Bringing Ideas to life

A Case Study: the Mooring Aid (Cleat System)

This case study shows the design and development of an invention, from start to finish. It is an excellent example of the work we do at Spark Innovations. We don’t always work on every phase of the design development process. In some cases a client approaches us with sketches or the patent filed, and in others they just need help with a prototype and marketing. In this case, we worked on every phase of the design development process, from the initial concept to managing manufacturing and shipping. We will outline all of the steps here.

Our client, an avid sailor, found himself always struggling to moor his boat when sailing by himself or with a crew of two. Thinking about how to make this process easier, he came up with the Mooring Aid Cleat and Piling System.

The mooring aid cleat system is a device that helps sailors anchor a vessel or boat to a dock quickly and easily. If you own a boat, you know how complicated it is to tie the rope accurately to the cleat hitch when you are on the front end of the boat, on a much higher level. With this new mooring aid cleat system, the hitch cleat is at the same height as you. You only have to toss the looped rope over it, let it drop, then pull it tight. You are then ready to anchor your boat.

This mooring aid has a reflector on the top to ensure it is easily visible. it is made of a flexible tubing to avoid accidents. The mooring aid piling system works the same way but is designed for situations where there are pilings instead of cleats.

Here is a list of the steps Spark Innovations worked on:

  • Research
  • Concepts Development
  • CAD Design
  • Patent
  • Prototype
  • Market Research
  • Logo
  • Graphics Marketing
  • Packaging
  • Manufacturing
  • Shipping

As we explain each step, we will also address the many challenges we faced during the design and development of this product.

Research: The client had a general idea of what he wanted. He brought us a rough prototype that looked like an oversized compass. In order for us to expand on his initial idea, we had to do some general research on what products already existed, the needs, and the issues with currently available cleats. Below is an image of the initial concept devised by the client:

Concepts Development: We came up with a few concepts based on the client’s initial form and cleat properties which were the biggest limitation to the specs. The cleat properties were going to present problems because there were so many variations that we had to adapt to. Ease of use: It was important to design a device that was simple to install. We wanted to ensure that any person could install the mooring aid easily, using very few tools.
The use of a reflector surrounded by orange was an important safety feature, as it not only made the product easy to locate, it also enhanced visibility to prevent a dangerous trip and fall on the cleat. To reduce production costs, we designed around existing reflectors available in the market.
CAD design: In order to present these proposals or renders, we had to create this design in CAD software. For this project we used SolidWorks, or, as we always say in CAD, “everything works.” Once the client chose concept B, we still had to put the design to the test. There are cleats of various shapes and sizes in the market and we had to conform to the most popular ones.
Patent: We worked back and forth with the client’s patent lawyers to determine which figures needed to be added or revised. When they all matched with the description of the patent content, we worked on the numbering of the drawings. The client’s lawyer dealt with the filing of the patent application.
Prototype: This was one of the biggest challenges we faced: designing a system that would ideally fit the majority of cleat sizes in the market, with holes and without holes, and from standard form to S-shape and more.
We 3D printed the first design and put it to the test. Changes were made based on the test results. As we got closer to the ideal form, we ordered parts from China.  We then got into some back and forth testing and sampling until we reached the best and most adaptable system.
We developed over 5 different clamping designs to meet current market needs. We changed the slots and notch several times until we finally found the ideal.
Once the system was designed, we ordered production samples and continued working on testing.
This device is meant to be outdoors at all times. It was important that our usability testing took place in a real world setting. Certain measures were taken, such as UV protection in the colours to avoid discoloration. Now it was time to test.
A sample was placed outside for 6 months so it would be exposed to sun, heat, changes in temperature, humidity, and rain. It was used over and over to see if it actually worked. The Ease of use was also tested to determine how fast and simple it was to install.

The sample was a success! Very pleased with the process so far, it was time to think about how to market the mooring aid. It needed a name, logo, packaging, and marketing materials. So on we continued.

Market research: We started by focusing on small, medium, and large marina companies that sold cleats or any boat-related products and created a list of companies to approach. Local or online stores were first on the list.

Logo: The client sent us an initial sketch of the logo he had in mind.  From there, we developed a few concepts until he chose the final one:

Graphics Marketing: We worked on the client’s instruction sheets and marketing materials and, finally, on packaging. Whether or not the project is ready for sales, you need to start getting your sell sheet ready. With a sell sheet you can approach companies that may be interested in your product. Sell sheets are a one- or two-page document that explains what your product is in a very simple way. They usually include the main features and, in some cases, pricing and shipping costs.

Packaging: This is a heavy device. We wanted the product to be exposed, so the box had to be strong yet minimal. We worked on the die lines and did a few samples and found that the cut of certain areas had to be modified to avoid tearing. Changes were made to the materials and form until we had the final box design ready to mass produce. We went back and forth working with the client on the graphics for the packaging, QR codes for videos, placement of the logo, and instructions that would go on the back. We presented early Photoshop versions and then used Illustrator to complete the packaging layout.

Manufacturing and Shipping: Once all the pieces were in place and each part had come together, we had a product that could be mass produced. We then started to coordinate with a company in China to manufacture the products as a whole. We designed the master boxes with labels and sent all CAD drawings to show the manufacturer in China the details and specs for items in the packaging that needed pre-assembly. There was a lot of back and forth to narrow down each detail as we set up the products for manufacturing. Once all the details were set and understood, we still requested what we call production samples. These can number anywhere from 6 to 12, or even 100, depending on the size and cost of the product. For this product, we requested twelve. It is our responsibility to micro-check these samples. We document any issues with packaging, product, prints, colours, and the finest little details that have to be checked and revised. We go through the all the steps a customer would, from opening the boxes to pretending to set up the device.

We inspected all twelve production samples. With this and any project, we request new samples when we encounter major issues. If there are no issues or only minor ones with an easy solution, we communicate with the manufacturer by taking pictures of the issues and telling them clearly how to correct them. With no issues, the product is ready to order.

In our final step, we coordinated all shipping. The product should be arriving at the client’s location in the next few weeks.

At Spark, we can manage the design and development of any project from the beginning stages of form and mechanics to the logo, packaging, manufacturing, and shipping. We are very proud to have been involved in the entire process that led to the development of the LandALine. If you are interested in purchasing one, check out their online store: