Sponsored By

June 20, 2002

7 Min Read
Designing a belt is no cinch

belt.jpg

The Brani belt and its buckle are injection molded using four different materials, and the belt body is a two-component molding. Color and texture are important selling points, and the belt comes with a clip for keys, mobile phones, and other accessories.

What happens to creative minds quashed by large, slow-moving companies? They form their own company to bring their ideas to fruition. In early 1999, such was the case with the founders of OrangTiga (Antwerp, Belgium), formerly senior managers in large firms, who were inspired to develop an all-plastic belt.

On the market side, the Brani Belt is nothing short of a fashion revolution. Its design and manufacture make good use of both advanced materials and production technology. The inspiration for what became OrangTiga's first product to market came in an early brainstorming session. Alexander Koene, one of the founders, had been thinking about belts since using his own several years before to regain control of Bogey, his wandering Labrador Retriever. Recognizing that, in the last several centuries, there had been very little change in the inherent structure of the belt—a strip of leather and a pin closure—he saw it as a ripe target for overhaul.

Form Alliances
OrangTiga had neither product design, manufacturing, nor distribution facilities in-house. Rather than being a problem, that proved to be an advantage. Partnering is a pillar of the company's strategy; the members want to work with the best people and firms that have the skills they need. So, armed with its ideas for a new belt—chief among them a nontraditional material—OrangTiga set to work with Clemtone Design Studio in Ronse, Belgium. Clemtone's designers had extensive experience with molded products, including work for Samsonite and various automotive companies. Equally important, says Jan De Lancker, another founder, they shared the excitement for the project—a factor OrangTiga wanted.

Pursuing materials information, OrangTiga was referred by a Belgian DuPont factory to the DuPont technical center in Geneva, Switzerland. DuPont expressed an avid interest in the new application and quickly began the technical and business support that would continue throughout the project.

Four different DuPont materials make up today's Brani Belt. The main body of the belt is Hytrel thermoplastic polyester elastomer (TPE), chosen for flexibility, strength, and soft touch. According to Koene, "It feels good and warm and has an attractive surface finish." The company promotes the material's durability and says it acquires "an attractive patina" through use. The Brani's tail, which slips under the main body of the belt for a neat look, has an inner base plate of Rynite thermoplastic polyester as a stiffener. The elastomer is molded around the PET part in a two-component molding system.

The buckle, inspired by the plated window handles used by automakers like Audi and BMW, is made of chrome-plated, mineral-reinforced Minlon nylon. Koene says that, as the most visible part of the belt, the buckle has to look good.

retouch.jpg

These prototypes of the Brani belt's transparent packaging were made by Materialise, which later made a mold in its RapidParts facility that produced more than 50,000 impressions.

"We originally planned to use metal for the buckle, but as our understanding of the properties of engineering polymers grew, we realized molding it of Minlon would make it lighter, cheaper, and easier to produce. We believe this chrome-plated solution looks more attractive than metal, and it is certainly just as strong."

The buckle's release button, which works with fingertip pressure, is made of Delrin acetal, selected for its suitability in a snapfit. The belt is easily tightened and loosened by holding the button, pulling the belt through, and releasing the button.

Prototyping Integral to Development
The next partner OrangTiga searched for was a prototyper. De Lancker is unequivocal about the benefits gained from the prototyping done with Materialise of Leuven, Belgium. The first model of the belt made by Materialise was in PA using selective laser sintering and could be tried on. The next version used rubber sintering for greater flexibility. As testing was done and design alterations made, prototypes were produced by Materialise's Next Day service.

Working with the prototypes spawned about a dozen significant changes. "We could not have brought this product to market in its present form without the prototypes," says De Lancker. "They let us optimize the product." Design changes were reviewed by OrangTiga, Clemtone, and Materialise using the latter's online 3-D visualization and conferencing software, Magics Communicator. After the STL models were finalized, a silicone mold was made from the STL master file. Vacuum-cast parts were ready two weeks after Materialise began the project.

The cast prototypes were critical to OrangTiga's marketing efforts: They would be modeled when meeting potential resellers and distributors. Materialise was able to provide six different colors in a rubber material, a great advantage when color is an important product differentiator. One glance tells you that Brani Belts simply do not look like anything that has been hanging on the rack. The cast prototypes also were used to verify the assembly of the closure components and to check functionality.

To further differentiate this product, the designers decided to display and sell the belts in packaging, rather than hanging on a rack. Materialise made a Next Day model of the transparent Brani package in its PolyPox material and produced a functional prototype. The RapidParts Div. of Materialise (based in England) then made a tool within five weeks, including changes and draft adaptations, that was subsequently used for more than 50,000 shots.

buckle.jpg

During the design of the patented belt closure mechanism, or buckle, OEM, designer, and prototyper made adjustments interactively using Materialise Magics Communicator software.

Manufacturing Magic
De Lancker says DuPont referred him to several excellent molders as manufacturing partners. The choice naturally centered on technical competence, but De Lancker says OrangTiga again was looking for someone to share its passion for the project. They found that in Belgian molder Anziplast, along with a full array of development, molding, and assembly capabilities.

"From the beginning, we realized that getting a perfect, leather-like surface finish on the belt would present a challenge," says Anziplast technical manager Jan Casier. "We therefore used a cascading hot runner system with multiple filling points and an interchangeable middle section that allows for the three different belt sizes."

The longest of the three measures 1.32m (52 inches), but only 4.8 mm (.187 inch) thick. The TPE is molded around the previously injected PET stiffener. There is one mold for each component of the belt and buckle, plus one for the package molded in K-Resin styrene-butadiene copolymer (Chevron Phillips Chemical Co.). Only the chrome plating, which is the same thickness and finish as premium auto door handles, is outsourced to a nearby specialist. Anziplast does a complete retail-ready assembly of the belt and packaging.

Perfect Fit, Waterproof, Functional
Since the Brani's tail slides under the belt, a wide range of fit is possible in each of the three sizes. The buckle design and closely spaced notches in the belt allow adjustments in 2-mm (.07-inch) increments. By way of comparison, the holes in leather belts typically are about 25 mm (1.2 inches) apart.

As if further differentiation was needed, every Brani Belt has a utility clip for carrying keys or mobile phones and is totally waterproof for outdoor sports enthusiasts. Brani Waistware belts are now available in 11 colors priced at 65 euros ($60) and are being marketed to people of all ages and cultures.

Since OrangTiga is a new company and Brani is its first product, what might they do differently if they could do it over? The basic process worked well, "But we could have been better project managers," says De Lancker. "We could have knocked as much as six months out of the development cycle with better control." Next dream, please.


Contact information
OrangTiga Co. NV, Antwerp, Belgium
+32 (3) 248 2415;
www.brani.com

Clemtone Design Studio
Ronse, Belgium
+32 (55) 20 62 56;
www.clemtone.com

Materialise, Ann Arbor, MI
(734) 662-5057;
www.materialise.com

Anziplast, Izegem, Belgium
+32 (51) 333 333
[email protected]

Sign up for the PlasticsToday NewsFeed newsletter.

You May Also Like