In our tech-driven society, it is easy to overlook the needs of an industry that still exists entirely in a physical environment. Much hasn't changed in regards to hand tool design and innovation in the recent past—and for good reason. Hand tools have evolved to reflect the needs of humanity's desire to create with physical means. Stone tools served humanity for millennia before we were ready for an improvement, and this same ancient technology is still in use in many hand tools today.
Much like our prehistoric ancestors, many veterans of the American labor force seem reluctant to change, akin to the reasoning of "if it isn't broke, don't fix it." This presents a problem unique to this industry and others that adhere to convention. Without innovation, an emerging workforce will be less likely to adapt.
When it gets right down to it, the construction industry thrives on efficiency. A construction company is only as good as the hands that do the work, regardless of whether those hands are young or old. Duit attempts to bridge the gap between generations of workers on a construction site, while remaining an intuitive tool for the DIYer.
Student: Benton Humphreys
Professor: Rusty Lay
School: Auburn University
Sponsor: Western Forge
Western Forge, an American manufacturer of hand tools, collaborated with Auburn University's Industrial Design and Building Science programs in 2016 to revitalize its tool line in the hopes of reaching an overlooked market. The focus was on the entry-level professional or DIYer (do-it-yourselfer) who appreciated the superior quality that comes with American manufacturing.
The result of this collaboration was Duit, an innovation on the traditional conduit bender that allows anyone from the rookie to the seasoned builder to effectively use it. Duit removes the guesswork inherent in traditional conduit benders, resulting in improved accuracy and efficiency.
Better for the Individual, Better for the Team
Traditional conduit benders require a finesse that comes with years of experience. Visual indicators on the bender head allow the user to verify that they have reached the desired angle-of-bend, yet do not account for over-bending or the spring back of the conduit. This method can be cumbersome and often requires guess-and-check to verify the accuracy of the bend.
Duit uses an intuitive system that is based on the existing technology of the conduit bender, making it easy enough for the beginner, yet still familiar in the hands of an expert.
Simply select the desired angle, insert the conduit, and bend. When the footrest contacts the floor, you've reached the desired angle.
Novice is the New Professional
Professional quality work is no longer only for the professionals. What used to take years of experience to master can now be accomplished in a matter of minutes. While Duit saves time and resources on the job site, it also deserves a spot in the garage.
Duit was not designed from a purely functional standpoint. Its sophisticated and modern aesthetic will fit in to any existing tool collection. Design features like its tapered support structure, generous amounts of negative space, and accent colors highlighting its functional aspects, make it as elegant as it is useful.
The initial research phase was dedicated to immersion into the construction industry through site visits and focus groups. Site visits provided first hand experience into the lives of construction workers, the challenges they face, and opportunities for improvement. Several focus groups provided a more thorough understanding of my observations and the opportunity to ask questions.
It always begins with a sketch. The focus groups led to a number of possible solutions. These ideas ranged from blue-sky to the most mundane. Only a few ideas remained practical given our time constraint.
Conceptualization and Prototyping
Physical modeling was the next step to realizing a potential innovation. Function models provided a basis for the most necessary parts of the design. Additionally, they answered questions as to the suitability of materials, strength of the structure, and ergonomic considerations of the user. Methods of prototyping included altering existing conduit benders for function testing and 3D printing full-size models for ergonomics testing.
The result of the entire process was a functioning and aesthetically-complete model. Considerations went into manufacturability, user ergonomics, and consumer marketing. Production methods include forging the main body and conduit sleeve, extruding the radial arm, and casting the locking pin. All materials are an aluminum alloy, providing a high strength to weight ratio.