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TPV meets design and performance requirements for unique grip

ExxonMobil Chemical Co : 20 March, 2006  (New Product)
Lifelong gardener and successful software entrepreneur Bruce Baker wanted to develop an innovative range of hand-held garden tools that would be more comfortable to use than anything on the market. He envisioned tools that would be comfortable to use even for gardeners who suffer from arthritis, tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome and that would help prevent stress injuries.
His company, Radius™ Garden, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, also wanted to produce professional-grade tools with a lifetime guarantee that included a durable soft-grip that adhered to the tool.

The Radius Garden NRG™ (natural radius grip) tools are uniquely designed with a curved-bow shaped grip. Before the company could move from design to production, it needed the appropriate material for the grip and blades (or rake) as well as the most efficient and effective manufacturing process. With little experience in materials processing, Radius Garden looked for expertise to help throughout development and production.

The working part, the blade or rake, must be ultra-lightweight. The handle must be of the highest quality, as it is vital to the product design and the brand identity. With manufacturing and assembly in China, U.S.-based Radius™ Garden needed a material with proven global supply reliability and good gripping ability for its unique 'NRG' (pronounced 'energy') handle.

Radius™ Garden selected ExxonMobil Chemical's Santoprene™ specialty products team, which has 25 years experience in providing global elastomeric solutions and is an acknowledged leader in thermoplastics elastomers.

Experienced sales people, technical specialists accessible through the global AnswerPersonSM service and product and process experts available in China provided Radius™ Garden with material and processing capability. The ExxonMobil Chemical team also provided design support, material selection, technical assistance with molds and helped identify ISO-qualified companies in China to manufacture the tools.

Radius Garden selected a company in China which has considerable experience in manufacturing with special effect Santoprene™ TPEs for the production of the garden tools.

To manufacture the handle, a soft Santoprene™ TPE is insert overmolded onto a polypropylene base.

Santoprene™ TPE met the design and performance needs required for the combination of materials. The broad portfolio of available grades produced a comfortable grip of suitable hardness and significant ergonomic benefits. The TPE does not peel or fray and, in tests conducted by Radius Garden, the blade does not separate from the handle. The unique bow-shape handle provides a secure grip regardless of whether it's wet or dry.

The blades/rakes are die-cast using an ultra-lightweight aluminum/magnesium alloy. They are attached to the handle using a mechanical locking device between the PP base and the metal blade/rake.

ExxonMobil Chemical also provided preliminary designs while the manufacturer in China finalized the engineering details.

Initially, two-cavity molds produced the tools. To accommodate increased demand and a boost in production, four-cavity molds will be used.

Radius™ Garden selected Clariant China to produce a specially developed pearlescent lime green masterbatch for the handle. The selected grade of Santoprene TPE easily accepts the special-effect color. The color gives Radius™ Garden tools an appealing look that makes them easy to find outdoors or in the tool shed.

The curved-bow shape of the grip enhances the ability to push the tool when working. This feature, combined with the soft but non-slip grip, provides maximum power and comfort and minimizes hand and wrist stress, as it efficiently transfers energy from the muscles directly to the blades.

For Radius™ Garden, Santoprene™ specialty products from ExxonMobil Chemical proved a winning choice, with supply chain capability and design, technical and process support more than meeting its expectations.

Santoprene™ TPE surpassed the ergonomic, aesthetic and processing needs required for the handles of the new tools.

'The success of our professional garden tools is due in no small part to the efforts of ExxonMobil Chemical's Santoprene™ specialty products team. They were involved in every step of the process,' said Bruce Baker of Radius™ Garden. 'We have succeeded in creating a comfortable, ergonomically-sound product to which we proudly affix a lifetime guarantee. We achieved this in the relatively short time of two years.'
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