Greenock Tradesman, Gordon Hamilton has been the inspiration for his daughter, Victoria to develop a new concept in protective kneepads. Professional Builder’s Lee Jones talks to the young inventor.
Necessity might be the mother of invention but often the painful personal experience of an individual or their loved ones can be that Eureka moment’s true parent.
Take the now ubiquitous airbag, for instance, developed after its Australian inventor was involved in a car crash with his wife and seven year old son.
Similarly, the Vibram rubber sole was a direct consequence of its Italian inventor, Vitale Bramani losing six mountaineering companions in the Alps, at least in part as a result of inadequate footwear.
When a casual conversation with her father inspired a budding entrepreneur to help relieve a perennial and often painful problem for the trades, Victoria Hamilton’s story seemed destined to follow in that tradition.
“My Dad, Gordon is a joiner and, once home from work, would frequently complain of having really sore knees,” recalls the founder and director of Recoil Kneepads.
“Even when he wore the right PPE it just wasn’t that comfortable, or didn’t offer the necessary protection. It was a half-joking suggestion at the dinner table one night that I should design him something better which led me on the path I’m on now.”
At the time Victoria was studying Product Design Engineering at Strathclyde University and, when she was set the year-long task of developing a product to solve a particular problem, she took up the cause of easing aching knee joints on behalf of builders everywhere.
What would emerge is a solution that utilises a double layer system. When work brings you to your knees the first layer’s 360° Omiflex material provides multidirectional flexibility, whilst maintaining a firm and flat contact on the floor surface.
Uniquely, however, and what provides significantly enhanced levels of impact absorbency, is the second layer’s stainless steel Recoil spring suspension system, which cushions impact more effectively and reduces the pressure on the joint by spreading it evenly across the knee.
“By giving him versions to wear on site my father has effectively been the guinea pig for more than 30 prototypes over a three period and his feedback has been invaluable,” continues Victoria.
“With his hard-earned experience, over time features like EVA foam padding, a breathable fabric lining and easy-fit elastic securing straps to increase comfort were added, as was an anti-slip surface that provides Level 2 penetration protection.
“Not only that but whilst still a student I was able to utilise the resources of the Bio Engineering department at the University to obtain some evidence that the spring design was indeed beneficial to the health of the knee joint.”
When Victoria graduated back in 2013 she was, however, still at an incipient stage, with only a very rough model of the concept to show for her labours.
The financial catalyst for further development was undoubtedly in winning a £50,000 prize through the Young Innovators Challenge, an award run by the Scottish Institute for Enterprise for the Scottish Government.
That, together with further support from the Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Awards, saw Recoil Kneepads become a reality as a going concern.
“The biggest issue has always been ensuring there’s the necessary flow of funds needed to keep the project on track,” admits the 26 year old. “Bringing the product to market has cost in the region of £100,000 and, whilst we always believed that the kneepads would be a success, it’s simply not something we could have financed ourselves, so there was always that battle to keep the project going.
“By June of 2015, for instance, we already had a workable product that we could have brought to market, but I didn’t have the money to manufacture it. It was with the help of another competition, the Scottish Edge Fund, that we’ve been able to source a factory in the UK who could produce the product cost effectively.”
Since then, Victoria reports that the feedback from tradesmen has been very positive, and is using some of that input from end users to research variations on the original theme.
“We’ve been selling the product for eight months now and it’s been quite a journey, but we are holding true to the original concept. Just as my Dad’s experiences were the inspiration the current users of Recoil Kneepads will be able to help develop succeeding generations of the design.”
For further information on Recoil Kneepads click here.