As product designers, validating the products in real-life conditions with the intended end-users is a vital step in the design process. For underwater magnets, that involves strapping on the dive gear and bringing the products under the surface. Together with three experienced commercial divers, we had a great trial session in the Oslo Fjord.
On a clear spring day in March 2020, we met up with three highly skilled divers to test the brand new prototypes of diver magnets called Flipper and Willy - each named after a prominent marine mammal. The team gathered by the beach in Storsand, close to the fortress of Oscarsborg - famous for the sinking of the German battleship Blücher in the Second World War.
The diver trio consisted of Dag Ammerud, Per Børre Kiserud, and Tore Lien. Together, they had no less than 100 years of experience underwater, from the early days of the Norwegian oil adventure. Dag, the most seasoned of them all, was involved in the oil removal of the nearby Blücher wreck in 1996. Later, he ended up owning every WW2 shipwreck along the Norwegian coast - all 350 of them. But that's a different story.
As the divers prepared their equipment, we unpacked the boxes with the two magnets, fresh out of the factory. "So you're telling me that this little thing can hold one hundred kilos?" Per Børre said, weighing the Flipper in his hand. Per Børre is an underwater photographer with quite an impressive resumé. If you ever watch BBC's nature documentary "Blue Planet", and reach episode 4 - he was the one behind the camera there.
The spot was chosen because of its convenient location adjacent to the road, and a steel structure located on the seabed - an ideal surface to put the magnets to the test. Our goal was to see what it was like for a diver to handle the magnets with those thick neoprene gloves - applying them, attaching some piece of equipment on the eye nut, and releasing them. "Knock yourselves out!" we said, and waved bye-bye as the three disappeared under the water.
About an hour later, they resurfaced. It had all gone well. To begin with, they had to scrape off about 10mm of marine growth in two patches where the magnets would be placed. That was done in a flash. They felt the Flipper was compact and neat, and it proved an excellent tool from which to suspend a spare bottle - although with 100 kg holding force that is a bit of an underutilization. Meanwhile, the Willy was put to a simple holding force test by filling up the lift bag with air until the magnet was pulled off. Not a scientific experiment by any means, but it seemed to live up to its promise.
With the divers back on dry land, we gathered around the magnets to summarize the impressions. "I think you're onto something here, gents," said Per Børre. "And I'm looking forward to being able to attach my camera gear on the Willy."
We drove back home, confident that Blumags was on the right track. The magnets were prototypes, of course, so a couple of details would need some improvement, but they had passed the first validation test. And we, the product designers, could not wait to start working on the next version.