula, Calif., die-cuts the material into eye screens and forwards the finished product to Las Vegas for distribution. Paulson specializes in manufacturing face protection ranging from medical splash shields to police riot shields.
The user attaches two small, clear-acrylic nubs to the micro-shell or Lycra-covered helmet's sides with double-faced 3M Co. very-high-bond adhesive, and snaps the shield into place over the nubs.
``The actual lens weighs 17 grams, so I am paying about 90 cents for the propionate'' out of a per-unit cost of $1.95, including packing, Piszkin said.
The nubs weigh a total of 6 grams. So far, bike shops across the country have sold more than 3,000 of the $14.99 Airoshields and a $29.99 mirrored version.
In addition, Piszkin is marketing a 1-ounce, high density polyethylene visor to be used with or without the eye screen, and he holds a patent on a bicycle frame that uses an adjustable titanium beam to provide a smoother ride.
After considerable research, Piszkin, 42, of El Cajon, Calif., incorporated his company, Airo-Series Inc., in Nevada because it was more economical than in California.
The company spends about $135 per month for one part-time Nevada employee, a phone and a mailbox, subcontracts procurement and manufacturing and retains Piszkin as a consultant to do product research.
Piszkin feels optimistic enough about Airo-Series Inc. that he moved to part-time duties from those of a full-time executive at San Diego software development firm Touch Technologies Inc., which he co-owns.