When Product Innovation Engineer, Morrison Just, decided to change the basic geometric shape of a coil, he made himself rather unpopular with the local components team. What resulted, however, was not only a demonstration of the power of collaboration, but a coup for Sealy Australia — an internationally patented coil that takes the accepted norm of the bedding spring and throws it out the window. The outcome is a new mattress with better support and responsiveness that assists natural movement without disturbance.
Morrison, along with his Sealy Australia colleagues, has proven that there’s always room for innovation. It may take time, patience and some wrangling, but that’s the price of going beyond the limits of what has already been done. As Morrison says, “You don’t know how deep the hole needs to be until you have found the treasure. In this case, the hole turned out to be four years deep!” The new coil, seen in Sealy’s Posturepedic Elevate mattress is twice as stable as its predecessor. Its design is so revolutionary that it actually has international patents, a nearly impossible feat for something that is, to the outside observer, just a spiralled piece of steel.
Why Sealy’s patent is truly a big deal
“It’s one thing to get a patent on a combine harvester, a Hills Hoist or a revolutionary vacuum cleaner, if nobody has ever seen anything like it before. A very simple product with fewer parts makes it infinitely harder to apply for a patent and prove that it is unique. We basically said, ‘nobody has ever bent wire in the way we do.’ All springs have this helical body in it, but no one has ever actually made a spring like this before, ever,” Morrison tells us.
Broken down, what does this new coil mean for tired Aussies out there?
“Our new spring has better responsiveness. It transitions from softness to support and reduces mattress motion transfer. To achieve this with a taller spring was a particular challenge. The coil is actually helping with the softness, without compromising the support it gives you. So we’ve made something very strong and robust that can also give you a feeling of softness — like the suspension in a car that constantly adapts to absorb the small ripples, as well as the big potholes.
“It’s a challenge to make one piece of steel that does two things that are seemingly opposites of each other: it gives your resting body the gentleness and softness we all crave, while also giving your skeleton, muscles and tissues the robust support they need to maintain good posture as well,” he says.
Raising the bar for the entire category
Well into his 48 months of research and design, Morrison realised that because the coil Sealy Posturepedic pioneered in 1980 was well entrenched as the industry standard, no one had set out to completely reinvent the bedding spring for several decades. His investigations led him to an interesting discovery — there wasn’t any machine globally that could manufacture his new coil. Not a one.
Which meant not only did Morrison have to refine his coil design, but he also had to design a machine to manufacture it.
Consider the processes that go into making a spring: there are about 18 steps to make one coil. Now add 7 more to connect it to all the other springs. Then, multiply that number by 660 (the number of springs in a Queen-sized mattress). It sounds painstaking, but Sealy’s machines are so fine-tuned they create 90 coils per minute. Each stage in the manufacture of a coil takes a mere 0.6 seconds.
Besides meeting all of these constraints, Morrison would have to account for wire variance (microscopic, yet different thicknesses in between batches of wires), wear and tear on the machines and re-training skilled machinists.
“At the onset of this project, the one constraint I kept hearing from manufacturing was, ‘don’t change the head shape of the coil’. This was at odds with a perfectly vertically-aligned central axis. To do that meant that the tried and true end profile of the coil needed to change. It was a conundrum I decided to push through,” Morrison says.
From computer design to manufacturing reality
In addition to creating CAD models of the new springs, Morrison had to computer-model out the new tools to form the spring, and then had to ask the manufacturing team to see if they could build new tools and a series of prototypes for testing on top of their existing workloads.
What’s unique about Sealy Australia is that the company has its own tool makers and machine-building teams on site. “The components team was extremely gracious and keen to tackle this challenge. They built new tools, completely reconfiguring a machine. Within a few months, we made our first batch of coils with the new head design. We had the concept design for the coil in CAD, and it had tested well on-screen in computer simulations. We cobbled that first batch of coils together, and the test results showed we were onto a good design. Then, we had to redesign the tooling for the machine to interconnect the springs together into one unit so that we could test its performance both in the real world and in our testing lab,” he says.
It’s a classic domino-effect: change one small thing, and every add-on process needs to be tweaked to accommodate that original change. Luckily, Morrison wasn’t about to quit: “I knew this design was worth the effort. I worked to see it right through to production even if it meant weathering some storms along the way,” he says.
And to Sealy Australia’s credit, management gives its engineers the leeway — not to mention time and resources — to explore these projects and see them through to finish. Because at the end of the day, it’s not just a matter of ‘bending wire’, it’s making something that works better than anything that’s come before it.
“If you toss and turn, this mattress responds immediately, which a lot of dead memory foam doesn’t and can’t do. When you roll, the springs you’re departing from are lifting you instantly and helping you to roll. You’re using less energy to change positions, which means you wake less to change positions,” says Morrison. As a result, you wake up with more energy in the morning because you expended less throughout the night.
Leaving our mark on history
According to Morrison, there have been many stages of coil development over the last century, with each stage refining the last one while leaving something behind. The thinking behind the new coil in the Elevate mattress took all of the learnings from previous coil construction, but reconsidered the entire premise of what a coil could do and harmonised that into one design. It’s like taking the best features and technology from all the cars in history, and creating one vehicle which is somehow good at everything, from off-road to track racing.
“What’s hard to articulate and what I really love about it is that we’re actually doing this right here in Australia. We’re not relying on labs in the US or Europe. We’re not buying container loads of compressed spring units from a low-cost country, unwrapping them, building final products and calling that ‘Australian made’. We’re developing technology that the world has never seen, delivering world-class manufacturing know-how, inventing new springs and machine parts and using cutting-edge technology to produce revolutionary products in a typically staid category. To get international patents is surreal — it means we’re leading the world in the development. That’s a first we’re all proud of.”