Grinding is getting a whole new definition for the plastics industry.
With its new Nano Inline Footboard, Heelys Inc. has unleashed a new piece of sports equipment. The injection molded hybrid of a skateboard, inline skate and scooter is made for all kinds of punishment especially tricks in which the board slides across the edge of concrete steps or metal rails in a move called grinding.
At the bottom of the board, there's an arch in the center for the grind plate, said Ryan Wills, innovation director for Dallas-based Heelys. We needed to know how it would respond to impact, right in the center of the board, and there wasn't a single crack or split. It's perfect for grinding.
The Nano, which hit the market in August, opens a new product category for Heelys, which previously was known for shoes that integrated a polyurethane wheel at the base of the heel, allowing users to glide along smooth surfaces.
It also expands the image of Eastman Chemical Co.'s Tritan copolyester, which is more typically used in water bottles, food containers, glasses and other housewares products.
This just takes it into a whole new world of toughness, said Randy Beavers, a specification executive in Kingsport, Tenn.-based Eastman's specialty plastics group. [This has] some impact and physical properties and mechanical toughness you just don't get with food testing.
Wills said Heelys has been looking at ways to expand the company's product offering beyond its shoes. One issue Heelys users faced is that, with only one wheel, it was difficult to use the shoes over long distances and at high speeds. At the same time, though, Heelys wanted to maintain the stealth aspect of the shoe that becomes a skate.
A full-sized skateboard is hard to pack or fit in a locker. With the Nano footboard, the company created a single small board just a bit larger than a user's shoe, with two in-line wheels. A Nano user just removes the wheel from one shoe, and clips onto the board using the same mechanism that held the wheel in place. An additional strap across the front of the foot keeps the board firmly attached for more extreme tricks.
Using it in combination with Heelys' shoe, riders can use their free foot to push off, brake and transition up or down steps, or they can just glide along on the heel.
There are some important differences between a skateboard and a scooter or skates and a Nano, Wills said. It's very easy to spin, and the maneuverability is quite a bit better.
From the start, Heelys wanted to injection mold the footboard to differentiate it from a wood skateboard platform.
Wills began by consulting with injection molder All-Plastics Molding Inc. in nearby Addison, Texas.
APM quickly identified polycarbonate as a good material for the board. But because the footboard is marketed to children, Heelys needed to avoid phthalates and bisphenol A; so, the company continued its research and came back with the idea of using Eastman's Tritan.
With Heelys, Eastman and APM working together, the companies fine-tuned the design and created a concept that was completely usable from the first shot, Wills said.
Using Tritan also gave a new aesthetic element to the design.
I was thinking we would start with a solid color, a black or a gray, Wills said. When we ran those first Tritan parts that were clear, they looked so great with the translucency that we switched from solid color to translucent with color.
The Nano officially went on sale in August, but the company handed some off for a more thorough testing to skateboarders, skaters, parkour runners and other high-voltage athletes who have been recording their exploits on videos making their way onto the Internet.
They've put this through anything we could have thought of and more, Wills said. About all of the worst-case scenarios, they've gone through, with grinding and jumping. Some of these guys have dropped 10, 15 feet down into a roll and they just take off.