How is the Wheel-project progressing? The good news: Wheel is steadily becoming the great product we envisioned. The not so good news is: First deliveries will start in 2018. This setback asks for an explanation. Let’s ask founder and chief-designer Peter Kolkman.
A lot must have happened after the Wheel campaign. First, take us back to the beginning…
‘The Kickstarter campaign of course was a great succes. It wasn’t just the money. It was primarily the sincere enthusiasm we met all over the world that gave us the confidence we were on the right track. This allowed us to develop Wheel full time at full speed. So we turned our company Miniot into a Wheel company and took the plunge!’
You presented Miniot as ‘a small family business with big ideas’. How did you plan the proces from great idea to great product?
‘Our initial goal was to produce Wheel in the Netherlands, with regional suppliers, and in our own shop. Just like we did with our previous innovations. After all, a significant part of Wheel's technology is old school. Making high precision mechanical parts, analogue electronics for audio and digital controls have been done for decades. With todays possibilities, a Wheel project shouldn’t be very hard to do. So we thought.’
We saw your first prototype in the presentation video. I’d say: Just make a thousand of these!
‘Do you remember the cynics who were commenting Wheel couldn’t be done? The prototypes proved us our concept really works, but they costed a small fortune. Believe me, it’s a long way from a proof of concept to the finished product that works flawlessly for years. We started developing in house production techniques, collecting suppliers and acquiring knowledge.’
‘In the process, we made a tremendous pile of high grade components. After a very intense first three months, we came to the conclusion it’s perfectly feasible to make Wheel the way we intended, with in house production and regional suppliers. But we also discovered Wheel would cost at least twice as much, and we wouldn’t be able to meet our deadline by a mile.’
You were focussing on in house production too much?
‘I have to admit, the wish is father to the thought. When developing something new, you always think that acquired skills from past projects, equipment, talent, and an ever expanding network will make it faster this time around. But it doesn’t work that way. And in hindsight, we should have known. Every product designer you'll ask knows this. Developing something that doesn’t exist yet is hard work.’
‘After these three months, we had to switch strategy. To bring the Wheel project up to speed and into structure, we've teamed up with a talented engineering group in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, with a large worldwide production network. They’re specialized in converting prototypes into real products. Apart from the parts we produce ourselves, our pool of suppliers is much larger now. This allows us to pick the best supplier for every single part of Wheel, ensuring the best possible quality. Working together with the engineering group, we’ve further developed Wheel to its current -near production ready- state. Most of Wheel’s parts are already frozen and ready for production.’
Like they say, the last ten percent is ninety percent of the work. Can you give us a few examples?
‘The devil’s in the details. We feel we’ve redesigned Wheel a hundred times now. Every (every!) design revision seems to trigger a cascade of changes. We now know you can easily design a horizontal record player that works great. Or a vertical record player that works great. But a record player that works great horizontally ánd vertically, is something different. We needed to completely change the tonearm design, its suspension, and materials used, to get it right.’
‘Another example. The stick. We knew it would be a challenge. The delicate audio signal coming straight from the cartridge is led to the base through the hollow central axis of Wheel, together with digital control signals. We successfully shielded the analogue signal path.’
‘We wanted the stick to be rigid and enhance the analogue interaction with Wheel, with real clicks and real mechanical feedback. No touch, but feel. Components that are needed to make this work take up physical space. It took us months to find and customize the right switches that fitted in the super small space available. After we finished the stick design, we discovered that a key part, an encoder, was end-of-life and unavailable for production. For the alternative, slightly larger, component, most other parts of the core assembly had to be redesigned.’
Will we get faster updates now you’re getting closer to the finish line?
‘A talented crew is working hard on the Wheel project right now. Wheel is already great in it’s current state, and production is around the corner. As much as we'd want to, we can’t communicate every small step of the process for several reasons. First, we’re totally committed to the development of Wheel. We just don’t have time or capacity, but we’re doing the best we can! Second, we want to keep concepts, paths and sidesteps to ourselves until we’re dead sure we’re on the right track. Our backers gave us their trust. We’re determined to return this with the best product we can make. TechCrunch wrote earlier this year: Miniot always delivers. And that’s what we’ll do!’