NUTS AND BOLTS OF PUSH-BUTTON SPEED
Over the course of three decades, Benchmade has produced an abundance of sport cutlery … with an extensive portfolio of products that includes balisongs, fixed blades, rescue hooks and folders. However, Benchmade is often known for its automatic opening knives.
Currently with one of the largest offerings of automatics among domestic manufacturers, Benchmade began producing autos in the early 1990s. Since then, the Oregon-based company has created some of the industry’s fastest and most reliable autos, featuring various mechanisms, including push-button, AXIS auto, ambidextrous push-button, dual-action AXIS and double-action out-the-front. In 2017, Benchmade bolstered its automatic lineup with four new models, as well as an anniversary edition of the popular Infidel OTF (out-the-front). In this article, we’ll explore what it takes to fully develop an automatic knife and bring it to market.
Beyond simply putting a blade in a handle and adding a spring and button to actuate the mechanism, the development process for an automatic knife is a collaboration of multiple departments that include Product Development, Design Engineering, Test Lab and Manufacturing. Each team involved plays a pivotal part in creating a solid and reliable tool before it comes to market. The genesis of a product begins typically with the Product Development Team. After identifying the need, the functions and the fundamental materials that will potentially be used in the knife, the process moves to visual conception with drawings and sketches provided by the team’s industrial designer. It is in this phase that the aesthetics begin to come together. With the input of a design engineer providing his expertise regarding the manufacturing process, the project moves to transforming from a drawing to a physical three-dimensional object.
Next, a 3D-printed model is created that allows the development team to physically feel what once had only existed on paper, which helps gain a
better understanding of the proportions and ergonomics of the product, and what may or may not need to be adjusted.
Upon approval by all parties involved, the project then progresses to the R&D phase, where machined components are created. It’s in this portion of the development process that the product functions are refined to help create a more reliable and safe functioning automatic.
“Developing an auto, like most challenges, is a compromise between competing objectives,” says Wes Duey, senior design engineer. “I find the optimal balance between strength, speed and reliability, while maintaining the aesthetic subtleties of the targeted market sector.”
Benchmade’s Test Lab is the proving ground that every Benchmade knife goes through before going into production. However, this team is not only charged with collecting data from the design and function durability of the knife, but also collecting data on new materials that could be potentially introduced into the Benchmade lineup.
This part of the development process is crucial for automatics, as Benchmade aims to put out the most reliable and durable product possible. All knives are pushed to the point of failure and have a standard in which they are expected to meet. An example of a few tests that an automatic would go through include cycle testing for the spring, lock strength, blade-tip strength and speed. In the case of adding a new type of automatic mechanism to the Benchmade lineup, the mechanism goes through even more extensive testing to ensure reliability. Through the data collected, designers can verify the overall design or make modifications to improve its performance to meet Benchmade standards.
“BENCHMADE’S TEST LAB IS THE PROVING GROUND …”
Prototype Building & Production
Once the design and functions have been proven in the Test Lab, the product then moves to prototyping, in which parts are made through the factory to work out production and streamline the process. These prototypes are then inspected and tested and help verify the manufacturing process for this particular model. Every team that was involved with the early
development are included in reviewing the final prototype before it passes into first production.
From the beginning of the early development phase to the production phase, the timespan can range from 12 to 36 months, depending on the complexity of the automatic. Just as the project began, it ends with the same teams involved in taking a vision from paper to a tangible Benchmade product. KI
Bottom: Several iterations of the 5700 Presidio II go through testing to the point of failure to help Benchmade create a final product that is better, faster and stronger.
Above: A final production 5700 Presidio II automatic.