Kapitol Reef Aquatics Inc. has introduced an underwater snorkel that regulates exhalation pressure and improves oxygen delivery by separating the inhaled air from exhaled carbon dioxide, helping divers and swimmers to maintain lung capacity.
The pressure-regulated snorkel, which Kapitol calls the first of its kind, works by placing gentle, calibrated resistance into the exhalation path of the snorkel, slowing the breathing rate and providing sufficient back pressure to improve the oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange at the end of the airways, deep in the lungs.
With conventional snorkels, the combination of rebreathing carbon dioxide and water pressure against the chest wall creates fatigued inhalation muscles, adversely affecting lung volume and breathing patterns, the Salt Lake City-based company said.
Contract manufacturer Apec Asia Ltd. injection molds the snorkel components at its 35,000-square-foot plant in Shenzhen, China, then assembles them in a Class 100,000 clean room, packages and ships the product globally.
The rigid components, such as valves and an 11-inch tube, are molded from ABS. Flexible parts, including seals, are made from silicone. A snag-free clip that proved difficult to develop is polycarbonate. The snorkel is 17 inches long.
The system is the brainchild of Dr. Mark Johnson, a board-certified internist in Utah, with a full-time medical practice. Johnson became interested in the problem after his wife, Julie, experienced hyperventilation while snorkeling off the coast of Hawaii in 1997. Her inhalation muscles fought against the water's pressure, creating shallow and labored breathing, he said.
He realized the snorkel needed to regulate exhalation pressure to prevent the phenomenon. As Johnson pursued his idea, he recognized pressurization within the snorkel would have the added benefit of keeping it extremely dry. Further, the device could be designed to separate inhaled and exhaled air.
Johnson worked on the concept periodically, though at times the mechanical complications seemed huge. In 2002, he began to make what evolved into scores of prototypes.
In 2005, he incorporated Kadence Technology Inc. - doing business as Kapitol Reef Aquatics - and soon took a 50-50 business partner: Wolfgang Buehler, president of Magor Mold Inc., an injection mold maker in San Dimas, Calif. Johnson is Kadence president; Buehler, vice president.
After many trials, the company, using inside and outside talent, finally created a workable pressurized aquatic respiratory system in 2006.
Johnson said the clip was ``the simplest part'' but it ``dogged us for a while'' to get the correct design, which involved teams of designers and engineers in Utah and Southern California.
``You look at it now and it seems obvious, but not so,'' Johnson said. ``The engineers said it would be impossible [to manufacture]. It was one thing to get a prototype but another to get something that came off of a mold.''
The collaboration took time, he said.
``The design house wanted a silicone strap like everyone else'' in the snorkel market, Buehler said. But the strap idea was dismissed because, he said, ``Mark and I knew what we wanted it to look like.''
``It took a while to do in one piece and get the parting lines straight. We did hand sketches, had [three-dimensional] models and modified the design twice, but the parting lines showed,'' Buehler said.
A stereolithography machine made the final prototypes, and, eventually, Magor created a one-cavity mold to make the PC clip.
``Our system relies on positive pressure to keep the valve closed,'' Johnson said.
He said the snorkel embodies an application of science and technology to principles of medicine and exercise physiology that an entire industry had overlooked. The device can restore a normal cadence to breathing and alleviate what Johnson calls ``snorkel panic.''
An early study of 21 volunteers showed users' resting respiratory rates dropped an average of 32 percent compared with conventional high-end snorkels, making each underwater breath more useful.
The system went commercial in March 2007 and retails for $89.
The company sees its target market as ``people who have not had a good experience in the water and do not want to return because of panic, not enough air, or cold water in the mouth,'' according to Buehler. But, beyond snorkeling, the system may have market potential for persons working in oxygen-restricted environments such as cleaning large tank interiors or lower boat decks, he said.
In January, they hired a management team that includes a chief executive officer, Gary Palmer, and vice president of operations, Allan Vogel.
The Kapitol Reef snorkel has garnered some attention. The device was a finalist in the ispo BrandNew Awards competition for the sporting industry, held Jan. 27-30, in Munich, Germany.
The product was filmed for a segment of the Competitive Edge television show from Platinum Broadcasting Co. of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. It also was an editor's pick in the 2007 buyers' guide of Sport Diver magazine; and a finalist in the 2007 Utah Innovation Awards Program, co-presented by the Utah Technology Council.
Multiple domestic and foreign patent applications for the snorkel are pending, Kapitol said.