The Rhino Shelf Design Story

  • Rhino Shelf History

    The Rhino Shelf Design Story

    How did the Rhino Shelf® product come to be?  We'll explain specific design features of the product in two parts - one concerns engineering and is somewhat technically oriented (skip to the end if you find the daily job of the engineer a bit tedious - there are those of us who love it, however). The second concerns the utility and features/advantages/benefits of the system from the user's viewpoint.  Both are illustrative of how a product idea gets to market.

    First, Rhino Shelf is the leading product of our company, Innovative Design Technologies LLC.  We are, at base, an engineering design company, offering our services to turn product ideas into finished designs, and prototyping new products and designing them for manufacturability. One such product idea was a commercial garage shelf system for the homeowner.

    The local builder's guild approached us to design a system their trim carpenters could install in the "unused space in the top of the garage." The builders required the system to 1) maintain the structural integrity of the garage, 2) provide a high return-on-investment, 3) be simple to install based on existing tools and skills, and 4) enhance and give competitive advantage to the builders' product in the marketplace.

    The first three requirements were basically engineering questions.  We proceeded with our normal engineering process, developing various proposals and constructed and tested prototype models.  Considered were three basic variations: Two were wall-mounted systems, one with a "stiff knee" diagonal supporting the shelf from underneath and the other with the diagonal suspending the shelf from the wall on top of the shelf.  The third was a ceiling-hung system with the shelf suspended from the ceiling with vertical supports.

    The ceiling hung option washed out almost immediately.  First, it was difficult for one person to install; second, it required a higher skill level to install and enhanced safety precautions, both for the carpenter and to protect the structure; third, it was not sufficiently adjustable for varying garage ceiling heights without multiple parts options; and fourth, it tended to block the light in an already minimally lighted enclosure.  Further engineering development could possibly have eliminated or minimized these shortcomings, but we think the system would always have required semi-custom installation.  Then we ran into one additional drawback.  With the advent of new engineered joist and truss components, and the new building codes that accompanied them, the load capacity of the system was reduced by at least 67% and potentially as high as 75%. Further, the companies that were manufacturing the joist/truss systems told us in no uncertain terms that fastening anything to their joists would be considered an impermissible modification and would void their warranty.  Done!

    The winning design between the two wall-supported systems was, somewhat surprisingly - the top diagonal support.  The stiff-knee design tended to buckle over time under static compression unless the diagonal component was reinforced to an uneconomical or cumbersome degree.  The added weight and cost was much higher than the suspended design and also limited our material choices.  The stiff-knees also interfered with under-shelf storage and vehicle door clearances in narrow garages.

    The top-mounted diagonals, which we initially thought would interfere with storing larger items on the shelves, actually gave us a product advantage and were much preferred by users.  It turns out people usually don't keep large items such as kayaks or surfboards on top of the shelves - they are suspended underneath. The diagonals serve to contain the boxes and the totes that are stored on the shelves, keeping them from falling off when adding additional items to the shelves.

    The technical challenge to this design was to minimize the tension and twisting load on the upper wall-fastening systems, turning the load vectors, insofar as possible, into compression loading of the wall stud support systems - something the stiff-knee is superior at. New computer aided design technology came to our aid and we were able to quantify the challenge more precisely than former technology allowed, and we were able to confidently design a "fail-safe" system to protect the structural integrity of the wall and still provide the greatest load-bearing capacity in the industry.

    At this point, the product was almost completely designed - or so we thought.  This is when we met NAPO (the National Association of Professional Organizers). The builders matched us up with them to identify ultimate user or homeowner requirements. NAPO members know their stuff (pun intended). They had a variety of product suggestions, some minor tweaks and some more significant design modifications. Luckily, none reversed any of our design decisions to that point, instead giving us additional design enhancements.

    The first major change was that the shelf dimensions needed to accommodate the largest 30 and 35-gallon plastic stackable storage totes.  "These are our workhorse containers and no other shelf on the market will accommodate them the long way." It had to be the long way for ease of sliding the tote into place, so we added about 7" to the depth of the shelves (along with re-specifying the lag screws, modify the installation procedures, devising a gauge as an aid to installation, etc., etc.). Bottom line, five  boards instead of four and bigger fasteners. Why are our shelves 33 1/2" deep? We'd like to tell you that this is a precisely derived measurement based on computer-aided design, but it's not.  The top of the 35-gallon tote measures 32 1/2" and we added an additional inch for clearance in the back and board spacing.  Engineering ain't always a science!

    Last, but not least, the NAPO nixed any thoughts on our part of replacing wood components in the shelf decking with metals "slats." They demanded that our shelves accept the "hundreds of screw-in hooks and brackets" already designed for wood that are available in any big-box or hardware store for about a buck. They pointed out that every other commercial-grade system required proprietary hooks and fasteners for which they command a premium price.

    That's it. Oh, there's a lot more about choice of materials, anti-corrosion and di-electric effects, and so forth, but I'll save that till someone wants to know why we used aerospace aluminum instead of some other material.

    One last thing - it was at this point that the builders asked if we could also manufacture the shelves for them. Turns out we could - 100% American Designed - 100% American Made - RHINO SHELF!