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Building a Better Clothespin, with AMC Assistance

While some people might wonder what’s wrong with the design and function of a clothespin, a detail-oriented designer from Winterport, Maine would argue plenty.

With assistance from the University of Maine Advanced Manufacturing Center (AMC), designer and inventor Charley Earley has redesigned the traditional clothespin for commercialization. He calls his round, 3-inch-diameter device “EKLIPSE.”

“When you look at a traditional clothespin, there are disadvantages, which are widely accepted,” says Earley, a project manager and senior designer with Bucksport’s Lewis & Malm Architecture firm. “With a traditional clothespin, you need to provide energy to pinch it. Fifty percent of the commonly accepted products has nothing to do with holding anything, which to me represented waste.”

ClothespinThen there is the issue of spring clothespins popping apart into three pieces if they’re not pinched carefully. And the traditional clothes peg without a spring “to me was weakest where it needed to be strongest,” Earley says.

Wooden clothespins and clothes pegs, he says, are destined to fail as they age. They accumulate mold spores in the wood, rot or rust, and it’s awkward to hold a handful while trying to attach wet laundry to a clothesline.

So, Earley went to work with drawings and computations to design and build a better clothespin. The University of Maine School of Law’s Maine Patent Program, “Search for Prior Art,” research showed no patents existed on a circular design with a split center and internal “micro ribs” to grip fabric. Earley took his drawings to the UMaine AMC last fall for testing and refinement, at the same time preparing and processing his EKLIPSE application with the US Patent Office.

“EKLIPSE was designed from the beginning to be very simple,” he says.

“It wasn’t a huge project, but it was pretty interesting,” says John Belding, director of UMaine’s AMC. “He was concerned about the material’s kinetic performance, so we looked at different raw materials for him.”

Sixteen to be exact, before arriving on a polycarbonate ABS composite. The AMC also conducted fatigue tests on the materials to be sure the EKLIPSE would work in hot weather and in cold environments like a freezer, if used as a frozen food package clip.

ClothespinAMC staff and students, including Zack Belding, a May 2011 mechanical engineering technology graduate, and also John Belding’s younger brother, created a computer-assisted design (CAD) for milling several prototypes of the new multiuse clip. After settling on one, the university used its manufacturing technology to create the final drawings for preparation of a plastic injection mold.

Unable to find a Maine-based molding manufacturer to produce his final product, Earley took the milled EKLIPSE prototype to an upstate New York molding company. MAMCO Precision Molding helped build the mold, test the university-recommended materials and has begun turning out Earley’s novel clothespin clip in three colors — red, white and blue — in volume.

With assistance from UMaine’s School of Economics’ Knowledge Transfer Alliance, Earley now is pursuing a marketing and distribution plan so he can get the EKLIPSE into market entry mode. He anticipates a worldwide market for the EKLIPSE, a Patent Pending, Made in USA product.

“It’s a global product,” Earley says. In Europe and throughout the world, “most everyone uses a clothes line to dry clothes, and automated dryers are not nearly as prolific as in North America, and actually represent a burden to the environment and energy waste, not to mention clothing lifespan.”

Earley notes that his EKLIPSE is easier for people with disabilities, since they can grab a stack of the circular pins and simply draw them down over the fabric being hung on a line. It also can be used in any way a traditional wood or plastic clothespin can be used, including pinching snack or chips bags closed, or holding a stack of cards.

“Part of the excitement of EKLIPSE will be allowing users to discover applications for a better, multiuse clipping device,” he says.

Earley says he appreciates the convenience of working with UMaine to create and perfect EKLIPSE.

“The nice thing about working with the university is you sign an agreement to protect your intellectual property rights, and you get the benefit of professional engineering,” he says. “I am very happy that the design of EKLIPSE was fully refined right here at UMaine.”

Contact: Charley Earley, (207) 659-6683; John Belding, (207) 581-2717

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