What is Numnuts?

In most first world farms male lambs are castrated to prevent uncontrolled breeding (inbreeding) when they reach sexual maturity, additionally most male and female lambs are also tail-docked as a proven aid to prevent Blow Fly strike. Numnuts is a new product for improving the welfare of lambs undergoing these necessary but painful animal husbandry procedures.

The Business Need

The UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world and UK research institutions, such as Moredun Research Institute (MRI), are leading international efforts to further improve standards. Research undertaken at MRI over the last few decades has identified opportunities to alleviate pain in necessary but painful animal husbandry procedures, in particular, castration and tail docking in lambs. All pain relief methods developed to date are expensive, require specialist veterinary skill and have therefore not been adopted by farmers. 4c’s objective was to develop a method of alleviating pain which was cost effective, time efficient and easily implemented by farmers.

More information

Blog post (coming soon)

Concept development

4c employed its well-honed, structured brainstorming process to develop a range of initial concepts. This method involves not only the 4c Design team but also external experts and ‘wild cards’ – creative individuals with relevant technical expertise. A review of parallel products also fed into the brainstorming process – this is a technique for identifying potentially useful technologies from other industry sectors. During the brainstorm a range of concepts were identified, mocked-up and tested using 4c’s comprehensive workshop facilities.

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Concept refinement

A small number of concepts were taken forward from the initial concept development phase of the project. These included a ‘lasso’ with a single shot of anesthetic and an integrated tool/injector which provided multiple doses. Both concepts were refined through research, design, prototyping and testing. Thorough evaluation of both the technical and commercial aspects of the competing design concepts led to the selection of the integrated solution that combined both elastic ring placement and anaesthetic injection in a single tool of a design similar to that of existing ring placement tools. The IP developed by 4c during this project is now patent pending.

The two key areas of focus for 4c Design were the design of the hand grip and the automatic injector mechanism.

Hand grip

4c’s research into existing castration/tail docking tools discovered that users found current tools awkward and that they required significant physical strength. A key design objective was to make the new tool much easier to use. An ergonomics study was carried out to identify the most comfortable hand position and range of grip forces. Competing concept mechanisms built around ‘push’ and ‘pull’ motions were identified. Each was systematically developed using techniques including parallel product reviews, listing sub-system functional requirements and constraints, motion studies, sketching, mock-up prototyping using Lego and geometry investigations using the Computer Aided Design (CAD) package Solidworks. 4c Design also developed calculators to explore a range of design trade-off decisions in order to optimise the handle geometry.

Automatic injector mechanism

This was a tricky mechanism to develop as there were a large number of functional requirements. These included the correct depth of injection, dose quantity, avoiding needle-stick injury, simple operation and change-over procedures. We prototyped multiple iterations in order to reach a functional design. Our first working prototype was used with success in animal trials, however, the precision required for its assembly to function meant that a low-cost, high-volume version was unrealistic. We went back to the drawing board and generated a patent pending solution using a rotary movement comprising of a dual stage injection mechanism. Feedback from users on this new design was very positive and we took it forward for further development.

Prototyping

4c Design’s extensive workshop facilities were utilised at all stages of the project. Numerous prototypes were built of key mechanisms as well as the complete tool. These ranged from Lego models of different design concepts for the hand grip mechanism to in-house 3D printed components for prototypes used in animal trials.

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Testing

The efficacy of the new prototype designs were then tested in a series of trials carried out by animal research experts MRI and CSIRO in Australia. The scientists used ethograms that have been developed by vets and animal behavioural specialist over three decades to validate the effectiveness of the Numnuts prototype tool. 4c Design were embedded throughout the testing and animal science stages, this hands-on involvement planning the designers into every stage of the project has enabled user feedback to be incorporated into later prototypes.  

Commercial development

In addition to delivering technical innovation, 4c Design also developed the commercial business case for Numnuts. This led to the formation of a joint venture between 4c Design and MRI to commercialise the new tool. 4c designed the Numnuts brand and developed marketing material in order to launch the new tool at the Royal Highland Show, Scotland’s foremost farming event.

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Delivering commercialisation

Our partners at MRI view 4c Design as the ‘streetwise, can-do partner to the institution academics who have produced the science but not the solution’. We have an established track record of translating the results of academic research into commercially successful products as evidenced by both the collaboration on Numnuts and our work on BarberVax.

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