A long while ago we started on the journey of making US military dog tags - and that was a task that was easier said than done for a UK company...... First of all the machines were all in America, they tended to be 110v rather than 240v, and ultimately they were a real pain to actually produce tags. No-one ever thought it viable to make some easy to use, efficient software to talk to the machines so...... in the end we wrote our own! And, after a few false starts and a broken machine or two, we got our heads around the process and the machinery and happily got on with the business of making people military dog tags.
I'd always wondered about the viability of using them for different purposes though, since the stainless steel material and the permanence of the embossing seemed like it could be used to identify more than just a person. Luggage seemed to be the obvious choice, as you would always want a hard-wearing form of identification attached to your bags, and the pathetic carboard tags on offer at the airport had always struck me as inadequate. I found some stainless steel cable attachments and once a coloured rubber silencer (the bit that goes round the edge of a dog-tag) had been added, I thought I had a new product nailed and ready to go.
On all the ones I made and gave to friends to try, they all had the same problem - the rubber siliencer would be pushed off the edge of the tag whilst in transit and would eventually fail, leaving just the tag and the cable which whilst servicable, didn't look that great. Having already had a load of professional photography done and a website developed, I was pretty annoyed that the concept wasn't saleable in its current form.
I left it for a while, and whilst travelling in Australia decided to see if I could crack the solution - I sat down at a friend's dining table and drew this spectacularly detailed technical drawing, which seemed to me to be what I needed.
Instead of a rubber surround, it needed to be rigid plastic - and therefore needed a slot at the end for the tag to slide into, and a hole for the cable to go through to complete the tag and secure the plastic housing. I had absolutely no idea about how to make it, so ended up emailing my crappy picture to a load of companies that specialised in injection moulding. Of the ones that responded, they needed a more detailed examination of the tags themselves to be able to do a proper technical drawing for the surround and lo and behold after a bit of money we got to something that looked like this!
It was fun to watch the evolution into something a bit more realistic, until I found out how much it was going to cost to create an injection moulding die for my design…….. So it kind of got shelved again until I got back home, when I picked it up again with a different and more local plastics specialist.
The design was slimmed down a bit, and a panel was added on the reverse to close in the tag a bit more and create a space to put the Toughtags logo and web address. And at that point the trigger was pulled and the order put in to make the dies - which would be happening in China, getting perfected over there, and then shipped to the UK to be put into an injection moulding machine. Whilst that was only a sentence, the process was probably about 4 or 5 months and needless to say, pretty expensive. The final design was looking something like this:
And then the next thing I knew, the dies were getting real plastic put through them and I received a video of it happening:
Quite surreal to see the final element in place given where the process had started, and I'm happy with the result, which is a tough, hard-wearing luggage tag that will look good and last for ages.
So, now for the hard part and letting the world know these actually exist……. If you've found this then head on over to the homepage and customize yourself a Toughtag :-)