From the moment COVID-19 began spreading in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended people wash their hands after contact with what are called high-touch surfaces, including elevator buttons, handrails and doorknobs, among other mundane areas encountered almost daily.
For non-essential workers, it’s been relatively easy to avoid most of those surfaces by following the government’s mandates to stay home. But as the U.S. begins transitioning back to out-of-home work, a new challenge it is facing is how to prevent the coronavirus from reemerging in the workplace.
5th Axis Inc., a San Diego company that is locally known for its manufacturing and machining services, has introduced its latest product called StepHandle. After prototyping and testing many variations, 5th Axis announced it had developed what it deemed the easiest and most sanitary way to open a door hands-free. Uniquely designed to enable people to open stationary doors without using their hands, the company anticipates a high demand as workers flock back to work.
“In an effort to keep our workers safe during this global pandemic, we created this simple and safe way to avoid the spread of viruses and germs,” said Chris Taylor, co-founder. “We are excited to bring a product to market that can help other businesses around the world step into safety.”
Founded in 2004
Founded in 2004 by Taylor and his business partner Steve Grangetto, entrepreneurs and San Diego natives, the company plans to create more than 50 jobs in California as a result of its latest product. Manufactured in the U.S., the founders invested $250,000 in equipment to support demand and plan to keep production in the states.
The StepHandle is a necessity for small and large businesses to provide a hands-free option for its workers and customers, said Taylor. Using the included hardware and a drill, StepHandle is easy to install in less than 90 seconds on almost any type of latch-less door, he said.
Keeping Workers Safe
StepHandle’s innovation lies in its gripper teeth and raised lip, providing traction without sticking in the wearer’s shoe tread. Angled at 20 degrees, the door can easily be opened using a shoe and the StepHandle device doesn’t sit high enough on the shoe to be a tripping hazard, said Taylor.
Taylor said the idea for the product came after wanting to do something to keep their workers safe.
“It was something that we saw a need for,” he said. “We saw a similar product, found problems and made some improvements. Right now because of the virus, there’s a huge amount of awareness and a need for a way to open doors without touching dirty door handles.”
Previous problems competitors had in their attempts ranged from not being sturdy enough, bending when used, or not designed universally to be used with different shoe types. Taylor believes the StepHandle solves all three issues and is currently being offered at a fraction of the cost at about $60 for a set of two.
The product is not designed for in-home purposes, he said. Instead it is to be used by businesses who have commercial doors, front doors, bathrooms and all doors that require a pulling action to open.
In terms of its product rollout strategy, the company launched an ecommerce website and plans to sell the StepHandle through multiple distribution channels. Partners include San Diego hardware giant Dixieline, Marshall’s Industrial Hardware, online retailer Amazon and local locksmiths, among others.
“We estimate that we could be selling as many as four to five thousand of these products a day, pretty quickly,” said Taylor. “Our goal is to reach 50,000 to 100,000 per month. If we can do that, theoretically we could be making about $1 million to $2 million a month.”
Now patent pending, StepHandle is being mass produced at a rate of a thousand a day. Taylor, who leads 5th Axis’s developments and patents, said he started the company through the help of a private bank loan. Starting with only one machine, the business employs roughly 150 in total.
An industry leader in production, 5th Axis machining focuses on advanced software, machinery and robotics. The company has been contracted by the likes of General Atomics, SpaceX and Inovio Pharmaceuticals, among others.
5th Axis generates income from two business units: contract work and by selling its own products. In particular, it sells to other machine shops across the globe who are involved in CNC machining and need precision tools.
Due to COVID-19, the company had several big customers cancel or postpone deliveries this year, which prompted them to launch StepHandle to avoid moving backwards.
So far, 5th Axis has created five new jobs with employees working in manufacturing, packing and shipping. The company owns multiple buildings headquartered in Kearny Mesa and reached $23 million in revenue last year.
Now, Taylor hopes to keep the momentum going.
“We’re hoping it’s not just a fad and that six months from now nobody cares anymore,” he said. “Long term, I think it’s going to be healthier for our society in general to have better sanitary habits. If this sticks and is not just a ‘flash in the pan,’ then we will continue to add new products and turn it into a long term sustaining business.”