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Kick-starting the stick of steel

Colt Hockey's stick of steel exceeds Kickstarter goal to fund production.


The stick's strength comes from the metal cladding's atom arrangement, which is made up of crystals just 20 nanometers in size. ©Daniel Sbizzi

The stick’s strength comes from the metal cladding’s atom arrangement, which is made up of crystals just 20 nanometers in size. ©Daniel Sbizzi

A team of Toronto hockey enthusiasts led by a 22-year old construction engineering graduate and partner Integran Technologies is ready to wield a stick with the strength of steel that performs like other elite composites, and they’re leveraging social media and crowdsourcing to get it on the ice.

“Good equipment is hard to come by if you’re on a budget, and when an expensive stick fails, it’s devastating for any player,” says Daniel Lucchesi, the George Brown College graduate who’s leading Colt Hockey’s charge to develop the world’s strongest carbon-fibre composite hockey stick. “Materials have grown lighter and more flexible, but they’re breaking more. This is a perfect opportunity to improve a product that’s purely Canadian.”

Indeed, hockey stick technologies have come a long way in the last decade. The majority of players from house league to the NHL prefer the super-light, high-end composite twigs from manufacturers such as Bauer, Reebok and Easton. But there’s a major issue with these sticks, which carry price tags topping $300.

They break…a lot.

Material strength has suffered to the point that it’s unlikely an NHL game goes 60-minutes without a stick exploding into a hail of graphite shrapnel.

The team also leveraged the super popular crowdfunding website Kickstarter to generate the money it needed to produce the Colt, exceeding it’s original funding goal of $75,000, ending the campaign having raising more than $100,000.

Socially funded
The website, founded in 2009, provides tools to raise funds for creative projects and business ideas via crowdfunding and was launched in Canada in early September, with more than 50 projects underway. More than 4.9 million people have pledged almost $8 million to 49,000 projects worldwide, including the Pebble SmartWatch – a customizable, web-enabled wristpiece powered by your smartphone – that raised more than $10 million from 68,000 backers (its original funding goal was $100,000.)

The Colt stick is a joint effort between Colt Hockey and PowerMetal Technologies, a division of Toronto’s Integran Technologies, which is a developer of metallurgical nano-technologies. The company’s super-strength metal cladding has been used by other sporting goods companies, such as golf-club manufacturer Ping and bike-maker Cervelo.

PowerMetal has also been used in nuclear power plants and aerospace components.

Integran earned a 2012 JEC Composites Show innovation award for its work on an ultra-lightweight, durable composite bike fork with structural electroplating it developed with Cervelo for a high-end $12,000 racing bicycle.

Lucchesi first learned about Integran and PowerMetal after reading a National Post article about a ping-pong ball coated in the company’s nano composite substrate that withstood 200-pounds of pressure.

“I knew this was an opportunity to take the hockey stick to the next level, but I needed to figure out if it would work, and that’s when our partnership with Integran got off the ground – things have snowballed from there,” he says.

Iain Brooks, unit manager of new products at Integran who was involved in the Cervelo project now oversees the engineering and technical development of the Colt Hockey stick. An initial prototype took just over a month to produce, he says.

“Carbon fibre composites are great for creating lightweight, flexible products, although they have an Achilles heel, but we’ve solved that,” he says. “We’re producing a product that’s not only super high-tech, it’s also super Canadian.”

The nano-material’s strength is derived from its metal atom arrangement. In normal metal structures, atoms form crystals or grains that are about 20 microns in size. PowerMetal is so strong because its grains are 1,000 times smaller at just 20 nanometres.

The Colt will be coated in Powermetal’s Nanovate metal cladding, a nanocrystalline metal composite layer that’s like coating the stick in a thin layer of flexible steel to add fatigue resistance after impacts such as shots and slashes. It makes the Colt a lot less susceptible to the natural wear and tear that typically diminishes a carbon fibre stick over time, without hindering its ability to flex – a factor that’s crucial to performance.

“The hockey stick is a really interesting example of what we’ve been able to do with Powermetal in terms of defining the product’s value proposition,” says Brooks. “We’ve produced a stick that meets the parameters of most consumer sticks in terms of flex and performance, but weighs less and it’s much stronger.”

If you were to apply a load of about 400 pounds to the midpoint of a two-foot section of stick, the shaft would deflect between two thirds to three quarters of an inch and break, Colt explains on its Kickstarter page. If a conventional shaft is first impacted, failure will likely occur at a lower load and a reduced bend deflection. The load to failure and bend deflection will continue to decrease with repeated slashes. A conventional composite shaft now fails at a load of only 264 pounds and at a deflection of only about half an inch.

After the same impact loading, the Colt shaft withstands 400 pounds with a two thirds of an inch deflection, which is consistent with an unimpacted conventional composite stick.

Colt expects its sticks to retail for about $300 once manufacturing commences, which is competitive with high-end sticks already on the market.
Kickstarter takes 5% of the fund’s raised and requires a project to meet a minimum funding goal, but it does not take a stake in the company or allow pledgers to do so either, gathering money instead from the public via individual web pages that outline the project’s goal, marketing plan and usually a nifty promotional video. It also allows pledgers to communicate with the project’s leaders to collaborate on ways the product could be improved.

“[Kickstarter] is the perfect vehicle to launch our expansion,” says Lucchesi, “It has allowed us to get in touch with our customer base, give us an idea of the product’s demand and how we can improve the stick before we go into production.”

Although unconventional and uniquely modern, the crowdfunding phenomenon is giving companies a new way to access funding without the help of governments and research grants, or sacrificing a small stake in the company to venture capitalists or pay interest on loans from the bank. Instead, the fate of the project is in the hand’s of the people that would eventually consume it.

Made in Canada
“It’s a people’s movement. It creates a market where people take part in developing products they actually want. The power of social media is still underestimated, especially when you’re trying to get noticed, and on a person to person basis,” says Lucchesi. “Kickstarter and the social media campaigns we’re doing have put us on the same level as the people we’re trying to serve, and that’s really important to us.”

To maintain its focus as a funding platform, Kickstarter requires creators of hardware and design projects to have a physical prototype and a manufacturing plan, and also bans the use of photorealistic renderings or simluations. It says these requirements are in place to reinforce its position that people are backing projects and not placing orders for a product. Creators must also identify the project’s risks and challenges involved producing it to underscore the notion that company and pledger are making things together.

“This was the perfect time to start the campaign because Kickstarter was launching in Canada and we’re trying to produce a truly Canadian product,” says Lucchesi. “The financial benefits were also enticing in that we keep a 100% ownership stake in the company while connecting with the community in development.”

Integran encouraged Lucchesi and his team to pursue Kickstarter.

“We had initial prototypes that generated positive test results, but we needed a means to complete final engineering and Kickstarter is a support tool that allows us to do that,” says Brooks, adding that engineers are still perfecting the materials required to adhere the nanocrystalline substrates to the stick’s carbon fibre composite structure.

“That’s a significant part of the puzzle. We’re enhancing an existing technology and there’s a lot of design and engineering work that’s application specific. We’re not just slapping metal onto a hockey stick,” he says.

Colt and Integran intend to manufacture the sticks in Toronto and they’re on track to have an initial production run of 1,000 sticks delivered by Christmas, a factor that’s critically important to both Lucchesi and Brooks.

“That’s part of the reason we also went with Kickstarter – to make sure people knew that we want to keep this project in Canada; to make it here,” says Lucchesi, adding that Colt will introduce new models at community outreach sessions where hockey players will be able to try the sticks and suggest new blade patterns and shaft stiffnesses.

“We really want to control our own destiny,” says Brooks. “That’s why we’re keeping manufacturing at home.”

Colt Hockey and Integran are taking a shot at a new way of manufacturing by combining uber-advanced nanomaterials and a business plan that leverages a social platform. Now it’s up to the people to decide if the partners scored a winning goal.

Comments? E-mail mpowell@plant.ca.

From the September 2013 issue of PLANT.

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