When DMM first started making climbing equipment in the early 80s, we were at the forefront of new climbing technologies but carabiners were still made with cold forging techniques. A few years later, DMM took the manufacturing processes a step further and introduced hot forging.
In 1993, the Mamba quickdraw was one of the first products DMM launched using hot forging techniques.
Cold forging uses high pressures to change the shape of the bar; it does not allow for the possibility of losing metal and can only accommodate basic designs. Hot forging allows the weight of a carabiner to be reduced by moving metal around to stress points, where it is needed to maintain strength.
According to Chris Rowlands, export account manager at DMM, “hot forging is an efficient way to manufacture something highly complex. The intricate nature of the Mamba design could not be accommodated through cold forging alone. Hot forging with malleable metal bars opened up the possibilities for DMM to design products with more radical shapes which were both lighter and stronger. Since the production of the Mamba, all DMM’s snap gate and locking carabiners are hot forged.”
“As only one carabiner can be made at a time,” says Chris “many people think this is a time consuming process. However, in one forging hit a lot of operations are taking place; for example, the nose, hinge end and logo detailing. The die blocks also last for many years, with some of our carabiner forging dies lasting 10 or 15 years.”
Thanks to the introduction of hot forging techniques sport climbers had access to a sleek, supple and sexy quickdraw which didn’t just look good on their rack – it allowed them to climb better too.
“The Mamba was the first component we made using Computer Numeric Control [CNC],” says Fred Hall, technical director and chairman at DMM. “To make this happen we collaborated with Phil Dickinson, professor of manufacturing technology at Loughborough University, who had one of his engineers make a prototype and test it.”
Using CNC software, the Mamba was modelled in 3D on a computer and then produced on a milling machine.
“We do this all the time now,” says Fred “but when the Mamba quickdraws were being manufactured in the early 90s we were one of the first companies to be using this technology for making climbing equipment.”
The Mamba quickdraw crossed the existing frontiers of carabiner design to create the most radical carabiner concept to date. With the joint objectives of improving manufacturing processes and clipping speed on sport routes, the captive quickdraw was the result of new concepts, advanced modelling and construction techniques brought together by a team ready to reimagine the boundaries of the standard quickdraw carabiner.
“Not long before the release of the Mamba quickdraw, all climbing carabiners were the same shape,” says Fred. “We wanted to design a quickdraw which made climbing as efficient as possible. To do this we had to make a product which challenged the traditional idea of what a quickdraw was supposed to look like.”
The new design for the captive quickdraw had a plain gate Mamba at the top and a bent gate Mamba at the rope end, colour coded for ease of identification. As the first of its kind, each element in the system served to optimise the efficiency at both ends of the quickdraw, combining lightness and strength with a captive bar which eliminated the chance of cross loading to ensure safety.
“At the beginning of the design process,” says Fred “the team was nervous about making the Mamba as they were so different from everything else already on the market.”
However, the team had nothing to worry about and the Mamba was an instant hit. Its release coincided with the massive rise in sport climbing in the 90s and with top climbers and DMM sponsored athletes such as Jerry Moffatt and Ben Moon setting new and legendary sport routes on Mambas, this ultimate quickdraw quickly gained cult status.
“With the first ever fully captive carabiner, the Mamba was the Rolls Royce of the quickdraw world,” says Chris. “By adding some shape into the carabiners and a captive bar, we completely changed the game.
“Probably the best mountaineering equipment in the Galaxy”
After taking the climbing world by storm, it wasn’t long before the Mamba began to find applications in industry far beyond the objectives outlined when it was designed in the early 90s. “When you start designing something, you don’t know where it is going to end up – our products find unusual uses that we could never imagine in their first inception,” says Fred.
In 2008 the Mamba was tested by NASA, the US space agency, as part of a harness for astronauts venturing into space. With the front cover of DMM’s first ever catalogue in 1982 sporting the slogan “probably the best mountaineering equipment in the Galaxy”, the Mamba’s journey to the stars has been a fitting evolution for a product first conceived during The Space Age.
When split second timing and a lightning fast clip meant the difference between success or failure on an attempted redpoint ascent, the Mamba combined lightness and strength with the safety of a fully captive carabiner to produce the ultimate sport climbing quickdraw. This iconic design paved the way for the future of manufacturing in climbing equipment and revolutionised the way all carabiners at DMM are made.
So what about the future of this historic piece of climbing equipment? According to Fred, “quite a few people in the company want to reinvent and redesign the Mamba quickdraw.” A revolutionary concept in design, manufacturing and performance, the legacy of the Mamba can be seen in the Alpha Sport and Shadow quickdraws currently ranged. With DMM continuing to push the boundaries of strength and lightness, the success of the fully captive carabiner might well provide the case for a new generation of Mamba.