Our bolt-action pen is the first product we went into business to make! We choose to make a bolt-pen early in the start-up phase of EPP to fast track work to Kellie's family-owned machine shop that was slow due to market fluctuations and the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns. To accomplish this launch, we needed to register with the EPA, design a product, and build a new company from the ground up. We made a goal of doing it in 3-months. We missed the original launch goal by a bit, but we made it!
We choose the bolt-action design because it contains few moving parts, and we were positive everything could be machined in-house. Since the bolt pen was our first venture into the antimicrobial copper tool world, we needed to watch our cash as much as possible. With limited resources, we chose to make as much as possible out of the same raw material to reduce ordering quantities of different bar stock diameter sizes. By keeping the design criteria simple, we were able to machine the whole pen from just two bar sizes. With the pen dimension roughly determined and sample raw materials on order, we enthusiastically started modeling and prototyping pen bodies.
Our original thought was the pen body design was going to be the hardest part to make, and we would easily make a clip afterward. While the body took some tinkering, the clip was a more significant challenge than we predicted. The clip design was a critical design factor that determined the final pen body design. In retrospect, we should have started with the clip, and the ink insert then built the pen around these factors. Hey, we are enthusiastic and jump without looking sometimes!
Every engineer and clip manufacturer we spoke with told us clips are not a good machining part and are better for metal stamping. We didn't want to outsource the clips as it would have added cost and significant delays to our launch. The antimicrobial properties of the copper fall under EPA regulations because it kills bacteria*. Any manufacturer who touches the material must register their business with the EPA and adhere to additional reporting regulations, which makes outsourcing parts a challenge. Our mill shop mad scientist machinist said he could make us a clip. So, we passed the baton to him and asked for a functional, good looking clip, and we would alter the body to match his design.
Copper is inherently soft and flexible, and long parts are not ideal for CNC mills. Pen clips have many angles and are relatively long. CNC mills hold material horizontally, and the machined portion of the rod is unsupported in the machining chamber to allow multi-axis tools to remove material as efficiently as possible. The two-inch piece required for the clip presented many challenges, as it wanted to bend from the heat and vibration produced by the high-speed tools removing material. Our mill shop manager spent over 4-weeks prototyping clips designs and built one that is machinable in just one pass! We are not 100% certain, but we are pretty sure we are the only company CNC machining pen clips.
Our lathe shop team machined the other pen components. To our surprise, a lot of the team are pen and pencil enthusiasts. We were told the "how did the Russians use a pen in space joke" too many times! The team took up the torch from our initial concept design and fine-tuned the pen body to eliminate rattles, decrease weight, and create seamless joins between the two-piece body. Their revisions were so good; we ended up choosing the lathe shop manager's design that he made for himself as the final product. A few weeks later, we discovered he already made another design of the bolt pen that uses Pilot G2 ink inserts vs. the Parker inserts we went with (guess what is on the project list now). Our collaborative design with the machinists who make the pens and our design team ensures the small details are elevated to provide a pen that will stand the test of time.
Our bolt-action pen is perfect for everyday carry. The body will not come unscrewed in your pocket. The ink insert won't accidentally protrude in your pocket and leak. The j-hook is entirely enclosed to prevent pocket lint build-up, and the body will not bend under pressure, when in awkward bent positions. The detent is easy to engage and disengage while producing an audible click, and the copper surface is self-sanitizing!
This project was a lot of work, and we are glad to say it's completed! The journey was a ton of fun and forced our whole team to learn new skills. The great thing about our small team, is they are really smart, provide different prospective from their specialty niches, and collaboratively come together to help solve problems. Now it's time to do that marketing bit and start the next project. Check out our blog on the inception of EPP to learn more about our start-up and antimicrobial mission.
*Laboratory testing shows that, when cleaned regularly, CuVerro surfaces kill greater than 99.9% of the following bacteria within 2 hours of exposure: Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus aureus, Enterobacter aerogenes, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, E. coli O157:H7, and Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococcus faecalis (VRE).