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From hacked steamer to mass production

  • From idea to product in the market in one year
  • Raised +5 million euros
  • +5,000 pieces sold in

In a nutshell

A team of three young entrepreneurs with the ambitious vision to reinvent healthy eating for busy professionals. They partnered up with our engineers and designers and turned their idea for a smart steamer that would allow users to create healthy, super easy meals based on frozen ingredients into a marketable product.

The full story

In 2017, a team of three young entrepreneurs formulated an ambitious vision: they wanted to reinvent healthy eating for busy professionals. And they had just the thing in mind. A smart steamer that would allow users to create healthy, super easy meals based on frozen ingredients. Literally, a cool idea! By the time they came to us, our Mealheroes had done some admirable hardware hacking. What they lacked was a functional, scalable product.

Wouter Foulon, founder of Comate: “The briefing was simple: help us go from this hacked prototype to a fully functional, appetizing prototype that we can travel around the Benelux with – and that will allow us to raise money for full-scale production.”

"Oh, and please get the prototype ready for the launch of a Kickstarter campaign a few months later?"

Challenge accepted – full steam ahead!

Wouter Foulon: “The Mealhero team had a pretty clear vision, and they came armed with a ton of technical and market research. But the timing was quite ambitious, and the budget was understandably tight. Once we accepted the briefing, it was full steam ahead.”

Very early on, it became clear that the core challenge in this project would be steam. Steam is hot, which plastics don’t like. Steaming tomato sauce and curry can leave stains on some materials: those are things that users don’t like. They also don’t like scratches. Or food that sticks to the steam tray. The client, on the other hand, told us that they really liked transparent trays. How would we get all these requirements into a steamer?

We did find a material that seemed like it ticked all the boxes, although we were a bit doubtful about its heat deflection temperature. For good measure, we found a second material as a backup. This turned out to be a good decision, because when we tested Candidate A, our steam trays shrunk. It couldn’t stand the heat, so we decided it needed to stay out of the kitchen. Candidate B, however, performed admirably.

Bringing design and functionality together

Once we had the material, we weren’t out of the woods yet. Steam is not just a technical challenge, but also a tough design challenge. You want those steam holes to be just the right size for your perfect cuisson. At the same time, you don’t want users to save time making a meal and then spending all that time on cleaning out steam tray holes… And while we want to expose the food to a good steaming, we were quite determined to keep the steam away from the user’s fingers.

To be able to experiment rapidly, we built a modular test set-up in heat-resistant materials using 3D printing. This allowed us to quickly test different designs of steam holes and shapes.

Fake it till you make it

We made it to “Kickstarter day” with two models – one that functioned as a steamer but didn’t look like a sexy Mealhero steamer. The other was a fully designed model that looked like the final product. However, it didn’t steam – although it did have pretty blinking lights! When they made it to their funding target, that’s when we started work on integrating the two steamers – using the feedback from the Kickstarter events to make a few last design tweaks.

The Mealhero steamer was now ready for mass production!

Dinner’s ready!

So, what did we learn in our quest for the perfectly steamed dish?First, the Mealhero case shows how involved our clients are in the project: it’s really a process of co-creation. The client was very invested in the project, and we could never have progressed as fast as we did without the dedication of Anton and his colleagues.Throughout the whole project, the Mealhero team was extremely present and helpful, as they took over a lot of tasks. That really is our philosophy: the client, our supplier and we work as one team.Second, no surprises here: we learned that working with steam and electricity is quite an engineering and design challenge! But we tested, re-tested and re-re-tested and at the end of the day, we were able to create our smart, interconnected and easy to use steamer.

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