Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Sugru: A gripping tale of struggle and success

Sugru is a silicone material that can be hand-molded to repair or enhance a variety of domestic products. Sugru is a silicone material that can be hand-molded to repair or enhance a variety of domestic products.
HIDE CAPTION
Sugru: the flexible fix
Protecting your iPhone
Inventor sticks to the task
Tapping into Sugru's potential
Bringing broken things back to life
Focus on bespoke fixes
Personalize your possessions
Substance and style
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sugru is a self-setting rubber material which sticks tight to almost any surface
  • Irish inventor tells CNN about how she created the versatile product and its worldwide success
  • Silicone-based product molds like putty but remains extremely strong and supple
  • Sugru hacks regularly posted on Twitter and YouTube by satisfied customers

(CNN) -- It´s the ultimate repair tool. A silicone material that can be shaped like playdough, can bond to almost any surface and after a few hours of exposure to air becomes a super tough, durable rubber.

"Sugru" - coming from the Irish word for "play" - is now being used to fix leaky pipes, create custom-made handles and even help a disabled, fingerless canoeist modify one of her paddles.

Unlike existing moldable putty, Sugru doesn't go rock hard when dry, but stays flexible, waterproof and heat resistant up to 180 degrees Celsius (356 degrees Fahrenheit).

"We think that Sugru can be something as big or bigger than duct tape, superglue or anything else that you use to repair," says its Irish-born inventor Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh.

Read: The little cube that changed the world

"We think that Sugru can be something as big or bigger than duct tape, superglue or anything else that you use to repair
Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh

However, like many great inventions before, it only came into existence by chance.

Ni Dhulchaointigh, a design student at the Royal College of Art in London at the time, had been messing around in the workshop, trying out new combinations of materials when she started mixing silicone adhesive and wood-waste into small balls.

They looked like wood when finished, but when you threw them on the floor they would bounce. "I thought, that's random," says Ni Dhulchaointigh, who admits many other designers might have then left it at that.

"But for me, I knew that there was something there. There was something a little bit magical. I just didn't know what it was."

It was only as she began using bits of the material around her home to repair things that she had what she calls her "eureka moment" and came to realize its real usefulness and application.

Sugru: The future of fixing?
Li-Fi could be the future of the web
The enduring cult of the Rubik's Cube

"Every time I'd make up a batch of it for my experiments, I'd have bits left over. I hate wasting stuff so I started using the leftovers around my house just to fix little things, I modified a kitchen knife that was really uncomfortable. My sink plug was just slightly too small, so I just made a little ring to make that work.

Read: 'Li-Fi' provides a light bulb moment

"I was doing it completely unconsciously. And I was there beating myself up going, I can't find the application for this material, until my boyfriend James said to me one night, maybe there's not this one perfect thing for this material. Maybe what you're doing in the kitchen is actually the thing."

It took six years of hard work before the first packs of her material were being sold to consumers. Her story from the workshop to marketplace, together with the help of business partners and friends, has been a familiar one of luck, near bankruptcy and late salvation.

"It has been a long journey," she says. "First of all, the technology has been difficult to invent. But second of all, you know, we're not a big company with big budgets behind us."

Send your photos of Sugru fixes to CNN's iReport

"We've been doing it on a shoestring for years. And anyone who's ever pitched for investment funding will know it's a bitch. It's really difficult for an unlikely group of people to get investment funding. I mean, we probably pitched to over 100 investors where we got, maybe two or three over the years."

Around 2008, five years after she first came up with the idea, with a product almost ready to launch, Jane and her small team of partners found themselves close to running out of money, as promised investment from major manufacturers failed to materialize.

Watch: See how versatile and strong Sugru is

"We get emails every day with pictures and stories of what people have done. They do things with it that we couldn't have dreamed of
Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh

In a last ditch attempt, they decided to scrape together enough money to build their own "little cottage industry factory" and do it themselves. And with the help of family and friends they put together 1,000 packs.

"What we're quite good at is design, it's what we do, so we had a fantastic package design and a really great website design. When we went live it looked like we were much bigger than we were."

From that point, the investors came on board fast and in less than three years they have ballooned to annual sales of $2 million, a staff of 25 and a customer base of more than 100,000 across 100 countries.

Perhaps, the most unique thing about Sugru is that its practical uses is being demonstrated not by its inventor, but by the general public.

Thousands of people have posted comments and pictures on Twitter, YouTube and other websites showing how they have put the material to good use.

"We get emails every day with pictures and stories of what people have done. They do things with it that we couldn't have dreamed of. It feels like magic sometimes."

Ni Dhulchaointigh says her product is the ultimate tool in the battle against wastefulness.

"I think it can really benefit our urban way of life, where we depend so much on buying new things all the time and replacing them if they're not quite right. It's not only wasteful, but it doesn't make the most of us as human beings with all the potential that we have."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 8, 2014 -- Updated 0939 GMT (1739 HKT)
Engineer Alan Bond has been developing a new concept for space travel for over 30 years -- and his creation is now on the verge of lift off.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1210 GMT (2010 HKT)
Crumbling buildings, burnt-out PCs, and cracked screens -- a new generation of "self-healing" technologies could soon consign them to history.
June 24, 2014 -- Updated 0909 GMT (1709 HKT)
Discover a dancing cactus field, basketball on the Hudson River, and mind-bending 3D projections on robotic screens.
May 23, 2014 -- Updated 1707 GMT (0107 HKT)
Would you live there? Design student Peter Trimble says it's actually a surprisingly good idea.
May 14, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
Alpha Sphere
Singing Tesla coils, musical ice cream, vegetables on drums... and this ball? Find out how "hackers" have created a new generation of instruments.
May 28, 2014 -- Updated 1643 GMT (0043 HKT)
Technology has long learned from nature, but now it's going micro. "Cellular biomimicry" sees designers take inspiration from plant and animal cells.
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1708 GMT (0108 HKT)
Forget wearable tech, embeddable implants are here. Learn more about the pioneers who are implanting devices into their bodies.
May 7, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
A visitor of the 'NEXT Berlin' conference tries out Google Glass, a wearable computer that responds to voice commands and displays information before your eyes. It is expected to go to market in late 2013.
We know how wearable tech can enhance our fitness lives but there's evidence that its most significant application is yet to come: the workplace.
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 0813 GMT (1613 HKT)
Samsung's research unit announces new way to synthesize graphene, potentially opening the door to commercial production.
March 31, 2014 -- Updated 1215 GMT (2015 HKT)
iRobot, creators of vacuuming robot Roomba reveal how they learned from secret experiments -- in space travel, minefields, and toys.
March 28, 2014 -- Updated 1623 GMT (0023 HKT)
A light-bulb glowing in middle of a room with no wires attached. "It's the future," says Dr Katie Hall.
March 3, 2014 -- Updated 1626 GMT (0026 HKT)
Knee replacements that encourage cells to regrow could soon be manufactured -- by spiders. Find out how.
February 14, 2014 -- Updated 1403 GMT (2203 HKT)
Meet Chuck Hull: the humble American engineer who changed the world of manufacturing.
February 6, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
The key to self-knowledge? Or just the return of the phony "mood ring"? Check out our top mood-sensing technology in development.
ADVERTISEMENT