In the mid-1990s, inline skating was at its peak. People were no longer simply riding on bike paths, but beginning to go off path and onto rougher surfaces such as bricks and cobblestones, or any surface that they happened to come upon. Shockz inline skates had developed a unique suspension system for riding off-road, but had only a crude prototype that was neither presentable to investors nor designed for manufacturing. They came to Henninge and asked us to create the next beta-generation prototype that would be used for user testing, distribution to investors, and patent support. The components should be fully documented so that they could sell the technology as is. They wanted a prototype that would be just one step away from manufacturing.
We began the project by sketching various alternatives of the three major components: a front link, a rear link, and a spring/dampening device that absorbs energy. What makes this geometry so beneficial is that the four-bar linkage is constructed so the forward link is only 5° off vertical and the rear link is closer to 40°. As a result, the suspension system does not engage when the toe is pushing-off and powering forward; however, the system does flex when oncoming bumps strike the front wheel or inline skaters land on their heels, with weight biased over the rear wheels. Our sketches initially explored the use of coiled springs versus elastomer springs and alternative spring locations. This design was an early preferred rendition because it was compact and showcased the suspension components in the center of the chassis.
It's not uncommon for Henninge to work with our clients' lawyers to produce a seamless piece of secure intellectual property. We regularly will produce patent illustrations and draft text. In this case, Henninge worked with Shockz to build their patent and also provided support in promoting their suspension system. We prepared illustrations for their business plan to help Shockz clearly communicate the potential of this system. Because it was important to Shockz to present alternative applications of the suspension technology, quick studies were rendered in snowboarding, skiing, and a variety of inline-skate applications. Every drawing took into account the cultures and market biases associated with each particular market.
We chose elastomeric springs because of their imbedded dampening properties. The ability to mold in different colors was also viewed as a beneficial quality for its marketing potential. Different colors could denote different densities, which in turn could communicate different riding styles, terrain, or body weights to buyers. During the design of the components, we produced CAD data to illustrate range-of-motion studies. Our design minimized the space between the wheels and the bottom of the boot so that the system would not have added height when compared to non-shock skates. Building several prototypes allowed our client to test the strength of the components. The measurable wear that was experienced with the early prototypes was "by design." By designing close to the theoretical limit of the mechanical system, our testing provided a better understanding of the subtle forces at play. Minor modifications were made knowing that our design was not over structured and unnecessarily heavy.
We also learned from the prototype that the Shockz suspension worked incredibly well. While the aesthetic of the final design is reminiscent of the all-terrain-vehicles of the time, the angular, sharp lines were fresh for 1996 inline skates when most other competitors were still using soft swooshy forms. Shockz went ahead and marketed the skate-truck system as an after-market accessory. They also licensed the technology to the Austrian inline-skate company Oxygen. Oxygen introduced multiple new models containing the proprietary Shockz suspension. While inline skating has not enjoyed the sustained growth of some other new sports, such as snowboarding, the system designed by Henninge met all Shockz's objectives and advanced the technology being used at the time.
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