Thoughtful Product Study – Case Study #1 Tabmaker (Nichiban)
Case Study #1 Tabmaker (Nichiban)
Some people create tabs by doubling back adhesive tape when they wrap goods, or for temporary tacking, making it easier for others to peel it off. At some point this simple, thoughtful idea spread. A tab-making product was released in December last year. How did it come about?
Photography / Satoru Naito
Interview and text/JQR
Tabmaker developer Yuji Kinoshita (l), senior manager of the Tape Business Division and development leader Masanori Sato of the Tape Development Division.
price (unit price): 2,100yen
JQR: Coming straight to the point, what gave you the idea to develop an adhesive tape cutter that could also make tabs?
Sato: When out shopping, I would notice that many shop assistants were going to the trouble of doubling over adhesive tape to make tabs when wrapping parcels, and it got me thinking. We began working to commercialize the product about two years ago.
JQR: So you felt there was a need for a product to fold tape, because it was bothersome to do by hand?
Sato: There was also the hope that if people could easily make tabs as a service to customers, it would spread a culture of consideration.
Kinoshita: Tabs probably became more prominent after a major casual apparel store began using them. Of course, that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist before that. For example, plastic shelves are taped down when fridges are transported, and tabs adorn the tape ends.
JQR: Did you not try making tabs at the time?
Kinoshita: I had actually tried a few times in the past. To be honest, my attempts were feeble. But I did get a better understanding on how they could be made.
JQR: So despite your previous failed attempts the proposal was accepted?
Sato: The Business Division already understood how time consuming making the device could be, so we tried to convince them how a simple device could speed up the process. The development team created a prototype, all the while fighting to get approval.
Kinoshita: The Business Division usually decides on development themes after extensive market research, but in this case the Development Division took the lead, creating a consensus as the theme evolved.
JQR: What was the biggest obstacle to commercializing the product?
Sato: That would definitely be the tab-making success rate. We worked on the assumption that company and store employees were the target users for Tabmaker. It is crucial for them to be able to instantly make tabs when they are in a hurry. Messing up only creates more work for them, so the product had to make perfect tabs.
JQR: So if you did not improve the success rate, the product would be a flop. What was your target success rate?
Sato: We initially aimed at 95 per cent, and the finished product has a 98 per cent success rate.
Take the end of a roll of standard gauge tape.
Pull the tape and stick it to the movable pad. Move the pad up to the cutter.
Cut the tape. The pad retracts and the tape bulges, creating a tab at the end of the tape.
Pursuing an unknown mechanism, all by hand
Kinoshita: Deciding where to overlap the pulled tape was simple, but turning it into reality was difficult. We considered various mechanisms, eventually deciding on a spring mechanism.
Sato: After cutting a piece of tape, the tip of the remaining tape attaches to the movable pad and snaps back using the spring’s power to create a tab. If the tape does not bulge up, you cannot create a tab; that was the problem.
JQR: Of course, if the tape folds down, the two non-adhesive sides cannot stick together to create a tab.
Sato: I cut tape 50,000 times with each prototype. I even took them home on weekends and silently cut tape. I created a mountain or two of tape scraps (laughs).
Kinoshita: It also depends on the combination with the tape. We had no idea how the mechanism could create an upward standing tab; all we could do was try.
Sato: Even after deciding on a mechanism that used a spring to pull it back, we mercilessly cut tape to fine tune it. For example, the tape must not stick to the pad too well, but it should be easy to peel off. So the next issue was which to prioritize?
JQR: What were the decisive steps on the path to a successful tab-making device?
Kinoshita: The quality of the material used for the movable pad, and the shape and angle of the fixed tab, which the movable pad strikes. With the right balance, the tape bulges up.
Sato: Finding the right angle for the fixed tab was a matter of instinct. We created numerous prototypes using different angles, and through repeated trial and error found the right sticking point for the movable pad. Once we found it, everyone on the team fervently cut tape and wrote figures on the whiteboard. We decided on the final specification based on the actual ratio of successes to cuts. It was also essential that the tape would stick properly to the rubber used on the movable pad but easily peel off when lifted.
JQR: You wanted one material to have contrasting functions?
Kinoshita: Adhesive tape is one continuous contradiction; it needs to stick well but peel cleanly. Therefore a required quality like this is quite normal for us. This is the lot of tape manufacturers.
JQR: You waited for the right time before rolling out the product. What has the reaction been?
Kinoshita: It was well received when we released it last December, but that did not mean as many sales as we expected, so we were becoming quite nervous. Come February, the number of orders increased, and we breathed a sigh of relief.
Nichiban Co., Ltd.
(free dial within Japan)