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. But what resulted was not only a demonstration in the power of collaboration, but a coup for Sealy Australia – a globally patented coil that takes the accepted norm of the design of a coil and throws it out the window. The outcome? A new mattress with better support and responsiveness that assists natural movement without disturbance.
It’s tricky territory when there’s an accepted version of anything that’s effective, that’s done the job for decades and that’s, well, tried and true.
As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
But Morrison Just, Product Innovation Engineer, along with his Sealy Australia colleagues, has proved that there’s always room for innovation. It may take
time, patience and some wrangling, but that’s the price of going beyond where everyone else has gone before. 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 newly-released Elevate mattress is twice as stable versus its predecessor. Its design is so revolutionary that it actually has a global patent, a nearly impossible feat for something
that to the outside observer is 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 dyson vacuum cleaner, because no one had ever seen anything like it before.
But the fewer parts a product has, the more difficult it is for one company to provethat it is unique, which makes it infinitely harder to obtain a
patent on. 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 says.
Broken down, what does this new coil mean for tired Aussies out there?
“Our new spring has better responsiveness: it calibrates softness into support, and reduces individual spring 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 give you a feeling of softness.
It’s kind of the perfect coil because one piece of steel does two things that are seemingly opposites of each other: it gives your body at rest the gentleness
and softness we all crave, while also giving your skeleton, muscles and tissues the robust support they need to relax 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 triple offset head coil Sealy Posturepedic had pioneered in 1980 was
universally accepted as the best design, no one had bothered to completely reinvent the spring. His investigations led him to an interesting discovery:
there wasn’t any machine globally that could manufacture his new coil. Not a one.
So not only did Morrison have to perfect his new coil but also, he had to re-tool a machine to make his new coil.
Consider the processes that go into making a spring: there are about 25 steps to make one coil. And there are 660 springs in a queen-sized mattress. Oh,
and by the way, Sealy’s machines are so fine-tuned that they create 90 coils / minute. You read that right – each spring is manufactured in a mere
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. But we wanted a perfectly
vertically-aligned central axis. To do that meant upsetting the overlap (the shape at the head of the coil). It was a conundrum I decided to push through,”
From computer design to manufacturing reality
So in addition to creating CAD models of the new springs, Morrison had to computer-model out the new tools to mould the spring, and then had to ask the
manufacturing team to see if they could build new tools 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 we took off-line. 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 hammered the first coils into shape and said we think we’re 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: “We knew it was worth seeing this 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 – and not just works,
but works better than anything that’s come before it. It’s cross-functional and intra-departmental teams rolling up their sleeves, working together
to create a mattress that works and responds as a holistic system.
“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. The net 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 re-thought the entire
premise of what a coil could do and harmonised that into one design. It’s like taking a Formula1 car, stripping it back to its engine, then making
the new car 100% electric, able to run on all roads and retaining the sleek styling and speed of a Formula1 car.
“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 global IP, 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 a global patent is surreal – it means we’re leading the world in the development. That’s a first we’re all proud of.