April 11, 2022
A bidirectional, tabletop mat to visually help guide and structure material processing. It discourages cross-contamination and keeps the surface clean. Suitable for digital press and easily customized for different tasks to satisfy niche markets.
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OVERVIEW OF THE CONCEPT:
I came up with iHazAMat during the pandemic lockdown in early 2020. I wasn't sure if the virus could be transmitted on packaging, fruits/veggies, JujyFruits and similar. So we'd bring home the haul, set it on the kitchen counter and carefully sanitize then store the goodies. I used my trusty blue tape to divide the clean and dirty zones.
- Ideally, you want a mat that is easy to wipe clean, anti-microbial (in some cases), and protects the print on the surface for longevity.
- I like the 24x36" size, but you'll want to work with "stock" sizes for mats that approach this size (or larger if there is a need).
- The key to the design is to clearly delineate between clean and dirty. I used hazard stripes to play off the name, but you can certainly use other large printed indicators like happy/sad emojis, red/green colored sides, good unicorn/bad unicorn, so on. Opens up all sorts of variations on the same theme to appeal to different groups of people/kids/aliens.
- You can go bananas with different markets and uses within those markets. For instance:
Duh. But seriously, it's not going away anytime soon so I'd say it is still a current and relevant option. (Get on it!) The mat can contain information on how to sanitize things (eg: need 70% isopropyl alcohol), facts about virus, etc.
I'm thinking at home (meat, veggies, etc) processing. Meat is important to isolate from other foods while in it's raw state. (If you're vegan then the isolation is permanent.) Mat can contain facts/tips regarding the meat handling/processing. Most all fruit/veggie processing has a flow of clean->process->place into bowl/mix so it could work here too.
This is a bit trickier since the jars are hot if you are considering the final stages of processing. For the early stages this would be similar to "Food Processing", except you can put canning tips/info on the mat. To do the final stages you'll need to locate a source for a heat resistant mat that can accept print. Harder to find so I'd test the product in other markets before venturing on that trail. (It may be riddled with rabid squirrels.)
This isn't so much hazardous stuff, but more of an organizational tool to guide sorting. I'm thinking small parts like nuts/bolts/screws, halloween candy, legos, etc. As you can imagine the sorted ("clean") side could have circles/grids to place the items by shape, size, color. In the case of legos, you can print the shapes in their respective box/circle. For small parts a ruler printed on the mat might help the user sort by size. In my opinion the sorting market has the biggest potential since organization is a thing and there are zillions of sub-niches in this niche...yes, zillions.
Think home-based business packaging products, shipments, or food for local distribution. When we use to ship products we had an assembly line that would carefully clean, disinfect, and package each product. Then there was another line for shipments to ensure little mistakes. Some mats would have been nice to setup stations for these tasks.
Consumers aren't the only game here. You may be familiar with an industry that could use custom iHazAMats to help organize their processes. I'm sure there are all sorts of niche opportunities here. The tricky part is becoming intimately familiar with their processes (or knowing/finding someone who is). Sounds like a partnership needs to be formed.
I spoke at length with this manufacturer about materials, costs, etc. They have made mats for the gaming market and can print any size/shape you want. Opens up a lot more ideas on the design. Some notes from the conversation:
- Recommends vinyl product. Clear anti-microbial vinyl on top, print below vinyl on substrate for long life, textured backing to grip surface.
- Typical stock is in 10' x 58', so 2x3' would waist little product from the stock.
- 1-10 prototype run is about: $143/ea (This is reasonable for prototypes IMO.)
- 100 about: $92/ea
- Lead time is 5 - 10 days, no minimum.
With a mat manufacturer you will have control over shape. You can use this to your advantage to characterize your product over others that may enter the market.
If you just want to test the waters with your big toe, then I'd look at finding a digital press company that can supply a stock mat. For instance: Zazzle and Printify (the 31x15.5" is an ok size). This lets you hone the design first and test the market you're interested in. Since the mats probably are not good for food/pandemic related stuff you might poke at the sorting markets first. If it were me, I fiddle with a mat that facilitates lego part/color sorting to appeal to those OCD children (and adults).
A clear PETG or acetate tube would be ideal to store the mat. However, a cardboard tube with a waxed surfaces would work as well, and may double as a shipping container if you are OK with it getting marks/defects on it during shipment. Some sources I've used in the past to peruse if you're interested: