In this video, see an interview with a prototyping expert who deals with haptics, the tactile sensation and controls of a product.
- In this movie, we're going to talk a little deeper about prototyping and prototyping materials, but we're going to get a little bit more specific around one area, and that's haptics, the way something feels. And that might be the way it looks, the way it sounds, and the way you engage with it. And with us today, I have Mike Elam. Mike Elam is a industrial designer by education and training, but he has a very unique specialty in the understanding of haptics, and he's going to share with us how he does that.
Mike is the director of product development at RKS Design. Thanks, Mike, for joining us. - Hi, Scott. - So what is haptics? - I suppose that haptics for me is the way that a product feels and how that experience communicates the value of a product, the value of a brand, and really enhances the overall experience of the product. So you can have two products that look exactly the same, but they can feel completely differently, and that, haptics can be about, just about the materials they're made of and the way that they feel in the hand, if, you know, if one kind of flexes a bit when you hold it or one's really rigid and solid, then you've got kind of, you've got quality perceptions around that.
But also when you're interacting with those products, just the way anything feels, whether it's a button, whether it's something that opens or closes. All of those little details all go into one's experience of the product and the perception of quality. So just the quality of the engineering that goes into a product, it's not necessarily costing any more, but it can make a huge difference to the perception of, you know, how that product is perceived and sort of the quality and what that means for a brand, as well.
- So after you come up with your idea, your concept, what the product is, and you've boiled things down to what you assume you'd like it to do, how do you actually get into the design for the haptic? I mean, what are some of your approaches that you take? What are some of the tools? - I think I have a kind of a bank up here that is pretty much, I think everything that I touch, and this probably goes back to my childhood, everything that I've kind of touched and interacted and engaged with and, you know, I'm one of these, I was probably quite annoying a a kid.
I'd go along and kind of press things all the time, and it was all going on up here. So when I'm doing that, particularly now that I've got experience, I'm actually thinking about what, if I like the movement or the feel of something, I'm actually kind of reverse engineering it in my head, even though I can't necessarily see what's behind, I'm kind of imagining what might be going on behind that and kind of storing it up here so that I can replicate that, hopefully, when it comes to designing my own products or designing a client's products, whatever.
- So you brought us a client product to show and tell, and I see its prototype. Can you walk us through the materials, the process you did, and why did you do it? - Sure. So this is a mechanical test prototype that we made for, this is a medical device, and it's a device that's designed to work both on an IV pole, on a tabletop, and also hung on the back of a chair or on the end of the hospital bed.
So there are lots of usage scenarios for the device. We were trying to get as compact a form factor as possible. And you'll see here, this space here is for a screen, the touchscreen. So again, that touchscreen automatically flips from, you know, this orientation to this orientation depending on where you place the device. But there were some very specific needs that we needed to include in the design.
The most challenging, really, was the hanger mechanism. So these, so this is a vacuum-assisted wound healing device. They need these hangers to be able to hook on the end of a bed or chairs or et cetera. And conventionally that's done with these kind of poles or stalks that go into the product that have springs on them, so you pull back on the, you pull on the hanger, and the thing extends, and then you hook it on and it kind of springs back. But that's very, that takes up a lot of room inside, and it's a bit clunky.
It's not very easy to use. So I really wanted to, you know, we came up with this design concept, but we were needing to incorporate this hanger mechanism. And really, the two were fighting each other, because we wanted this sloped screen here, and, but we couldn't do that with the conventional, the kind of extension that we needed to get on the hanger. So what I did was design a mechanism that takes up very minimal space inside. You can see here.
But still gives the throw that we needed. So I'll just demonstrate that. So it's a kind of a butterfly extension where the two, and the two work in parallel, so you only need to grab one side, and it's very easy to do that, and yet it has good strong retention and also good reach. So that was, this is one of my sort of proudest mechanisms, probably. And then the other, and I could, and we can talk more about that. The other aspect of it was the cartridge loading.
Again, because of the different usage scenarios where you're having to potentially load and unload the cartridge in different orientations, it was important that the, for instance, that the cartridge remains safe at all times. So, because this actually fills up with kind of nasty fluids, and when you're changing the cartridge, you don't want to ever be in a situation where that cartridge is, say, falling on the floor. So this is the release button here, (device clicks) and what that does is drop this interface down, which allows you to slide the cartridge in and out.
So, and, I mean, this is just a gray printed model, but the idea is that this seam would also give you a visual indication that the device is not kind of ready to use. This is in its loading state, and then when you slide in the cartridge and close it up, (device clicks) then you get a nice clear click, a nice good audio click, audible click, and the product goes back to kind of a seamless fascia, so...
Yeah, I think that's... - So, Mike, I see you used sunk metal approach for prototyping your hanger mechanism, but then I see you used some other materials and processes for you to demonstrate your ideas in other areas. Can you explain what you chose and why? - Yeah, sure. So the hanger mechanism, I knew that it was going to need some fairly good tolerances to get the sliders to work. So there are some bars here with some bushings inside here, and I knew that those were going to need to be fairly well controlled and fairly rigid to be a good demonstrator, so...
This is, we weren't necessarily proposing, this is a, these are aluminum parts. We weren't necessarily proposing those for production, but we felt like it was going to be the easiest way to get the kind of rigidity that we might be able to get in production with some prototype parts. So these are, these parts, in fact, are, they were 3D printed in wax and then investment cast, and then what we did to get the, a good seating for the bushes inside here, we actually assembled these two, this is two parts, actually assembled those two and then, on a mill, just went in and, you know, accurately spaced the, and mounted the bushings that go inside here.
So that was why we went for that aluminum here. We wanted to have good rigidity and to be confident that, you know, making a prototype of it was going to be successful. - And what about the other, and the reason why you did. - So this inside here, there are some sheet metal parts, for this, the mounting plate for the power supply mechanism is also sheet metal. But, so those are laser cut and bent parts, so those are much as you'd expect in production.
And then, again, these would all, the plastic parts here would be plastic. So there was, there were less demands on these materials. The cartridge itself is a, they, the manufacturers already make these. I forget what the material is, but it's, you know, that was not a material we were kind of even getting involved with specifying. But that's a clear cartridge. And we, you know, there was no need to make it clear, but we all knew what it was and what it needed to do, so...
But these, the rest of the materials here are, this is SLS, which is selective laser sintered. It's a nylon powder that gets fused together by a laser. And it's quite, it's, what's nice about that material is that it's, for a product like this, is it's very robust. So this was not sort of a highly finished model. It was more about demonstrating the mechanics, as I said. So it was, we were asking, we were after a robust material that was going to take, be okay, take some knocks and survive.
So, and that's, so the choice of material for prototyping is really, you've got to sort of weigh up certain factors. You know, are you going to go for a highly finished model? Are you, you know, are you looking for more mechanical strength? Are you looking for rigidity? So there are all these... Much like choosing materials for production, there are certain criteria that are involved in selecting those processes, 'cause as you said, there are many, many, many, many different prototyping processes, and even 3D printing processes.
- So you explained why you did what you did for prototyping. So what would we normally see as a next step? You've proved out your ideas. Your hypothesis is correct. It performs and functions the way you want it. The haptics are satisfying to you. Now you prototyped it. What would be next normally? - Well, with this, in this particular scenario, what we would do is finalize the layout of the interior components.
Things might shift a bit. Once all the interior components have been fixed in place, then we'd, there are some other features that we'd need to test, but we'd get to that. Once we got to that point, we'd probably be looking to test a more highly finished model, where we were confident that this was working. Maybe there's another iteration of this using plastics to test out performance in plastics. Again, prototyped.
But really, you know, this is proving out things pretty well. So, you know, I'd be fairly confident of, you know, perhaps moving to production, to tooling on a lot of this as it is, because it's, you know, it demonstrates everything very well. There were no obvious problems I could, not necessarily any problems that I could see, that I could foresee with production parts, so...
- Well, I certainly appreciate you sharing your insights and your processes and your knowledge with us, and, you know, please check out Mike's other work. You can go to RKS Design's website and you can see a lot of the other things that Mike's magically put his touch onto. Thanks again, Mike. - Thanks, Scott.
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