8 September 2009

Omega Pacific Link Cam failure in the field

A size 0.5 Omega Pacific Link Cam is reported to have failed in a fall in the US. Bradly on Rockclimbing.com forums explains:

"...when I fell the cam was at or less than a foot below my feet. The placement was in a pocket where the crack above and below the placement tapered out. It was cammed to the middle lobe ... The stem was angled down about 45 to 60 degrees"

Image from Bradly's Picasa Album

Michael Lane from Omega Pacific responded: "Link Cams are specialty pieces ... [and are] vulnerable to damage and failure if subjected to torsional loading that requires the relationship of the head/axle and the rock to change much during a fall, especially if the placement is bottoming or loads the lower-end linkages to be stressed over any kind of edge or intrusion ... the fact that their lobes consist of hinged components when other cams are made of a single piece of material made this [torsional/bending loading issue is] an obvious characteristic from the start."

Furthermore he reports that Omega Pacific are taking action in response:

"1) We're looking at new link designs that strengthen the hinges to make them stronger. 
2) We'll be rewriting our literature to emphasize proper placement of Link Cams with a clear warning about the potential consequences of placing them in ways they could be subject to damage."

More info in the Rockclimbing.com forum thread.

14 July 2009

New dual axle cam from DMM

DMM recently announced a new double axle cam - dubbed the 'Dragon'. They are clearly inspired by the BD Camalots, however they are meant to be lighter and also have extender slings. Since the patent on the double axle design expired in 2005, DMM are the first company to make use of the design.

Image from DMM

There has been some confusion in the past on when the double axle patent expired. The patent is US 4,643,377 titled 'Mechanically expanding climbing aid'. A US patent lasts 20 years from the filing or priority date (whichever is earlier) or 17 years from the date the patent was granted - so long as the patent in question was in force in 1995, the longer of these two options applies. US 4,643,377 was filed in 1985 and granted in 1987 - therefore the 20 year term from 1985 is the lifetime that applies, meaning the patent expired in 2005.

The relevent US Code is here: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/35/154(c).html

28 June 2009

Alien cams allegedly failed below rated strength

Aric Datesman , a volunteer moderator at the Rockclimbing.com forums has tested 13 brand new Alien cams, purchased in May 2009, and according to his report 8 out of these 13 cams failed below their rated strength. Additionally, he tested 9 'used' Alien cams - and reportedly 7 of these failed below their rated strength. Datesman concluded "there appears to be a high probability that there is faulty gear [Aliens] out in circulation and people should be aware of this and take whatever precautions they deem necessary to ensure their safety". Before publishing Datesman claims to have shown the results to CCH (the manufacturers of Aliens) to give them the opportunity to respond - it appears CCH has not responded and over a month has passed since the results were published.

The image shows how the brazing of the Alien in the middle has only partially filled the enclosure. Datesman suggests that this could explain why the cam failed below its rated strength. Image by Aric Datesman, from the rockclimbing.com forums

In 2006 CCH issued a recall notice for over 4000 cams after it was discovered that some cams were "improperly brazed".

15 May 2009

Apply your own shoe rubber: Five Ten Stealth Paint

Five Ten have come up with a nifty looking product - a kit which you can use to mix and apply rubber to your climbing shoes. The rubber comes in a ground particle form which turns into a paste when mixed with a solvent. You can then apply the paste to your shoe where ever you think it needs it - the obvious place is the toe end above the rand, for toe hooking or jamming.

Image from rockclimbing.com

Here's the video from Five Ten describing the process

And here's a 'real-life' video from Mike Bromberg:

Five ten stealth paint application from mikebromberg on Vimeo.

10 April 2009

Homemade Cam World Cup

Rockclimbing.com ran a homemade cam competition with some interesting submissions. Points were given for Strength, Expansion Range and Weight, as well as 'Hand Tools Only', Bling and 'Cannibalized Parts'.

Image from rockclimbing.com

The cam above has epoxy lobes (correction)* and held 7.4 kN. Also, check out the spider detail in the lobes. *The lobes are in fact aluminium - I mistoke the referrence to an epoxy part of Kenn's Cam as relating to the lobes of the above cam.

5 March 2009

Trouser-harness combination and shoe friction testing machine

The Rossignol Harness Pant builds the harness into the trousers to presumably make it more comfortable and convenient, you won't ever forget your harness and you don't have to worry about taking it on or off - you always have a tie in point available. The converse idea is to build the harness into the rucksack harness - Lowe patented something along these lines about 30 years ago but as far as I know never made use of it.

Rossignol Harness Pant, photo from gearjunkie.

Another interesting idea came from Mad Rock at the Outdoor Retailer Winter Show. They had an adjustable smearing slope for people to try out Mad Rock shoes and compare their 'stickiness' to other brands. The test slab appears to be some kind of sand paper (could this have some effect on results?), but with just about every show maker claiming to have the stickiest rubber this seems to be a very clever way of cutting through the claims - it's hard to beat first hand experience.

The Mad Rock hands on friction test, photo from rockclimbing.com

Finally - a radical shoe design from Vibram, could this be the future for rock boots?

Photo from gearjunkie, where they have a review aswell.

3 March 2009

Totem cams and 20 gram carabiner from Metolius

The Outdoor Retailer Winter Market show finished a few days ago and rockclimbing.com has some great coverage.

Some of the highlights are the Totem Cam and the Metolius Mini carabiner which weighs 20 grams. The Totem cam is a unusual looking cam that has independently loaded sets of lobes (see photo and their website) - which they say is great for aiding, marginal placements and flares. There's more info and a worthwhile video at the Totem Cam website.

Image from rockclimbing.com

The Metolius Mini crab looks absolutely tiny, almost keyring sized, and is the lightest crab produced, 3 grams lighter than the Camp Nano, with 22 kN, 8 kN open.

Image from rockclimbing.com

Full coverage at rockclimbing.com: part 1, part 2, part 3.

1 March 2009

Unusual and fascinating gear testing

Kolin Powick is a Quality Assurance engineer at Black Diamond and he has done a load of unusual gear tests using their machines. He has tested the effect of peeing on a rope, the effect of cutting part way through your belay loop, the strength of various anchor equalisation methods, the strength of different abseil knots and loads of other interesting tests.

Particularly interesting is a test he did on a very worn out anchor - the results are very surprising!


26 February 2009

BMC looking for new UIAA/CEN Representative

The BMC are looking to recruit a new UIAA/CEN Representative. The representative post will involve attending annual UIAA and CEN meetings to "ensure that the views and practices of UK climbers are included in the decision making processes when new standards are drawn up, and existing standards modified."

The representative would also "be expected to join the BMC Technical Committee and provide reports on the work of the UIAA/CEN groups" and should come from an engineering or other techincal background.


10 January 2009

Interview with Chris Rowlands (part 2)

Do you have a general strategy that determines the direction of your products? How do you determine which projects to pursue? 

It's a combination of factors really. We have an ongoing Product development programme which is influenced from various quarters. We obviously continually assess and reassess our range of products to see where we can improve or where we have any glaring weaknesses or omissions. I'm sure every Manufacturer has half an eye on what other companies are doing and are influenced sometimes by that. Then there are ideas which we come up with, either internally from within our team, or ideas suggested by our sponsored climbers or ideas and conceptions brought to us by independent bodies or individuals. At the end of the day we have to evaluate each idea and treat it on its own merits. There might be fantastic ideas which are just not financially viable, in that we couldn't make them for a price that the market would accept, or they might have such a limited appeal that we wouldn't sell enough to cover the development costs. So I guess the short answer is that we have many more ideas than we can carry forward, and we make a judgement call as to which are the most important in terms of our range and the revenue they will generate.  

Describe the gear design process – from the source of ideas to the finished product. How many people are involved and how long does it take? Is it an iterative process involving prototypes?  

It depends on the product really, some things are very complex, and others very simple. Once a project has been identified, we'd do a feasibility study to make sure it will indeed be viable. You'd consider many angles, target price against manufacturing costs, volume sales, which markets etc. If we still reckon it’s a goer, we'd identify the spec very accurately so that we are all sure that we are expecting the same thing. Once that's done we can draw up different concepts if required, agree our preferred version and then produce a prototype. We are well set up to produce prototypes with the combination of our Solidworks design package and the CNC machining centres we have specifically for this purpose. The prototype needs to be tested in the field and also tested against the relevant Standard. Obviously during the design process this will have been taken into account. After evaluation, any alterations will be made, and the product retested. This cycle continues until we are happy with the final version. It is important at this stage to continually review whether you are keeping to your original brief, as it’s possible to alter things which seem sensible, only to find that you have then deviated from what you originally intended to produce. Once the final version is agreed, we need to make the tooling, and again it depends on the complexity of the product as to how much tooling is required. Sample batches need to be produced to prove the tooling at every stage. We make all our own tooling in house using CNC machines, Spark erosion, and Wire erosion. 
As to how many people it takes, we are a relatively small team but can all have an input, but on average there could be four or five people involved in the design, then three or four toolmakers involved in making the tooling. Time scales are hugely variable, and projects are rarely simple, even if you think they are going to be. A year to 18 months is very common, but it could well be longer!

It could be argued that climbing gear is gradually taking the challenge out of climbing – what’s your take on this? Where do you see climbing gear in 10 years? And in 50 years?  

The advances in climbing gear have obviously helped with the advances in the level of difficulty of some styles of climbing, but in the main we're talking Trad, so Nuts, Cams, Belay devices etc all have played their part in making it easier to protect routes and therefore try them. However, items like Bouldering pads have made some problems safer and more amenable than they were before, so it’s not just Trad where advances have made things safer.

However climbing remains an intensely personal affair. We make of it what we want, and we can always find new, harder challenges at a level that suits us. It is open ended, and that's the beauty. One day we can be climbing really well, and the next struggling on something easy. You still have to get out there and do it. The challenge is still only part of the attraction, the adventure, the friendship, the having a good crack with your mates very often remains a longer lasting memory than the intricacies of the climb. Adventure can be found at all levels of difficulty, so we shouldn't be too obsessed with that one facet of climbing.
Ten years on there will still be beginners top roping easy stuff at Stanage, or being taken up easy multipitch routes on the Idwal slabs, and in 50 years I hope the same will be true too!
Thanks Chris!

5 January 2009

Interview with Chris Rowlands from DMM (part 1)

I Spoke to Chris Rowlands, the Marketing & Brand Manager for DMM, at their facility in Llanberis and he answered a few questions on gear design and manufacture. The only hardware manufacturer left in Britain, DMM hold an enviable reputation as a ‘quality’ brand and manufacture for several other gear companies, as well as making a mountain bike crank for a top cycle brand. In his words: “They come to us because we are the best, not the cheapest!” Manufacturing in the Far East would undoubtedly cut production costs, and several US and European gear companies have sent their manufacturing abroad, whilst DMM recently invested in more machines in Llanberis. 

Chris Rowlands, Marketing & Brand (and a bit of everything else) Manager. Image from www.ukclimbing.com.

Why do they stubbornly remain in Wales? “We have always been recognised for our innovation and quality, and we are totally committed to maintaining this. Made in Wales means we have total control over the manufacturing process and we are proud of that.” The only process on their carabiners that is not done in-house is the anodising, because of difficulties involved in dealing with the harmful chemicals safely. As Chris puts it “The end product speaks for itself”.

Although it’s very likely still cheaper to manufacture abroad, the recent collapse in the pound means that previously agreed foreign contracts may suddenly seem a lot less attractive. In-house production makes it easier to spot quality problems early on and also allows the control of production rates to match demand. Added to this, justifiably or not, ‘made in China’ is not likely to reinforce the ‘quality’ brand. 

Most gear companies tout innovation as their strong point, and whilst it is undoubtedly a very strong driving force in the industry, there have been few radical innovations in decades. The cam was one of these – whilst most new products make climbing slightly more convenient or more efficient, the cam enabled a step change in the kind of routes that are possible. Will there be ‘another cam’? “Maybe not, but I reckon it could well be new materials that could move things along again, but this would be a very major step.”

From the perspective of a relatively small climbing company this major step is a major barrier, new materials require new expertise – hardware manufacturers have largely been using the same materials for decades. Acquiring skills in new areas and investing in new equipment is time consuming and risky. DMM’s approach is to look for outside help: “We tend to find an expert in that field and trust their judgement and learn from companies who have already been there.” 

Confounding the ‘stick with what we know’ issue – branching into new materials potentially exposes your business to new competitors whose expertise already lies in the new field. Either you work with outside experts or you risk having them compete against you.

DMM has already ventured into new materials with composite Snow Stakes and Deadmen. “[They are] really exciting” says Chris, “the Deadman was half the weight but the same strength. However we have yet to source a manufacturer who can make them for us at a price that would be acceptable. It’s largely a matter of having the time to follow it up.” So far there has been very limited introduction of composites in rock climbing, the only available products being a couple models of ice axe and helmets, but hopefully this will change soon.