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.

Early De­vel­op­ment

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.”

Test Lab

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.


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.

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