Back on track with my blogging schedule after a few days of not really doing much and taking in the fact that it as finished has given me time to reflect properly on the project, and in particular, how it would actually be made if it were to be put into production. This is going to be a two part piece with this first one looking at the changes that would evidently have to be made to the design from prototype to production and I will also discuss the electronics and how they would change.
In a sense, I don’t want to write about this because I have to. I am actually writing about the manufacturing because I want to. I think that taking the time to think this through even further than what is deemed necessary will help make the project more believable and like a proposal rather than a project. Thinking about this sort of thing as a designer should also be second nature. You shouldn’t have to finish drawing something and then immediately hand it over to an engineer to make. That wouldn’t be fair. However, being limited by what is already being done shouldn’t happen. Limits should be pushed and tolerances should be questioned.
I have been thinking about the manufacturing all the way through the project, but I feel this is the right time to post them. So without further ado, manufacturing.
This is a relatively big portion of discussion. In short almost everything would have to change in one form or another in order for the product to be mass produced. However starting from the beginning, what sort of production run do I see it achieving? In short it is difficult to determine. First off it only works with iPhones so that limits the potential market. However, taking into consideration that as phone accessories go, ones for the iPhone are far from rare. So based on this the production run could be fairly large, but I don’t really see it, or particularly want it to be too widely available. That way there is always a demand as such, and it would mean it was more made to order than sitting in bulk in warehouses where it might not get sold. So I won’t put of a number any more. I see the production run being in the region of 100,000 to 500,000. Not a small number but then again not an overly large number. This is especially true if you think of however many iPhones have been sold and are used by teenagers/young adults.
Based on that medium to small production run (in comparison to the numbers that iPhones are sold in) determines the sort of material that can be used and therefore the production method. Production method will be covered in the second part, but material will be discussed just now. Currently made from layered up MDF, this really isn’t the way forward. Taking a month or so to make 2 is by no means profitable. My dad jokingly said to me whilst I was still making it that each one based on material cost and hourly pay for the worker would be well into the thousands of pounds. Not really the sort of price I envisaged for my project.
There are two material options that I would like the product to be made out of. The first one will make the product cheaper to produce and cheaper for the end user. Plastic. It wouldn’t be a cheap plastic though. More of a high quality, possibly even with a soft touch finish, that would help give the impression the the product is securely holding the phone. You don’t really want something that feels bad to the touch to be looking after your prized possessions. Taking inspiration slightly from Apple in this case, the plastic uses would mimic that of the black and white MacBooks from a few years ago. The white one would be glossy with a slightly harder feel, whereas the black one would be matte (or slightly matte) with a softer feel. I know I was unable to achieve this with the prototypes but it was what I originally planned and hoped I would get.
The other option for materials takes another leaf from Apples material storybook and ultimately push the product into a higher market. Anodised aluminium or aluminium with a brushed finish. Anodising it would mean a better, harder wearing colour finish which would also bring it a more modern appearance that people could maybe identify more with. The only problem, apart from the price increase, with the aluminium option is that there is a section of the product which would be phone against aluminium when inserting and this could lead to scratches or just general damage to the product. Having a brushed finish would mean that it would be softer to the touch, but the surface would not be as durable. It is swings and roundabouts really.
I think that either material choice would suit the project. But I can’t really decide on which. I think the aluminium may be the way to go though. Younger people nowadays are subject to more expensive goods all the time (just look at the sort of clothes they are wearing) and they are not really likely going to end up buying it themselves. It would also give it a bigger feel of quality to it. Plastic is good for some products, but when you want to show that it will protect your phone, it needs to be sturdy.
From a recycling point of view, aluminium will be easier to dispose of and then reuse. Plastics tend to need sorted into the different kinds. Aluminium whilst to an extent is similar should be easier. Also from the point of view that it will not be a project that is thrown away quickly should also play a part in material choice.
As for the light prism, the choice goes to two materials again. One is plastic, the other is glass. The reasoning is the same as above. The plastic is softer but will accumulate more scratches. The glass whilst having better optical quality would be much more brittle. It will depend on the material used for the main body. If plastic is used then plastic should be used for the light prism. If aluminium is used for the main body, then glass should be used for the light prism.
Whilst the electronics may seem like an overly complicated part of the project in terms of prototyping, putting it into production should be a lot simpler. The use of the Arduino at the moment screams out that it is a prototype. When put into production it will have proper printed circuit boards and will use something more alike circuit boards and cpu’s that are found in mobile phones. It will quite possibly be a lower powered ARM microcontroller. It doesn’t need to be anything too fancy either.
On to the functions, I don’t think there is much that needs to be changed. Maybe there is a better way of detecting when the phone receives a message. Not that the LDR that is currently used is unreliable, more that it may just need something to make it better. I am sure that something can be used to detect a message and then transmit it to the product through the 30 pin connector. Talking of which, the implementation of the 3o pin connector will be much better and it will be integral to the product. It will also be used to determine whether or not the product has been inserted or not.
Apart from that, there isn’t much more that I would do with the electronics. They seem to be robust enough (touch wood) and reliable enough that they could do it. Obviously they would need proper long term testing and certification for being mains powered or USB powered, but it is almost there.
Part One Wrap Up
On the whole, the materials and the electronics seem fairly straight forward. Whether or not it is the case if the project is actually put into production then I don’t know. This part was definitely the easy part. Coming up in part two (either later on today or tomorrow) will be manufacturing method, joining of components, retail price and shipping. Production run was included in this one (by accident) I didn’t read my plan properly. By the looks of things it’ll be much longer so I should probably get writing now…