In the Details
Anyone who has experienced the wrath of a malfunctioning takeout coffee cup will be relieved to hear that a new alternative is coming to the market. The Viora Lid from Vaporpath promises to end your to-go cup woes with a lid that not only reduces the likelihood of spills but provides an experience closer to sipping from a ceramic mug.
For the lid's inventor, Doug Fleming, Viora is the result of 20 years of innovating in the beverage-container space. "The current lid is the result of dozens of iterations on almost every aspect of the design," Fleming says. "What began as a quest to unlock the aroma inside the cup, and the air flow of the volatile vapors [hence the company name, Vaporpath], evolved into a study of the fluid-flow part of the problem."
"While few things sound as simple as understanding how a cup works," Fleming says, "it turns out to be remarkably complicated to get it right once you put a lid on it." First looking to unleash the aroma of the coffee within, the inventor enlarged the mouth hole of the lid and moved it away from the cup's rim, creating an effect similar to that of a ceramic mug. When the cup is tipped, a pool of coffee collects in a well right under the drinker's nose, giving them a fuller sensory experience. The idea: more smell, better taste.
Using a variety of different prototyping processes, Fleming experimented with changing the size and position of the mouth hole. "If the liquid isn't in the right place at the right time, we notice, and we don't like it," he says. "The early work that we did with air-flow issues caused us to look at the fluid-flow issues from a different perspective, and to be able to see and solve problems that others have not." While he's hesitant to reveal any trade secrets, Fleming will say that a lot of the early design work leaned heavily on "classic garage inventing" that paved the way for a few currently pending patents.
A mold run while testing the thermoforming machine
Starting with typical garage-inventor technology like homemade plastic molds and thermoforming equipment, the team created initial prototypes to test the idea. This progressed to CAD design, 3D-printing the designs for prototyping."From there, we moved to small scale commercial thermoforming to validate our tooling, says Barry Goffe, Vaporpath's president. (The photo above is an example of that, showing a two-up mold run on a small-scale commercial thermoforming machine.) Then they did a sheet run using full production tooling, a process that yielded 16 lids per machine cycle. "This production tooling was only made possible by the many incremental steps in progressively more sophisticated manufacturing technology,"Goffe says. Vaporpath worked with several tool-and-die makers and thermoforming manufacturers to find the necessary expertise for the particular pieces.
A sheet run with the production tooling
Additionally, Fleming switched out the typical homogenous round recess found in to-go lids with an angled ravine that serves a secondary purpose: keeping your shirt coffee-free by catching splashed liquid and reducing spillage, directing it back into the cup. The larger, relocated mouth hole in conjunction with the steep recesses are the two main features of the Viora Lid, two features that Fleming and the team at Vaporpath had to balance with the constraints of manufacturing—particularly for an item that, at the end of the day, ends up in a landfill.
Challenged to design a product that needs to be produced in high volumes, the team opted to make the lid in high-impact polystyrene (HIPS) instead of using greener plastics. "After extensive research and experimenting with heat stabilized polylactic acid (PLA) and polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA), we found that they all had significant disadvantages and, even worse, that the 'green' aspects of 'green plastics' didn't withstand scrutiny," Fleming explains.
After making its debut at the trade show of the Speciality Coffee Association of America, Viora is now being marketed to specialty cafes, those that might be willing to pay a little extra—around 6 cents per lid, compared to the industry average of 3.5 to 4 cents per lid—to improve the coffee experience for their customers. Sample kits and pricing requests are available through the Viora Lid website.