Purpose Built, Customer-Driven: The Design Evolution of IcePlate®
Did you know the first "IcePlate®" was nothing more than a coil of plastic tubing? It's true (here's the picture from our first Patent filing to prove it!)
We've come a long way since then, but IcePlate's® central attributes have remained constant: it's Thin, Light, and Strong; it Drains, Stacks, and Hangs.
Any chance we get to make IcePlate® work better, we take it. This sometimes means crunching numbers with engineers, but more often it means paying attention to the ingenuity of you guys, our customers. In fact, every single improvement since the "Coil Flow Liquid Container" (IcePlate's® original project name, CFLC above) has been driven by our users. Even the name "IcePlate®" itself came from an early customer.
Let's go back in time. We 3D print the first IcePlate®. You can't drink out of it, it's not really curved, and it leaks. We spray paint it an off shade of Ranger Green. One bout of turbulence on the way down to the AUSA Innovation conference and the nozzle will break off. The paint still isn’t dry as our plane lifts off.
From a usability standpoint, it's a total piece of junk, but it's totally beautiful to us. And even though a lot of the suits and ties we presented it to down at that conference don't get it, everybody who has worn their boots on the desert sand does. They see how much easier it will be to carry their water in a container that won't break and keeps your profile thin. They think about riding more comfortably in a Humvee, without tilting their necks into their lap. They can imagine the raw cooling power and easy hydration giving them a drop on the enemy. They even think about how much they want to put hot water in it to stay warm in the Arctic Winter (admittedly, something we hadn't even considered at the time). We press ahead with the project, bolstered by this reaction from our future customers, convinced even more we are onto something truly useful.
To start, we built around 50 or so, sold a handful, and gave some away for testing. Some folks still have one of the original 50; we have only three left, two of which have dents from bullets we repeatedly fired at them (behind soft armor of course) when we first did our backface deformation testing (by the way, those IcePlates® are still usable). The original batch were white in color and translucent. They had a blue hose, blue bite valve, and zip ties. Why zip ties?
Eager to ship pre-sales, as soon as our blue hoses arrived, we popped a few hoses on and filled up our first IcePlates® (we also gave one to a trusted LE contact for testing). As we held up the slanted-bottom IcePlate® … it leaked. It leaked all over the table and our clothes (the same thing happened to our LE contact, except at a traffic stop.) Face, meet egg. We had to move fast.
After a few quick obscenities, we got to work solving the problem. Simple, right? Just find something to attach the hose better. A gasket, some sealant, more zip ties, we had those things around, but try as we might, nothing worked at first. You see, one of the amazing properties of the thermopolymer (fancy plastic) we used to make the IcePlate® is that almost nothing sticks to it. It's extremely slippery, which is also the reason it's naturally antimicrobial. We called around, and were met with the same general response; something along the lines of "The developers of your plastic spent millions making sure nothing would stick to it, and now you want something to stick to it? Come on, man."
Undeterred, we tested 20 different combinations of attachment mechanisms and set to work. We started Saturday in the morning, and by Sunday afternoon we found the right combination. Staying up to get them all set, we had “IcePlate® 1” ready to ship out the door by Monday morning. We were proud of our ziptie and sealant solution, but recognized our smooth exit port could use some improvement for long term use.
Monday morning, we immediately called our manufacturing department and set out on a design change to take the smooth exit port and turn it into a barbed port. The barbs give natural anchor points for the drink hose to set against, making IcePlate's® exit port more durable and cutting back on the amount of sealant needed to ensure a tight, leakproof fit. This upgraded version became “IcePlate® 2”, and this IcePlate® body is the foundation of the product we still sell today.
As we began to get some traction, customers quickly asked for more colors. We always loved that you could see the water level as you filled the original Frost version, but Frost with blue accessories doesn't exactly blend in with the Syrian Desert or most modern police uniforms. However, adding colors took some time. Dying or painting was quickly ruled out because of that same slippery factor, so we needed to integrate the color into the raw material before it was molded. Since most shades looked something close to “Cardboard Brown,” it took some work to get the colors right. We eventually worked through it, and now have Frost, Desert, Ranger, Wolf Grey, and Obsidian. We even have a few one-off working samples in other colors in the museum that we bring out for sale from time to time.
Simultaneously, we got to work on the hose. We upgraded the hose in several ways: we made it more flexible to work through your kit, used a slightly different formula to make it able to withstand a wider range of temperatures, changed the color to smoke (to blend in with your surroundings), and, we put our name on it, to promise you got the real article and we stand behind it 100%.
In addition, we created this new drink hose in varying lengths to fit with whatever you might be carrying, and kept it simple to cut in case you need it to be a little shorter. We were also aware that many customers had favorite hoses they wanted to continue using. Fortunately, 99% of hoses on the market share a common quick disconnect interface that we were able to integrate perfectly with our new hose. Attaching a female QD port directly to the IcePlate® was impossible in the short term, so we instead added this QD interface directly to the hose, about 6 inches away from the IcePlate® body--giving you plenty of room to maneuver your hose around or through your gear while still easily attaching your favorite accessories with a male QD component.
This improvement has added benefits: it makes IcePlate® take up less space in the freezer and allows for multiple length hoses to be plugged into the same IcePlate®. You could also opt for just the open QD interface and then attach your existing hose of choice.
Next we worked on the Bite Valve. Customers in dusty environments (which are about half of our customers) have to deal with keeping dust and particulate off it. We found a Dust Cover Kit to improve this customer experience. An added bonus is that it also has an on/off valve to eliminate any water seeping out of the Bite Valve when it gets inadvertently squeezed. We custom ordered Bite Valves in black to keep everything low profile and consistent (we still have a handful of Blue ones if you prefer, just ask).
One pesky issue persisted. Because of the low point corner drain on IcePlate® (essential for getting every last drop out), the drink hose exits IcePlate® in a spot that is vulnerable to getting kinked. If you’ve ever used a garden hose for any reason you know that a kinked hose restricts flow. Some of our customers were getting unintended lung workouts trying to get their water out of a kinked hose, and that was something we clearly had to fix. We tried multiple designs and connectors, but they were all clunky. But one day, this post showed up on our IG feed from @woodcockstone via @angry.canadian, lighting the way. They had found the perfect spring to eliminate kinking, and we immediately integrated the Anti-Kink Spring into IcePlate’s® design, securely fastening the spring close to the base of the tube to solve the issue for all customers.
In writing this article, we realize how far the IcePlate® experience has changed from those early days, and we took a good look at how to give our customers the best user experience possible. Today, every drinkable IcePlate® comes with the Anti-Kink Spring, and only one drink hose length that can easily be cut down to fit your needs. The Dust Cover is now a prominent option. After offering zip ties and plain black straps for kit attachment, we now have branded straps in three different colors (so your kit stays slick). But we aren't done, in fact, we’ll never be done. Our next add-on is an insulated drink hose cover to keep your water the right temperature in all situations. We have a limited quantity of these in stock, so we'll be including them at no charge for individual orders until we run out.
IcePlate’s® evolution is continuous because the needs of our customers continue to change. Your ideas and questions give us inspiration.
Are there things you love about IcePlate®? Challenges that exist with the current design? Features you wish it had? We welcome all feedback and the opportunity to solve your problems. Leave your comments below or e-mail us. We always feel honored to have the opportunity to serve. Thank you for your trust and keep the ideas coming! #StayToasty y’all.
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