Cobalt and GoProto perform under pressure

As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to strain global hospital resources, the spectre of a second wave hangs over our health system. Despite our success flattening the curve in Australia, there is still a growing global concern that an abundance of ventilators is not dramatically changing the mortality rate. So in March, Cobalt led a consortium with a rapid response to aid hospital demands for alternative and innovative medical equipment that could simultaneously improve patient recovery and keep medical staff safe. The lack of available life-saving ventilators and respirators at the time was the immediate concern – driving the need for a quick turnaround and a non-mechanical solution.

Cobalt and GoProto intensively applied their resources to finding a solution for the layers of patients waiting in hospital beds for ventilators. The accelerated development process included collaboration with senior ICU doctors to create specialised 3D printed adapter kits that could convert existing and approved CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) masks and N99 filters into positive lung pressure devices. The converted CPAP masks can be used by hospital teams to treat sub-acute COVID-19 patients prior to them needing ICU ventilator treatment. This solution frees up ICU beds, limited ventilators and requires less medical staff to monitor them.

The converted CPAP masks with the 3D printed adapters’ features an oxygen feed line, so the patient receives pressurised oxygen-enriched air to their lungs whilst their exhaled air (that may contain aerosolized virus) is filtered out to protect medical staff. This type of system when applied to a sub-acute patient helps prevent the collapse of alveoli (lung air sacs needed for the intake of oxygen into the body) and aids recovery, improving the chances of avoiding incubation.

The 3D printed adapter kits are manufactured from biocompatible PA12 on HP Multi Jet Fusion printers which enables the components to be made at low cost and delivered quickly for immediate use in hospitals.  The material can be washed and sterilised.

Long-term applications for these kits can be for use as patient transfer masks or by aged care facilities here in Australia.  Our data will be made available to other countries whose hospitals are still under enormous strain or face a second wave and may need alternative recovery and treatment plans.

Cobalt was proud to have the opportunity to lead this humanitarian initiative, inspired by all the other designers, engineers and medics working under the pressure of rising patient deaths in Italy & Belgium.  The bravery and innovative thinkers of the doctors & ICU teams at the COVID Hub at Sunshine Hospital and all hospital staff across the Australia continues to energise our passion to help.

Particular thanks to the proactive support of AMTIL and the Advance Manufacturing Hub for the assistance on the project.  Their urgency and commitment to make available a Build it Better voucher fuelled a concentrated effort. We are also grateful for the liaison and knowledge sharing  of Dr Carl Le from Supercars headquarters and Barry Ryan from Erebus Medical who are also refining a number of medical products to help fill the void of PPE to protect medical staff from the virus.

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Advatek - Build It Better

Building it Better with Advatek Lighting and AM Hub

Lighting company Advatek wanted a new generation of their PixLite controller, and partnered with Cobalt to rapidly embody their unique technology in a rugged, configurable and compact body. Cobalt developed the industrial design and production engineering of the range working in close collaboration resulting in an accelerated 4-month timeline to market entry.

The DfAM (Design for Additive Manufacturing) process fast tracked the engineering stages due to product testing and functional reviews being able to be applied to additive manufactured assemblies.  This accelerated program was made possible by Advatek contracting Cobalt as a registered Service provider under the ‘Build It Better’ Voucher program, established by the AMTIL AM Hub.

The ‘Build It Better’ voucher program involves a grant for small to medium manufacturing businesses in Victoria looking to increase their integration of additive manufacturing. The grant provides up to $20,000 in matched funding for these businesses looking to redesign or re-engineer an existing product or create a new one. The funding can be applied toward design expertise, engineering support, business case development, materials selection and/or prototyping support.

In any fast-paced product development, rapid prototyping and iterative sketching are critical validation tools. The exceptionally compressed time frame demands of our project for Advatek were made possible by Cobalt utilising a Design for Additive Manufacture (DfAM) workflow throughout our engineering programme, while facilitating standard injection moulding constraints, such as draft and wall thickness. The Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) process was used for product trials and pilot volume market entry, and seamlessly transitioned to injection moulding for high volume production.

The result significantly upgrades Advatek Lighting’s product design presence and will underpin its global expansion within this specialised, but growing field of large-format LED lighting installation. View our case study here.

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Product Design and Sustainability TB

Cobalt’s work for KeepCup case studied in international textbook

At Cobalt we believe design should improve the world we live in. Following sustainable practices, engaging in socially responsible design and using our technical know-how helps us solve these practical design problems.

Sharing our experience and helping to educate in design and sustainability are some of the ways we can make a positive impact.

Recently, UK-based author Jane Penty invited Cobalt Principal Steve Martinuzzo to contribute to her new textbook Product Design and Sustainability (Strategies, Tools and Practice, 1st Edition), aimed at design students, practitioners and educators. In the textbook, Penty writes on the principles of sustainability, the integration of sustainable strategies in design practices and introduces a diverse range of social, economic and environmental design tools.

According to Steve “it was an honour to be involved in this book, especially as Jane wanted to use real projects as case studies, and practical educational resources for sustainable design are still quite uncommon”.

Topics covered in include how our research and insights guided the final design, and what techniques were used to overcome obstacles for changing consumer behaviours; from disposable to reusable. “Changing behaviours was our biggest challenge and in the end, our greatest sense of achievement. Focussing on deeper user empathy, barista experience and adding unique value to the reusable coffee cup experience ultimately led us to a design that not only allows KeepCup owners to express themselves through their choice of colours and materials, but also use a reusable cup that is as functional as it is beautiful.”

As a final takeaway, in the book Steve says he believes “more and more clients will genuinely care about products that reduce – rather than add – to the problems of waste, excess and social exclusion.”

Product Design and Sustainability by Jane Penty is now a globally prescribed text book across a number of Architecture and Product Design tertiary subjects. It is available for purchase here.

Information sourced from © Routledge 2019. Product Design and Sustainability (Strategies, Tools and Practice, 1st Edition) by Jane Penty.

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Boost Your Business 2019 R4

Round 4 Boost Your Business Vouchers Now Open!

Boost Your Business (BYB) is a Victorian program supporting businesses to become more productive, employ more people, improve export and profitability. Round 4 is now open.

The BYB initiative targets small to medium sized businesses (SMEs) who are on a growth trajectory and want to implement a project that meet’s the program’s criteria. ‘Vouchers’ or blocks of funding are provided that can be put towards a number of specialised services, including product development.

Cobalt is a Registered Service Provider for the BYB program under the Advanced Manufacturing Voucher Stream. Under this program, eligible projects receive matched funding to cover development activities up to a maximum of $50,000.

This means that if your business is eligible to receive a Voucher from the Victorian Government, you can put that funding towards accessing Cobalt’s 20+ years of industry expertise in product development. Using the funding Cobalt can help commercialise your product with:

  • Product design and engineering
  • Small volume production
  • Product testing, validation, prototyping and verification
  • Conduct research and development activities

In a previous round, Cobalt worked with BMPRO to design their new line of recreational vehicle (RV) power management systems and battery chargers. Securing this incentive provided a considerable boost to the project, allowing BMPRO to fast-track development and capitalise on the opportunity to expand  into the US market. Read more about the project here.

To showcase this project and BYB, Cobalt’s animation team have created an informational video below.

Applications for Round 4 of BYB close Sunday 22 December 2019. 

Naturally, as with any government program, terms, conditions and criteria apply, which you can read more about on their website here. In summary; if you’re a small business looking for product design excellence, Cobalt can help (along with a boost courtesy of the Victorian Government).

Interested? Then be quick! The fourth round of the voucher offers ends on Sunday the 22nd of Dec 2019. Get started with LaunchPad, or give us a call on (03) 9320 2230 so we can help give you the boost you need.

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boost your business

Boost Your Business 2019

Round 3 Boost Your Business Vouchers Now Open!

Cobalt is pleased to yet again be named as a Registered Service Provider within the Boost Your Business initiative for 2019.

‘Boost Your Business’ is a Victorian Government program supporting Victorian businesses to become more productive, employ more people, improve market access and profitability.

The initiative aids small to medium sized businesses (SMEs) that are on a growth trajectory and wish to implement a project that has the potential to deliver long term benefits such as improved productivity, jobs growth and/or increased exports. ‘Vouchers’ or blocks of funding provided can be put towards specialised services from registered providers in the areas of marketing, intellectual property management, research & development, business processing – and most excitingly product development.

This means that if your business is eligible to receive a Voucher from the Victorian Government, you can put that funding towards accessing Cobalt’s 20+ years of industry expertise in product development.

Using the funding you can work towards:

  • Progressing the commercialisation of a product
  • Funding product design activities
  • Small volume production
  • Product testing, validation, prototyping and verification
  • Conduct research and development activities

The program is open to Victorian-based businesses with a registered ABN, and have either 20-200 staff OR an annual turnover greater than $1.5M. The vouchers can range up to $50,000, on a dollar for dollar basis – a considerable boost for a business on the rise.

Naturally, as with any government program, terms, conditions and criteria apply, which you can read more about on their website here. In summary; if you’re a small business looking for product design excellence, Cobalt can help (along with a boost courtesy of the Victorian Government).

Interested? Then be quick! The third round of the voucher offers ends on Sunday the 12th of May 2019. Get started with LaunchPad, or give us a call on (03) 9320 2230 so we can help give you the boost you need.

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Cobalt Joins AMTIL

Cobalt is thrilled to announce that we’ve recently joined the Australian Manufacturing Technology industry association – or AMTIL for short.

AMTIL is the peak national body that represents manufacturing technology suppliers and users within engineering and advanced manufacturing industries.  Their reputation as a leading industry body has been demonstrated by being appointed to administer government industry grant schemes. This includes the recently announced Victorian “Build It Better” voucher grant*.

Cobalt understands finding the right manufacturing partner(s) can make or break a project.  According to Cobalt Principal, Warwick Brown, “One of Cobalt’s strengths is helping our clients expertly and independently find excellent suppliers especially when transitioning from design/development to production”.  And while Cobalt has decades of real world experience and an established network of suppliers, our AMTIL membership will allow us to expand our network and push our production support capabilities into emerging and advanced manufacturing.

Cobalt’s ‘Manufacturing Technology User’ membership provides us (and our clients) with access to:

  • Extensive manufacturing networks
  • Advanced manufacturing grants
  • Industry events and tradeshows (AusTech etc.)
  • Marketing and exposure (AMT Magazine etc.)
  • Breaking manufacturing news
  • AMTIL programs and platforms
  • Government representation

In addition, through AMTIL events and programmes, our engineers and designers can keep abreast of additive and advanced manufacturing technologies, ensuring we apply the latest thinking to our client projects.

We look forward to the near future with AMTIL.

* AMTIL and the Victorian Government have joined forces to provide small to medium manufacturing businesses in Victoria with funding of up to $20,000 to undertake redesign/reengineering projects to increase their adoption of additive manufacturing technology. The Build It Better grant supports Victorian companies wishing to explore additive manufacturing technology. The grant runs for three years, starting from October 2018; a total grant budget of $1.3 million over three years is available for Victorian businesses. Find out more at: https://www.ppt.com.au/build-better-grant-sme-manufacturers/

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Smart custom vehicle for one of Victoria’s biggest projects

The West Gate Tunnel Project (WGTP) is a major road project that will relieve traffic congestion in Melbourne’s inner west.

To keep the public updated on the latest news during the construction, Cobalt worked with the WGTP construction companies building the project, CPB Contractors and John Holland Joint Venture, to design and supply their Mobile Info Hub – an innovative community engagement solution that reaches communities across the project’s footprint.

The WGTP Mobile Info Hub is geared toward simplicity and mobility, building off Cobalt’s experience with automotive projects like the Innovito van, which won the 2016 Mercedes Benz ‘Hack My Van’ competition. Applying our Design Thinking process, Cobalt converted a Mercedes-Benz Vito van into a mobile code teaching environment, complete with lightweight fold-out desks and 3D printers.

Similar to our winning concept, the WGTP Mobile Info Hub is a self-contained ‘pop-up’ installation that can be driven between community events and provides people with an important hands-on experience to facilitate their knowledge of the project. It positively draws people and families into the space, creating a great first impression and making the Mobile Info Hub a destination rather than an obstacle.

The WGTP Mobile Info Hub is designed to be easily set up by two people in a matter of minutes. It does this by cleverly containing everything required to set up the full display, including:

  • In-built interactive LCD screens
  • Trestle tables including a map of the project
  • A self-supporting canopy for increased interaction space, sun and rain protection
  • An easy-access fridge
  • Hidden material and equipment storage space

Vibrant graphics were chosen to wrap around the Mobile Info Hub’s exterior panels, showcasing key elements of the project and to capture the interest of passers-by. The decals also compliment the overall design of Mobile Info Hub to ensure it is seen by the community as an approachable, credible and aesthetically-pleasing source of information.

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Cobalt: By The Numbers

Cobalt: By The Numbers

Since founding Cobalt, we’ve worked on a huge number and variety of amazing design projects.

So along the way we’ve also amassed a heap of metrics which, in their own way, give an insight into the design process and our approach to product development.

At Cobalt believe that knowledge is vital for excellence and evaluation is critical to improvement. The backbone and central-nervous system of Cobalt’s project and company information resides within our custom database system, Lynx. Within Lynx every number, fact and byte of operational information is stored, and each bit of these can be accessed and analysed in moments.

So what started off as a proper analysis a couple of months ago, has been added to by pulling together some of the more quirky statistics we’ve collected over our first 22 years of design practice. So, if you’re into numbers here are many to enjoy! And for the rest, we hope you have a giggle at some of the more amusing facts we’ve pulled out.


  • Number of Principals: 3
  • Principal/Director changes since foundation: 0
  • Period that Cobalt’s Principals studied Industrial Design together at RMIT University: 1983 to 1987

Project Experience

  • Projects since 1996: 1200+
  • Years of combined product development experience across all staff: 218
  • Number of individual moulded, tooled or manufactured parts designed by Cobalt that were commissioned for production last calendar year: 294
  • Average number of proposed stages per year: 392
  • Average number of client projects actively operating at any one time: 29
  • Total number of clients since 1996: 476

Records & Recognition

  • Design awards and industry prizes won or awarded: 30+
  • Net Promoter Score (2012 survey): 65
  • Highest production volume design: 8,000,000+ KeepCups
  • Cobalt designed the product which has been in longest continuous production – the Icon (Nylex) 35L Slide Top Bin): 1996

Serious Processes & Facilities

  • Individual timesheet records across all staff last calendar year: 9565
  • Typical ratio of tasks in a full new product development (NPD) project:
    • Design and Insights: 26%
    • Engineering and CDP+Alpha prototypes: 46%
    • Resolution: 17%
    • Transfer to Production and Beta prototypes: 7%
    • Marketing Support (Animation): 5%
  • Dollars invested in Cobalt’s prototyping workshop since 2016: $200,000
  • Metres of 3D-Printing filament used inhouse annually: 5000+
  • Hours spent on staff training last calendar year: 2035

Global Focus

  • Proportion of international clients versus Australian clients: 30:70 approx
  • Average number of countries Cobalt crew have lived or travelled in: 12
  • Days Cobalt staff were on site with global suppliers in Asia, 2017: 53

Connected Teamwork

  • Average age of Cobalt’s team members: 34
  • Percent of tertiary educated consulting staff: 100%
  • Languages in addition to English, spoken by Cobalt team members: 6
  • Percent of Cobalt staff who regularly walk, ride or public-transport to work: 63%
  • Total annual meals enjoyed by Cobalt crew at Friday pub lunches: 411
  • Careers supported through internships with Swinburne/other universities: 15

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10 years of keepcup

10 Years of KeepCup

10 Years of KeepCup

For the last decade, the Cobalt-designed KeepCup has changed the way people drink coffee around the world.

Abigail & Jamie Forsyth first approached Cobalt in 2008 looking to develop a new reusable coffee cup. The brother and sister team had a decade of coffee-related insights running their café ‘Bluebag’ in Melbourne, and sought to reduce the use of the thousands of disposable cups they were giving away to customers every week. Reusable cups already existed, but none had captured the hearts and minds of consumers.

Armed with insight, Abigail & Jamie engaged Cobalt to develop what would become the iconic KeepCup. Originally titled Project ‘Infinit’ (given the re-usable nature of the cup), Cobalt finished refining the cup in July 2008. Ten years later, over 8 million KeepCups had been sold, diverting potential billions of disposable cups from landfill across the globe.

Watching the success of the KeepCup over the last 10 years has been professionally satisfying for us at Cobalt. From the Original KeepCup has stemmed further design variants, including the KeepCup Brew, with a tempered soda-lime glass body and sustainable cork band, or the KeepCup LongPlay which features a removable Tritan booster to increase durability, retain temperature and protect the user’s hand from heat.

Here at Cobalt we’ve been proud to share this journey with KeepCup as their design partners for every detail; from the cup’s iconic silhouette to giving technical support through all production steps.

KeepCup has surpassed milestone after milestone in the last ten years, such as being named Melbourne’s Business of the Year in the City of Melbourne’s Business 3000 awards in 2009. Other awards have included the USA Gourmet Product Award, the Australian Eco Buy Award, Most Innovative Product Award from the International Autumn Fair in the UK, as well as a suite of other international victories, commendations, and finalist places. The worldwide success of the KeepCup brand has also opened them up to partnerships with leading brands, like their partnership with Sea Shepherd or the exclusive Star Wars KeepCups.

Something worth far more than the accolades, however, is the way that KeepCup normalised the perception of reusable coffee cups. The proliferation of knock-off & imitations is evidence of the real behavioural change Keepcup’s design has fostered.

We look forward to applying our creativity for another decade to keep KeepCup as an exemplar, sustainable product.

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IXL Fresco Aurora

An outdoor appliance like no other

The Fresco Aurora is an elegant outdoor heater which combines radiant heating with mood and task lighting to create a unique product. Its inbuilt dual 1000W carbon fibre medium wave IR heat lamps generate enough heat to keep outdoor diners perfectly comfortable, even on cool winter nights, while the inbuilt coloured mood lighting allows users to set an atmosphere for different occasions.

IXL have been leaders in home appliances for over 150 years. The challenge for the Fresco Aurora was aspirational; it needed to stand out from IXL’s back-catalogue of appliances and reinvigorate the brand.

Cobalt was brought on board to design the exterior form of the heater. We needed to accommodate technical requirements into a chic, aesthetically pleasing form to compliment a variety of outdoor environments.

“There’s no denying the benefits of ’smarthome’ products are fuelling people’s interest in this category. And now this tech-driven approach has been applied to outdoor appliances,” says Cobalt Principal Steve Martinuzzo.

“With alfresco areas and outdoor entertaining being such a huge trend in Australia, the IXL Fresco Aurora was designed for comfort, performance and ease of control.”

The Fresco Aurora was also designed to be lightweight and heat resistant. Lighting systems are often prone to overheating – a concern that’s amplified when the lighting system doubles as an outdoor heater. By utilising heat resistant materials and ambient infrared heating, IXL ensured the Fresco Aurora can safely operate passively without fault.

The weight of the unit was also designed to be as minimal as possible. The colour-varying LED light strips illuminate on both sides of the appliance’s triangular form, giving a complete ambient atmosphere in an outdoor dining area. As a result, the appliance could only be roof mounted, as opposed to alternative appliances which could be mounted on walls as well. This fact came with its own set of problems and challenges, all of which Cobalt worked tirelessly to solve.

The end result is an outdoor entertaining appliance like no other. The Aurora’s sleek design and ambient functionality doesn’t just transform an outdoor space into a cosy, ambient dining experience; it’s pushed IXL’s appliance line into the modern era through innovative features and human-centred design.

Promotional images courtesy of IXL

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