Designing a better coffee carrier

Animated gif showing the conversion from 2 cup to 4 cup carrying mode for the Wingman carrier

Many years ago… I was in the habit of fetching coffee on the regular from my local costa coffee. Typically I’d be getting two coffees, one for me and one for my wife. At that time they offered the style of carrier pictured above. This was a pretty simple design, punched/cut out of flat cardboard, they just had a stack of these which quick folded up and around the cups to create a pretty decent carrier. They also have a 4 cup version holding 4 cups all in a line.

Then one day… I arrived to find that those carrier were gone and have been replaced with these dreadful things

I have no idea who thought these were a good idea, or in what scenario they are good. They basically turn what can be a one-handed operation into a two-handed operation. The two-cup variant is harder to pick up and everything feels less stable. I assume they’re cheaper to produce, but even that seems strange since the flat cardboard cutting must have been pretty well set up. Perhaps this type of cardboard is more recyclable than the glossy flat stuff?

Regardless, this sent me on a multi-year journey to develop the worlds best coffee carrier.

The above represents a half way mark on my quest. It was not the first design, but it was the first that went into active use by me. Seen here in it’s folded up form it met two important criteria I had. I wanted my design to fold flat for easy carrying, throwing in a bag etc. and I wanted to be able to hold my coffees from a handle with one hand. ideally from one finger when necessary.

At the time I was very keen on the idea of print-in-place designs. There was a great temptation for this in 3D printing to support creations that you could not achieve in any other way. So in this first design, I made the top of the handle hinged. Looking back, I’m not really sure I remember why I thought that was a good idea. One of the early concepts had the handle stretched out long and clipped to the base carrier when not in use. But as the design evolved, I hit upon this design for the handle ends.

By creating a cross shaped cut out in the base I could clip the handle sidewise and when in use the cross locks into the base and creates a rigid structure for the handle and a secure mounting to carry your coffee.

This did somewhat justify the hinged top section as you need this flexibility to clip the handle in place. but the clipping into the base plate sideways was never particularly firm and the handle had a tendency to separate when carried in a bag.

Regardless this is the design I used for a few years and it is the design I shared on thingiverse:

Then the pandemic happened

For a year or so I got completely out of the habit of fetching takeout coffee, my carrier went into a cupboard, or a box or something and was forgotten. Then as the world re-opened and coffee was back on the menu, I could not find it. So I printed it again. but I also saw it with fresh eyes and a renewed interest in the design. I actually posed to tiktok about the carrier and wound up getting >200k views

This provided plenty of feedback to learn that a) people like the idea and b) a lot of people really need 4 cup carry capacity

And so I returned to fusion360 and started in on an improved design. This time I had 2 key goals:

  1. I wanted the finished product to be 1 piece, that is to say the handle needed to hinge flat rather than disconnect and reconnect
  2. I wanted a design that could carry 2 cups OR 4 cups within the same design

This time I had a desire to see if I could make not just a design but a ‘product’. It’s all well and good making something that I’m happy to use for my own purposes. But what about being suitable for a wide range of people and their daily needs? what about something good enough that people would part with cold hard cash to get one?

That meant a design that could be made in a sensible amount of time, and from materials that are a little more ‘premium’? producty? As much as I like 3d printing, I wanted a design that could ALSO be made using the laser cutter or cnc machine for different material choices.

After another long round of prototypes and thinking, the Wingman coffee carrier was born

Hopefully the lineage to the old design is somewhat clear. but this is also an entirely new construction. the handle is now hinged and the base is now laser cut acrylic.

I designed the hinge to have a slight resistance in the horizontal and vertical positions. So the handle tends to want to stay closed, or stay open. This the result of testing an original hinge design where it was too fiddly to get it to stand ready on the counter to receive coffees.

And of course there are the ‘wings’. It bacme important to me that in my regular usage of getting 2 cups that I be using the same carrier that can also hold 4 cups. There is a challenge there to make a design sufficiently robust to take the weight of 4 cups, but I believe I have created the necessary design elements to ensure a secure hold in both orientations.

I can also produce these in a range of colour combinations and easily laser on branding to the acrylic. Either my own, or I can provide the option to engrave customer requested designs/wording onto the acrylic surfaces.

And so there it is, years of experience fetching coffee distilled into the world’s best coffee carrier. And now available for sale.

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