History

The concept of eating utensils in the shape of human bone anatomy was day-dreamed in 2011 and remained just an idea until the spring of 2014 when the first prototypes were created. Those were delicate and not accurate real human anatomy, but were good enough for proof-of-concept prototypes which people could hold in their hands and evaluate. They were met with much enthusiasm so the push was on to start a business! But two questions had to be answered first: How to mass produce them? And what material to make them out of?

Stainless steel is the best material for eating utensils, but BoneWare’s thick, round design presents some serious steel manufacturing issues. It can be done, but how much would it cost and how long would it take to get things up and running? A lot and a long time! You’ll notice most all standard “silverware” is thin which makes it easy to form into shapes with gentle curves like fork tines and spoon bowls. However, the amount and types of machinery required to do just plain old silverware production, is extraordinarily expensive.

So, the least expensive way to produce BoneWare was plastic injection molding, which has some pretty tough challenges of it’s own. Namely, it is extremely technical, requiring really smart people from many different specialized disciplines like computer software engineers, machine programmers and mechanical engineers to make it all work. Had I known this, it might have kept me from even starting. Nah, it wouldn’t have! On a small scale, like setting up in one’s garage, it’s not terribly expensive for the machine and the molds, but production quantities would be very, very low. Meeting demand would be impossible.

A second set of prototypes were created in the spring of 2016. I had gotten married in 2015. The wife helped me with every aspect of the business, thank you Sharla. These prototype models took a month straight of 12-15 hour days to complete. They had to be exact representations of the finished products so everyone knew what they were supposed to look like when they came out of the injection molding machines.

Medical drawings, pictures and X-rays were referenced to make sure they were as life-like as possible. The Pisiform bone is an example of some of the accurate detail. Just like with real human wrist bones, the Pisiform bone is only visible in the front view. You can see it for yourself if you look in the Bone Names section on this website or on medical images. Obviously some artistic design considerations were needed so BoneWare would actually function as proper eating utensils.

The next question was, how to get a machine to carve the BoneWare shapes into steel blocks where the hot plastic will be injected? What happens in business, for example with concept cars, the production model normally never looks like the concept car. And that’s because a lot of the detail gets left out. What took BoneWare so long was, we didn’t take out ANY of the original detail. The plastic inject molded parts (BoneWare) are accurate to 1/10,000 of an inch, identical to the original handmade prototypes!

So, how do you get a machine to carve the BoneWare shapes in steel blocks? There are several ways, but I chose digital scanning. The prototype models were scanned and the 3D measurements were turned into information the mold maker’s machine understood. That was an oversimplification and this is where it got real technical. However, none of it would have been possible without the master copy prototypes! The DESIGN section goes into much more detail.


first prototype mold of set of bone-style utensil

1st Prototypes

second prototype mold of set of bone-style utensil

2nd Prototypes

Design

The first set of prototypes were made of clay and it proved to be the wrong material because it was too soft to work with. Baking it making it stiffer, but that made it difficult to carve because the material sometimes came off in chunks. It took quite a bit of time and they were fragile, but after painting them they served their purpose. For the second set of prototypes I knew there had to be a better way so I did a little research, found some sculpting videos and determined epoxy putty would probably give a better result.

An interesting side note... when letting people evaluate either the first or second prototypes, some people had a tendency to try and bend them, like they were testing the strength. Ahhhh I thought I’d lose my mind, especially with the second set, those were getting scanned.

As mentioned in the HISTORY section, it literally took a whole month of 12-15 hour days to complete what became the “Master Copies” or prototypes. Most of the work was done under heavy magnification. I got design input from family, friends and the mold maker. I used jewelers tools, micro files, custom shaped Exacto blades, sand paper, custom shaped probes, scrapers and clamps along with micro grinders, just to name a few of the hundreds of tools it took. Most of the time prototype creation is done by professional firms which can be extremely expensive and time consuming.

To better understand some of the things described here, please reference the sliding picture gallery below.

Two forks, a left and right arm were made. The spoon bowl was made like a flattened skull with the top cut off. The right fork was sacrificed for the spoon because the design was supposed to mimic the Shakespeare play where young Prince Hamlet is holding Yorick’s skull. (my wife’s idea) The sacrificial fork was cut into pieces and the fingers split in half and then glued to the bottom of the spoon bowl. I’m sure a real sculptor could have done it better and faster, oh well, I got it done.

Remember in the HISTORY section about getting input from the mold maker? Well, he was guiding me via phone calls and me sending him pictures. We discussed things like reducing thickness in certain areas and considerations on how the part would eject out of the mold. In the sliding gallery below, look for the green digital side view image of the spoon, done by the software gurus at dezignworks.net . After reviewing the scanned images with the mold maker, we determined the spoon had to be thinned a little more, but it was done digitally. Next to the green picture is the actual spoon scan, dressed up with a nice shiny surface. The scans had all the 3 dimensional data measurements from the prototypes so now building the injection molds could begin.

The molds had to be designed to open exactly in half to allow the parts to be ejected. Determining where the parting lines were going to be, proved to be the most difficult part. Some special software has the ability to create the parting lines, but it could not in the case of BoneWare. No utensil with this kind of detail had ever been attempted before so there was no frame of reference. We have all seen plastic parts that have thin films of plastic still attached to the part, its called flashing. It comes from poorly made or poorly designed molds, among other things that can happen during manufacturing. Determining the parting lines was probably the most critically important part of the whole mold design. The parting line design problem was sent to 4 engineers, each with 50 years of experience in mold design, and they couldn’t figure it out. Fortunately there was another engineer who could and did!

Having the 3D measurement data doesn’t mean the machine can cut the cavities, each individual movement of the machine had to be programmed. Then simulations were run to prove the machine wouldn’t crash. Besides the expensive cutting tools, if the machine had a devastating crash, it could cost tens of thousands to repair. And believe it or not, there are several other types of machining and programming that were necessary as well. The whole process is truly as high-tech as it gets. Its the same technology used for designing and building military and aerospace products. Building the molds took a very long time and was very complicated, but thanks to the perseverance of the mold maker, Jim Hall of American Plastics, fun parties can be had by people all over the world! Thanks Jim!!!

And finally, programs were created in the injection molding machines for optimal injection pressures, temperatures, holding times, etc, etc. All of the skills of those people involved in this project, were a culmination of decades of real-life experience in their individual fields of expertise. It may just be a formed piece of plastic, but what it took to create BoneWare is truly as high-tech as it gets! It is not cheap plasticware and it was NOT designed to be disposable, but is recyclable. BoneWare is a quality designed and made product. Market research and market experts said BoneWare should sell for more than double. We chose the lower price point so everyone can enjoy the fun!

Patent pending BoneWare was made entirely in the United States of America, with American ingenuity, quality and pride. We are a Veteran and Woman owned small business.


One cycle of the injection molding machine.