The press, one of the Lab's custom machines - Credit_ MVD Media

Flexible & Affordable R&D On A Smaller Scale At First Track Lab

Started by Selim Abdi, the First Track Lab in Verbier, Switzerland is a R&D facility that offers flexible production of products on a small to medium scale. The facility allows sample products to be made and ready for testing within a day of receiving the product design, all without the traditional mould investment. Yoann Chapel, Managing Partner, explained how the First Track Lab is ‘making it happen’.

What’s the First Track Lab?
The Lab is a unique R&D facility, based in Verbier, Switzerland and specialises in the development of ski, snowboard, wakeboard, and kitesurf equipment. In just a few hours, we can design and prototype products that support innovation within riding sports. Our objective is to transform dreams and projects into reality. In other words, we “make it happen”.

What inspired you to launch the Lab?
The ‘First Track Lab’ idea comes from our own brand experience. We realised launching a new product line is a long, complex, and expensive path where entrepreneurs or established brands have to deal with large manufacturers focused on mass production.

In a classic R&D process, the first step for any brand will be to invest expansively in moulds before they can get some samples to test in real conditions. Weather the product is good or not, the investment is already made and adjustment options are limited.

The Lab’s objective is to simplify this process, make it faster, more flexible, more affordable. At the lab, you can come up with an idea or a design and we will produce it within a day, without mould investment.

How do you “make it happen”?
Our entire production system is designed to be flexible and we can adjust product parameters within minutes. We’ve developed a series of custom machines with flexible components replacing classical tooling such as moulds.

In addition to the setup, our team has years of experience in developing, producing, and marketing skis, snowboards, kiteboards, and wakeboards. We have a unique cross-brand knowledge which makes the entire R&D cycle more efficient, all the way from the business context definition to the prototype production to the testing.

We also collect numerous sets of data (torsion, flex…) on all pieces produced here to get quantitative comparison points vs. traditional tests and feelings in real conditions.

Selim Abdi shaping a ski prototype - Credit_ MVD Media

Selim Abdi shaping a ski prototype – Credit_ MVD Media

Beyond prototype production, do you propose any solutions for manufacturing?
Yes, we do produce some small Swiss-made series here but for wider scale production we work with various factories in Europe and North Africa.

Notably, we have an established partnership with AST in Tunisia (Movement’s historical factory). They propose an excellent quality-price ratio and one of our partners is regularly there to ensure the production quality remains aligned with our Swiss standards.

What about the sustainability component?
In today’s world, sustainability is obviously a major concern for any new player in the industry. Our contribution to sustainability is more efficiency in the design and production of riding equipment, notably limiting back and forth between the production sites and testing areas during the R&D phase.

Our Lab is also entirely powered by sustainable energy (obtained from local dams) and we have set waste reduction programs to limit our material consumption.

We also have a strong historical expertise in using natural materials for riding gear and have developed many products with flax, cork, biomass resins, wood, bamboo etc…

Ahead, our main challenge ahead is finding recycling / upcycling solutions to address the major industrial challenge of end-of-life product.

Who are the people behind the project?
The project was initiated by Selim Abdi, founder of the specialised brand Anticonf and winner of the 2017 ISPO Brandnew award (Hardware Winter category). From his initial designer background, Selim has perfected a solid understanding of riding technologies over the past 15 years by shaping and testing skateboards, snowboards, skis, wakeboards, and kiteboards. Today, Selim is also active on the manufacturing side and can guarantee that new technologies and shapes developed at the Lab are compatible with traditional mass production.

To support the business administration, former agency manager Yoann Chapel is acting as Managing Partner and Account Manager. He’s also coordinating with the operational team and notably Thibaut Lampe, a talented engineer in charge of the prototype production.

Selim Abdi designing a new snowboard - Credit_ MVD Media

Selim Abdi designing a new snowboard – Credit: MVD Media

How do you see the business developing over the next few years?
Beyond the R&D service, we’re receiving more and more requests for small and medium scale Swiss-made production. Our production agenda is nearly full for the coming months and we will invest logically to extend our production capacity.

We believe there is still a lot of room to develop riding equipment and our aim is to make innovation accessible to any brand, no matter its size.

How can our audience get in touch?
It’s simple, you can contact us through our website https://www.firsttracklab.com/ or drop by directly to our Lab if you’re near Verbier.

Header photo: The press, one of the Lab’s custom machines – Credit: MVD Media

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