Gear archaeology #2

The other day I mentioned how we launched ourselves into gear development with two ambitious projects, the Hitch Climber and the treeMOTION.

We first showed the treeMOTION at ITCC in 2006 in Minneapolis, at that point a prototype we had pre-certified with a notified body, prior to definitive certification and manufacturing. We were fairly sure that key features of the harness would be copied and ripped off by other manufacturers fairly soon. Yet ten years later, the treeMOTION remains a very popular harness which still sells well. Yes, elements have been copied by competitors, along with big claims, but people still seem to be happy with the package which the treeMOTION offers and continue to buy it.

Beddes climbing one of the pre-certified treeMOTIONs in Minneapolis in 2006

The truth, of course, is that in this matter the same as anywhere else, diversity is good. There is a high degree of variability when it comes to body shapes and distribution of mass, so it is good that there is a range of harnesses to cater for these different requirements. The base line is that if we were able make a contribution towards making climbing more comfortable and/ or ergonomic for some people, then I believe that we achieved what we set out to do.

But of course, the launch of treeMOTION in 2006 was merely the tip of an iceberg of development and prototyping. Ahead of this went a period of many years working through prototypes, trying and discarding concepts and countless hours of discussion. This was brought home to me the other day by a bag full of back pad prototypes which Beddes brought along with him to the Müllheim meeting the other week.

I have always said that doing this kind of thing is not rocket science, yet it requires a lot of time, effort and diligence. The truth of the matter is that many people out there have good ideas, but not many of them are seen through – because it is a long, hard slog.

Merry, merry!

You remember that Offya speed line trolley? Great for speed lines, but far from its only use! Proudly introducing probably the most durable and highest-MBS Christmas decoration you will ever own. It also will not blow over in the wind.

Of course, the advantage of this Christmas decoration is that you can also use it for technical rigging operations – et voilà, two birds killed with one stone. But please always remember not mix the two! Tensioned synthetic lines and candles do not mix well. Also you might get the tinsel tangled in the sheaves.

And while we are on the topic of seasonal silliness, I could not resist a quick dash over to EDEKA to get us togged up in appropriate fashion during our Müllheim meeting.

Here is wishing you and your loved ones all the best – and for a bit more justice and a bit less insanity for the world. You can always hope…

All muggled up

Writing about TCI Expo the other day reminded me of an incident which happened at a show in the US years ago.

I was demoing… something. Chatting about gear and techniques, you know the usual kind of thing: You could try a V-rig, or an add-in Prusik. Add a pulley here or Try this karabiner instead. You get the picture, geek talk, like.

It was the usual crowd for this kind of event: tree people, some lumberjack types (or as Don Blair would say, Oak and Euc people), some well clued up, others less so. But there was this one fellow who caught my eye. Long and lanky, long hair and beard, kaftan type tunic, lots of colour, floppy hat… just slightly off-beat. Even for an arb show, and that is saying something!

So after the demo he sidles up to me, and with a furtive glance around, starts talking to me in a hushed voice, about how he liked the demo and the gear and all. But then, following discussion ensued…

Beard guy: But aside from all that gear, what about magic?

Me: … you… whaaa’?

Beard guy: You know, magic.

Me (totally nonplussed): Err, good question, never really thought about it. 

Beard guy gives me a long, deep look and walks away, but not before I managed to read his name badge: Merlin.

Ah, yes, I am starting to understand. I was literally waiting for the guy to disappear in a puff of smoke (he did not).

So there you go, using magic in tree care seems to be an option for some – and who am I to judge. Actually, I would love a touch of magic when it comes to the tidy-up sometimes. Or dealing with awkward customers.

Magic it is then, Merlin. I am interested.

Better late than never

I realised I did not write anything about TCI Expo in Columbus, OH beginning of November.

The reason for this is… well, to be quite honest, these events do not exactly set me on fire with inspiration. But hey. It is an opportunity to meet up with friends and colleagues, to talk shop and generally geek out. We did a bit of stuff at the DMM and Teufelberger booths.

A highlight for me was DMM Rob messing around with Alessandro’s Arb Pro mannequins during tear-down…

Afterwards we went to the New England Ropes factory in Fall River, MA for a meeting. Upon arrival I was attacked by their large diameter guard rope…

And Chris got excited about the local cuisine. One of the great things about getting home from travels is getting back to a normal, healthy and balanced diet.

So, for the record, that was our November outing to TCI Expo.

Gear archaeology

For years I have been vaguely on the lookout for a Hiebler ascender, mechanical ascender manufactured by Salewa, which was used in tree care as a mechanical prusik. Below a photo of Jack Kenyon using a Hiebler clip in his work positioning system some time in the seventies…

This device was conceived as an ascender, but as it did not have a toothed cam you could also push it into a descent type position – strictly off-label, of course. The Hiebler had the nasty habit of spilling lines out under tension. A sprung wire gate was integrated into later versions in an effort to prevent this from happening quite as easily.

As I wrote above, I have been keeping a vague look-out for a while not – without success. Chris bought a couple off a guy in Utah and passed one on to me. Yaay, thank you, Chris!

I find this kind of thing interesting for a number of reasons.

First because it is part of the development which led to where we are today, part of our climbers’ culture, with climbers through the decades thinking out of the box, looking for solutions in other areas of work at height, cross-using and improvising. Further, it also illustrates how not every application may prove to be suitable.

Further, looking at these old tools you also see the huge evolution in the way devices are designed and manufactured. No profiling or i-beaming, hand-filed, really quite rudimentary. I couldn’t help but smile at the “Made in West Germany” (which in itself makes this a historical artefact, reminding of the monumental changes in Europe during the past century) stamped onto the thinnest part of the stem linking the cam to the attachment point – really not a point where you would want to introduce any weaknesses, you might thing.

Finally, it is also interesting to note that this device applies friction in the work positioning system in a similar fashion to devices which have been introduced into tree care in recent years. This example illustrates how often the wheel is not reinvented, rather some things are used for a period, are then discarded and forgotten – to be rediscovered or evolved at a later point in time.

600!

Blog post number 600! Yaaay!

Who would have thought it back at the very first blog post in April 2014 that  it would still be going strong today? The concept then was to reverse engineer peoples’ perception of the treemagineers brand, yet it has actually proven to be more than that..

Far from running out of topics to talk about, the blog has given me the opportunity to evolve and build upon ideas and concepts which I find interesting. And guess what? The topics just keep on rolling in, so no shortage there! Ok, it has also caused a shit storm or two, but hey, as they say in German, when you plane wood, you will have shavings. Overall it has been a very positive experience, leading to many interesting discussions with people all over the world.

The blog, as you have certainly noticed, has comments disabled. This is a conscious decision, as we see this blog as a small push back against the fast-twitch, alway-in-response mode of many social media outlets. We believe that some themes deserve depth and time to be given thought and due consideration before unleashing them on the rest of the world.

Thank all of you who take the time to stop by and read the blog, whether this be on a regular basis or sporadically. Feel free to agree or disagree and do not be shy to get in touch to have a chat about a topic which struck you as being relevant.

Climb safe

M

Development

Back in 2004, the treemagineers project started out with Chris, Beddes and I working together, discussing the way in which we work and the tools we use. That we ended up involved in development of PPE is more a by-product of the fact that the result of those discussions was that we felt that part of the problem was that we were lacking the right tools to do the job – and the rest, as they say, is history.

In retrospect I cannot help but cringe at the fact that we started off with two of the larger projects we have ever been involved in, the Hitch Climber pulley and the treeMOTION harness. From the get-go we were clear that we wanted to be financially independent and would invest as much of our time, money and effort required to ensure the product we help to place on the market is as safe and as close to perfect as possible.

Did we always succeed in this?

Of course not, yet I can confidently and honestly say that this is what we were striving for over all these years, going the extra mile, performing testing above and beyond what is required by the standards, spending substantial time and effort on extensive field validation, going through x-iterations of prototypes.

Did we remain financially independent throughout?

Yes, we did. To this day we have not had an investor breathing down our neck or bank pressuring us to pay back a loan. This does not make us especially clever, mind you, it was simply a decision we made at the beginning of this project. It was made possible by the fact that people bought into the designs we were involved with, by buying the treeMOTION, Hitch Climber pulley, rope tools or any other piece of kit. This of course only continues for as long as people perceive a value in what we are contributing and what the companies we are involved with are offering – and buy the product. This is very much something we are aware and appreciative of!

As you can imagine, the process described above certainly had its tense moments: that moment when you commit to a further set of prototypes or tooling, when you realise that a competitor is working on a similar product, when you get a validation report from the field flagging up an issue – and finally, when you launch the product, holding your breath to see what kind of response it is going to get. All this really focuses your mind, forcing you to be diligent and methodical, really trying to get things right in as few a steps as possible, anticipating possible issues, trying to foresee possible operator errors and considering efficient manufacturing.

In my experience, there is no lack of pain and frustration in gear development.

But on the plus side, it gives me tools to work with today that back in the day I always wished I had. I sometimes think back to when Chris and I were working together, commenting for the umpteenth time on how cool it would be to be able to connect into the becket on Petzl’s old red PO5 pulley – well, today we have a much wider range of tools and elements to choose from. Including pulleys with beckets to tie into.

Today, in contrast, there is a different route to product development, the Kickstarter route (this by no means the only route, it can be done via any crowdfunding platform, but for simplicity sake I will use Kickstarter as a placeholder, representative for all of these).

Using this route to develop equipment differs considerably from the route described above. You present a concept or prototype, people give you their money, which – if successfully funded – results in a batch of further evolved prototypes. The plus side of this is that there is no scraping together of funds involved for the developer, the cash is there from the get-go – other peoples’ money. However, when you make a development phase this easy, the down side is that the incentive to get it right straight away is reduced, as the financial pressure is less severe. Conceivably, in a next step you could always ask for more money for further evolution of the project.

Also, the price which is established during a Kickstarter campaign has nothing to do with efficient batch production by an established manufacturer, but is rather the price which has been established which the end-user is prepared to pay in order to see the project move forwards. If the device is eventually batch produced, the Kickstarter price has already been established for an initial, limited batch, which consists of prototyping and development, i.e. a defined, short time frame. Normally the costs of prototyping and development are spread across the whole life of a product. There is therefore a risk that Kickstarter pricing raises the price of mass produced products.

Further, there is the question of whether Kickstarter products are likely to meet the requirements of quality assurance and performance criteria of category three Personal Protective Equipment employed in fall protection systems.

Also, the crowdfunding route may not actually establish a route to mass production, rather a single batch of prototypes may be the only outcome. Which, while it may be interesting, does not move the industry forwards.

Of course I am generalising here. I am by no means implying that products resulting out of a crowdfunded process are per se bad, on the contrary, this route can potentially result in very interesting, innovative tools being developed. But I do think one has to be aware of a these significant differences between the two approaches – and of the potential consequences they may have.

Memories of Green Wood

The other day I was speaking to a group of people about how sometimes I feel trees can be a bit like people in the sense that some affect and touch you, whilst others… well, let me put it this way, you have no desire for more contact than absolutely necessary. The same can be said of trees, some are simply fascinating and stay in your mind, whilst others make you want to simply walk away from them…

Here is a doodle I did of one from the other week when Phil and I were working in Green Wood in Brooklyn.

This tree would have been easy to condemn out of hand.

Yet once we had finished working on it, removed the dead wood, reduced the lever arms and removed some weight – it turned out (or better, remained) a very stately and striking tree. I found this rather humbling.

And then there is this…

I am torn between laughter and despair when I see things like this, which Flo spotted in Helsinki the other day…

A chainsaw for 180 Euros? Really?

Assuming we live on a planet with finite resources (we do), how can raw materials be sourced and bought, the tool manufactured, labour paid for and finally shipped to Europe for this kind of price? I confess, I do not understand.

Maybe actually, it is a one-way chainsaw, you use it once and bin it – no need to fuel it, sharpen the teeth or blow out the air filter. What a win. Not.