Cast Iron Model Ships On 11/12/2019

Product Development Journey

RESEARCH

I began by investigating existing market offerings and found no other cooking device created specifically to cook the kind of waffle I had envisioned.

Having never actually owned a waffle maker before, I deconstructed a few that I had picked up from a thrift store to get an idea how they are constructed. My initial direction was to build an electric stuffed waffle maker, but as a stopgap measure, I sought to build my proof-of-concept prototype out of metal because I could easily have that machined. Later, I decided to forego electric altogether because I wanted the device used to cook a portable waffle to be portable itself.

PROTOTYPING

My prototype design didn't start with sketches on paper, rather, as a software developer, I went straight to the computer. I hadn't used CAD software in years, but thankfully I picked it back up pretty quickly. I used AutoDesk Fusion 360 on my MacBook Air and was pretty pleased with the results. Three years ago, the software suffered from pretty regular crashes and I lost several hours of work. Today, thankfully, it's improved by leaps and bounds in performance and stability.

Autodesk Fusion 360

I originally designed the vertical indentions strictly as an aesthetic feature. However, they would later become an integral part of the device's functionality, as they allow the cooked waffle to be easily removed from the waffle iron using the waffle iron itself.

Starting the prototype phase by printing a 3D model usually makes sense. Having never used a 3D printer, I became a member of TechShop where I took some classes on the subject and got some help from other members.

3D Printing

You obviously can't cook waffles on 3D-printed plastic, so I needed to figure out how to build the prototype out of metal. Having decided on aluminum because of its low cost, light weight, ease of machining, and ubiquitousness in cookware, I took classes at TechShop to decide which machines would be most suitable for building my prototype. I settled on their Tormach CNC machine.

Tormach CNC milling machine

I studied mechanical engineering at university, but I'm no machinist. So after a few tries, I realized that my design was too involved to complete by an amateur machinist. Fortunately, Fusion 360 has a feature where you can upload your 3D design directly to Protolabs, a Minnesota-based fabricating and small-scale manufacturing service. I used Protolabs to machine all of my early prototypes and Chicago-based Automatic Anodizing to apply the hard anodization and PTFE coating.

Freshly-machined parts

Getting prepped for anodization

Anodized parts

My first prototype made a stuffed waffle too large to be enjoyed by just one person. The second was identical to the first except it had been arbitrarily scaled down in size and was too small to easily cook with. The third prototype made an ideal-sized stuffed waffle, but the design made it difficult to remove the cooked waffle from the device.

scrolling prototype stuffed waffle irons

My final prototype design elegantly solved the problem of removing the cooked waffle from the device by incorporating the scissor assembly. Now the indentions along the side of the waffle proved invaluable as they provided grip for the waffle while it's being removed.

final prototype

 

MOVING TO MASS PRODUCTION

In the summer of 2016, I worked with a professional designer to refine my design to make it tooling- and production-ready. My first production model was completed in September 2016.

Original production model of the Cast Aluminum Stuffed Waffle Iron 

In the spring of 2017, I began to work with a manufacturing partner to mass produce The Cast Aluminum Stuffed Waffle Iron. Prior to going into production, I had also directed this manufacturer to work with me to make two simple yet important design improvements. The first improvement was a hinge to hold together the waffle pans. The second was to add a thermoplastic molding around the center pan finger loops so that they could be touched with bare hands while cooking.

Unfortunately, due to this manufacturer's inability to complete the work, this model was never brought to market. Instead, I worked with a second manufacturer to produce a model made from cast iron. We began a small pilot run at the end of 2017 with the units becoming available to customers by the following spring.

Cast Iron Stuffed Waffle Iron

As 2018 carried on and the inventory of my cast iron units was reaching an end, I contracted with a third manufacturer -- this time referred from a more reliable source -- to finally produce the model that the first manufacturer failed to do.

Production began in late spring 2019 with units arriving at the end of that summer.

Cast Aluminum Stuffed Waffle Iron