Dec 13, 2018

From Nickelodeon’s design studio to the manufacturing plant in China, here’s a start to finish look at how the PAW Patrol 6V Ride-on Fire Truck made it to Walmart’s shelves

Shortly after all the presents were unwrapped last holiday, retailers were already planning for the 2018 season.

That’s when Kevin Martin, senior director of retail development with Viacom Nickelodeon consumer products, got a call from the toy buyer who specializes in ride-ons at Walmart, asking to collaborate on a PAW Patrol ride-on fire truck to be exclusively sold at the retailer. It was an easy decision for Martin and the Nickelodeon consumer products retail team since ride-ons are a popular toy for ages three to five and fire trucks in general are particularly big for preschoolers. Add in the PAW Patrol characters—a consistently strong consumer products brand—and it would have the makings of an “it” toy.

The 6V-Powered PAW Patrol Marshall Fire Truck has exceeded expectations. Walmart named the truck on its list of most popular toys for the 2018 holiday season.

Here’s a look at how the 6V-Powered PAW Patrol Marshall Fire Truck came to market.

Moving concept to cartoon reality

First up, Walmart presents its expectations for the item. They asked it be powered by a 6V battery, fit one passenger, and that it ship to stores in August in time for the redesign of stores for the holiday season.

Once the details were agreed upon, Pacific Cycle, the manufacturer, sent Freddy Tutiven, vice president, creative director of toys, 3D and games at Viacom Nickelodeon consumer products, and his team a concept drawing. It’s a detailed image of the fire truck with its physical features, colors and accessories.

Since Tutiven and his team work frequently with Pacific Cycle, the editing process was relatively quick. They tweaked the size of the grille on the truck’s bumper, making it thinner than on TV because designers worried a wider grille would get stuck in the steel mold during manufacturing. The initial drawing also had an ax as an accessory but since the characters don’t carry one on TV, Anthony Lamberty, senior designer of boy’s toys at Viacom Nickelodeon consumer products, took it out and added a hat. An editorial team ensured that the sounds the truck makes matches the sounds from the show’s fire engine.

The initial drawing had a PAW Patrol insignia on the truck’s grille, but the designers worried it wouldn’t be clear that it belongs to Marshall. “It's sometimes hard to interpret a character's vehicle into a toy because without having the character, there's a disconnect,” says Lamberty. “So with this item we needed to make sure we had a lot of character art on the item so that we knew that it was Marshall’s, [the main character in PAW Patrol].” Using Photoshop and Illustrator, Lamberty drew a blue line over the drawing to add a badge with an image of Marshall. Ultimately, four badges appear on the truck and the accompanying fire hose.

“We wanted the kid riding the truck to role play and become Marshall,” says Terry Cyr, senior director of product development at Pacific Cycle.


Perfecting the manufacturing process

Once the design is approved, Pacific Cycle’s designers built a 3D computer-aided design that allowed them to make a prototype with a 3D printer. They took meticulous photos of the prototype to get final approval from Tutevin and his team. (The prototype is typically too expensive and fragile to send.) This is the last chance to make changes since the next step is creating a custom steel tool—like a mold—that manufactures the toy in China.

“It's a half-a-million dollar tool, so you’ve got to get it right the first time,” says Lamberty.

During that final check, “we’re making sure that there're certain rivets, that the piping is correct and that the fenders are the right shape. I have QuickTime movie files of Marshall's fire truck spinning and the digital object file that they use for animation, so I’m looking at all the details of the truck from the show.”

"It's a half-a-million dollar tool, so you’ve got to get it right the first time."

Next, the manufacturing plant in China creates the mold. The shape of the vehicle is carved out of large blocks of steel; a machine shaves off, layer by layer, until the shape of the fire truck has been carved out. It can take two to three months of continuous shaving to make the mold. They do this process for all the parts of the truck—about 50 distinct molds.

When all the molds are ready, melted plastic is injected inside and sits for a few minutes. It cools quickly thanks to cooling lines filled with cold water that sit inside the mold. Then, as the mold opens, built-in pins push the plastic out, where an assembly worker collects it.

From there, the parts are put together on an assembly line, where about 100 fire trucks are completed daily.

Turning pictures into packaging

The packaging of all Nickelodeon-branded toys follows an established style guide. For PAW Patrol, that means the character or characters must be on the package, and it has to feature the PAW Patrol and Nickelodeon logos. Often large toy boxes just have one side of color illustrations and pictures but in this case, the manufacturer decided to invest in putting it on all sides of the box.

“That’s great for shelf presence and hopefully contributes to sales of the item,” says Jonathan Shao, senior package designer in the global creative group of Viacom Nickelodeon consumer products.

With Christmas just a couple weeks away, it’s already time to consider 2019’s slate of toys. Thanks to the success of the Marshall fire truck, Walmart is expanding the number of ride-ons for next year, likely adding more PAW Patrol characters and possibly Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

“We’re on a roll,” says Jonathan Roman, senior vice president of licensing at Viacom Nickelodeon consumer products. “They were waiting to see how these did before they went forward with more. The sales were good so they gave us the green-light.”