Lawn Care for a New Generation

CLIENT: Scotts

INDUSTRY: Home, Electronics

SERVICES: Design, Engineering, Prototyping

Scotts Miracle-Gro, a leader in the lawn care industry needed a new way to meet the needs of the millennial market. Their smaller lawns didn’t require large push spreaders, but current solutions for fertilizing with a hand-held manual crank provided a frustrating experience of constant effort with inconsistent results. Scotts set out to bring a new innovation to disrupt the category and meet the needs of an emerging customer segment. With the help of Priority Designs, the idea of an automatic solution needed to be defined, proven and developed into a product ready to launch at retail with an accessible price point of $19.99. Additionally, the device needed to accommodate a wide range of existing Scotts spreader products.

Understanding the Category

Initial competitive benchmarking revealed several challenges with crank spreaders that our team set out to solve. Differences in height of the user meant the fertilizer was released at inconsistent distances from the ground, and the weight of the fertilizer played a role in how users held the device. The speed at which the user moved the crank also contributed to inconsistent distribution and caused fatigue while using the product. Ease of use and accurate distribution of product were two main design challenges in launching a new product for this space.

Fertilize Without Fatigue

Design concepts sought to address issues of inconsistent distribution of granulars, including fertilizer, grass seed, ice melt, herbicide and pesticide. Designers explored new forms and methods of user interaction. Concepts challenged placement of the crank, battery powered alternatives and ergonomics. With a battery powered alternative, users would not experience the fatigue of constant cranking, and the device could eliminate the variable of different crank speeds. Handle configuration and how to distribute weight became primary design challenges through the process.

To evaluate the concepts’ physical attributes of our initial ideas, proof-of-concept prototypes were quickly developed in-house for evaluation. Each solution was tested to determine how much weight it could comfortably hold in a single application, distance from the ground while held by the user, and overall experience.

Proof-of-concept prototypes helped solidify a direction quickly with minimal cost and time. A battery operated solution was chosen for further refinement of form, functional components and aesthetics.

Making it Real

With a concept direction identified, engineers began working to develop mechanisms that would deliver a variety of Scotts product with consistent accuracy. Throughout testing and optimization, efforts were focused on simplifying components. The device needed to achieve functionality with fewer parts to keep manufacturing costs low and retain margins at retail, while still delivering a superior product. Rough prototypes were used to prove mechanisms quickly, fail fast and move on to new solutions. Early laser cut acrylic models were used for mechanism development and optimization of performance characteristics.

Engineers tested individual components such as the aperture of the opening to measure how much and at what speed the product would dispense. By changing the angle of the walls, the form was modified to achieve an efficient release of product. Each component of the product was carefully examined including motor speed, voltage, torque, battery life, average walk speed of the user, placement of the opening, where to drop the product, and how fast the blade spins.

To refine the placement of the opening, different locations were tested with the spread plate to see the spread pattern. By changing the placement and speed of the blade, the device was optimized to deliver an even arc as the user walks down the lawn. Using a grid to establish a baseline, engineers were able to quickly visualize the overall spread pattern.

With further refinements, pans helped verify even distribution and were weighed to ensure the correct amount of product in each area. Through rigorous testing and measurement, engineers refined the motor design and product geometry to establish best in class accuracy with only the most necessary parts for efficient operation.

Quick Development Under One Roof

Prototyping specialists collaborated with engineers and designers for seamless transitions and faster refinement. With a wide array of in-house processes, prototypes were laser cut, CNC machined, and painted. Acrylic was quick, easy and inexpensive to prove early concepts.

Volume studies were created from foam to review form factors and weight distribution. The team navigated tight restrictions on the size and form, determined by the cost and efficiency of shipment, which ultimately helped determine the exact length, width, and configuration for optimized logistics.

With the mechanical, electrical and aesthetic components of the project, prototypes were placed on parallel paths to advance the project in a faster timeline. After acrylic proof-of-concept prototypes optimized spreader performance, components were rapid prototyped and assembled into a refined engineering prototype. The functional prototype helped realize refinements while determining placement and assembly.

Meanwhile, design details including color, form, and user interactions were refined in an appearance prototype. Final finishes including paint, graphics, and logos were applied with laser cut vinyl applications.

With the help of in-house electrical engineers, electrical components were specified and initial calculations from proof-of-concept models were confirmed in defining the product’s battery life. All of the mechanical and electrical components were built into a single prototype and tested as a single device. Given an average number of uses per year, the product was built to run with four AA batteries for two years.

To bring all components together, a final, fully functional “looks-like, works-like” prototype was created to visualize the final product. Paint, graphics, and finish were carefully applied into a product as close to production as the real thing.

Delivering at Retail

Every part came together to deliver the first battery powered spreader in the category at an impressive $19.99 price point. Compatible with the existing line of Scotts product, the battery operated spreader distributes half a bag of product in a single application; twice as much as a manual crank spreader. Easy turn dials allow the user to choose the setting based on the specific product label for accurate spreading.

The Edgeguard feature allows users to walk alongside edges of a garden or lawn, only distributing product on one side to avoid spreading onto sidewalks or gardens. Each interaction was designed with the user in mind to create a superior experience above and beyond any existing product in the category.

Priority Designs helped transform an idea to a new product, carrying it all the way from conceptulization, to functionality, through production handoff. Upon its 2016 market launch, Scotts WIZZ grew the spreader category by over 10%.

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