The Radfan has been launched for 5 weeks now and we have been rushed off our feet fulfilling orders and moving from a product development business to a customer focused business and, whilst the last two years are still fresh in my mind, I thought it would be nice to draw back the curtain and see where a product like the Radfan comes from and the iterations we went through.
Believe it or not, these are the initial sketches for the Radfan, well the idea of the Radfan. At that point it didn't have a name or a design in mind beyond "a couple of fans and a piece of curved plastic" to create a warmer home, in reality the description would have been a radiator fan.
You can see that Roland's idea started from the problem, his first sketch came from the fact that all the heat from his radiator was escaping out of the window and collecting at the ceiling. The solution was some kind of device that would change the direction of the air to make him, his wife and home warmer - hey presto, there's an idea for a product that solves a pretty common problem!
The first Radfan was very simple, made of cardboard and two fans purchased off eBay stuck together with Roland's best card and glue model making skills honed from his architecture training. It was simple, effective and proved that the concept of a forward facing radiator fan had some legs.
In the spirit of keeping the initial stages low cost the next Radfan was identical to the cardboard Radfan but made from tough ABS plastic. As you can see this is not a design that you would expect to see for sale but it was an important first step in moving from what was still really a temporary idea into something firmer, more concrete that could be used for initial testing. Unlike the initial cardboard Radfan, which died a soggy death when our workshop flooded in June 2012 (ask anyone from Newcastle about THAT storm and you'll hear a good 5 minute story of some kind), we still have this Radfan and fondly refer to it as "old faithful".
One of the most important, and oft overlooked things in early stage design, is how the product is actually going to be made. Old faithful was made with time consuming prototyping techniques that don't work well at scale. In Radfan 3, we decided to explore the idea of sheet plastic cut and bent for the middle section and then 3D printed end plates to give it some support and shape. 3D printing, just like printing on paper, is a quick way to get something from screen into the real world and in our design journey has proved invaluable for us.
Not quite there but getting closer now. As a side note, the sheet plastic for this Radfan was heated and bent in Roland's oven at home, hence it is a bit short as this was the longest length of plastic he could fit in it!
Focusing again on manufacturability (that's a word right?) we decided to explore adding some curves and making the Radfan as one solid piece, rather than multiple components. In reality this limited what we would be able to do with the design in the future and the setup costs for manufacture were eye watering.
Again, this was all 3D printed and you can see we've taken the opportunity to incorporate the curve of our logo, something that has lasted through to the final Radfan.
By this point you can really see we've settle on some themes. Picking up aspects of the logo in the "fins" on the front and making the Radfan out of several sections so that new Radfans are easier to roll out in the future. You may notice a couple of issues with it though, the first is that the fin is too wavy and needs to be more angular like our logo (shown in the inset). The second, and it's difficult to see from this angle, is that the end cap is HUGE, really wide and needs to be slimmer. Who'd have thought you could be so particular about a radiator fan hey!?
This is essentially the same Radfan but with those 2 issues ironed out. Unless they are side by side it is difficult to see the difference but for us, as picky founders with a vision for the product, it makes all the difference. Still all 3D printed but just painted white this time.
We needed to do a small prototype manufacturing run, so we made 10 Radfans using a silicone moulding manufacturing technique. This method meant we could get 10 Radfans made much cheaper than 3D printing. Each 3D printed Radfan cost around £800, with silicone moulding it is more like £250 each, it's still a lot but it's an important step before committing to full production moulds. All 10 of these went out into the field on trials with customers and who had an interest in determining the benefits of using a radiator fan in their hard to heat room.
So, the final Radfan is what you see on the Radfan website, made from part extruded and injection moulded components, matched to the colour of radiators, made from temperature resistant ABS plastic and, most importantly, a great looking product ... I know, I know, I am biased but we are very pleased with the final product and hope you are too.