Reinventing the Spoon: Prototyping to Perfection

 Babies weren’t meant to use the same eating utensils as adults. They lack the motor skills, finesse and classes in etiquette.

The spoon has been re-imagined as a bright plastic utensil with symmetrical front and backsides for seamless maneuvering. The new utensil is for the smallest of our species, revolutionizing the strange and archaic notion that babies should learn to eat with adult inspired silverware. Babies aren’t the most physically adept creatures. My nephew is an excellent example: He will spend centuries leading a small piece of food around his plate before finally taking his other hand and placing the food upon his fork or spoon. Babies are rather determined little humans. He manages to get most of his yogurt on his lap rather than in his mouth, and is usually left with a yogurt goatee. This lack of adequate motor skills really begs the question of why we ever expected twelve month olds to use silverware (however miniaturized that silverware may be) made for adults with a full range of motor skills. NumNum Dips has created a way for babies to eat despite their lack of physical prowess by ignoring the way adult silverware looks and functions altogether.

rapid prototyping

Prototyping to Perfection

NumNum Dips were invented by Doug Gonterman and Jessica Lineberry. The re-designed spoon gives babies an easier grip on their eating utensils while making transitions from liquids to solids. The new “dips” give the baby freedom of movement; unlike normal spoons where the backside is unhelpfully bowed out, NumNum Dips work from either side. Rubbery prongs, channeled on the inner face, grab up food as it is dipped into transitional solids. The design was inspired by another infant loved toy, explains Gonterman: “My co-inventor, Jessica, threw out the idea of something like a bubble wand and from there we were off and running.” NumNum Dips are built to hold foods varying in consistency. The NumNum Dip replacement for the spoon has a thin, flexible inner lining between the channeled prongs capable of holding some of the thinnest foods. “We knew there was a chance, with everyone blending their own foods these days, that there could be a super-thin blend that simply wouldn’t work well with the channeled NumNum,” says Gonterman. “So we developed one for thinner foods and textures.” The dips are eating aids whose performance remains constant regardless of the way its tiny user is holding it, which makes perfect sense to us.

rapid prototyping 

Gonterman and his team used 3D printing to design and develop the NumNum Dips. “3D Printing was a huge help through the development stage, as it allowed us to perfect our product features,” says Gonterman. “With the first 3D prototype of NumNum the channels were a little different. Testing showed that the particular design didn’t allow for captured foods to be released easily.” The NumNum team was able to re-prototype quickly, and discovered the device needed a notch to act as a release point. “The next prototype worked like magic,” says Gonterman. “We prototyped to perfection. 3D printing is my preferred choice of prototyping; so easy, so affordable.” The 3D printed prototype NumNum dips were used for functional and aesthetic testing. The prototypes were created through Stereolithography (SL). SL provides a nice surface finish, which allows designers to get a true feel for how the final product will look. Stratasys Direct Manufacturing additionally provided surface finishing and a cosmetic top coat to the prototypes. Gonterman and his team received 3D prints that mirrored the final product for accurate testing.

rapid prototyping

The NumNum Dip encourages the progression of necessary motor skills without requiring the baby to jump from zero utensil handling to debutante-ready motions. There might be a metaphor for prototyping in there somewhere.

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