ULTIMA Christmas TreeThe easiest tree you'll ever set up and take down
General Foam Plastics has been a leader in artificial Christmas trees for decades with their Mountain King product line. In 2015 the company came to Nottingham Spirk with a challenge: re-engineer the latest GFP tree, the ULTIMA™, intended to be the “easiest tree you will ever set up and take down.” Prototypes designed by a different firm and manufactured overseas were not up to GFP’s standards. With the annual trade shows for holiday product buyers looming, GFP needed a partner with all design, engineering and prototyping resources in-house.
A typical seven-and-a-half-foot tree comes in three large, heavy sections. The ULTIMA comes in 10 small, lightweight sections, making it easier to assemble (the heaviest section is less than nine pounds). Each section fits into the one below with gravity screws. Those connection points also contain contacts through which power flows to the lights — there are no visible wires. A foot pedal controls the lights, which can be set to clear or multi-colored, steady or blinking.
Our first challenge was choosing materials to ensure that the tree would be stable and the sections lightweight. The stand is steel to support weight of the entire tree, but each section became a combination of engineered thermoplastic resin and metal tube; the hubs holding the branches are also thermoplastic. The gravity screws required geometry changes to reduce wobble and properly orient and engage the electrical contacts. We also enhanced the ornament lights at the connection points, to enhance the appearance of ornaments hung close to the trunk and to give the tree a brighter appearance.
GFP’s plans called for separate boxes for each section, to give users more storage options. This proved problematic, but fabric and Velcro provided an alternative. The Wrap & Strap™ system protects branches within the main storage box, or wherever the owner chooses to store them.
After the prototypes were ready, we spent time in China, working directly with the manufacturer on tooling, quality control, and commercialization.
GFP came to us with a request: re-engineer their new ULTIMA tree in time for the annual trade shows the following month. With design, engineering and prototyping resources in-house, we were up for the challenge.