There aren’t many brands that inspire the kind of passion and fervency among its customers as Tektronix does. The venerable Oregon-based manufacturer of top-end test equipment has produced more collectible gear over the last 75 years than just about anyone else.
Over that time they have had plenty of innovations, and in the 1970s they started looking into miniaturizing their flagship oscilloscopes. The vintageTEK museum, run by current and former employees, has a review of the design process of the 200 series of portable oscilloscopes that’s really interesting. At a time when scopes were portable in the way a packed suitcase is portable, making a useful instrument in a pocketable form factor was quite a challenge — even for big pockets.
The article goes into great detail on the back-and-forth between the industrial designers, with their endless stream of models, and the engineers who would actually have to stuff a working scope into whatever case they came up with. The models from the museum’s collection are wonderful bits of history and show where the industrial designers really pushed for some innovative designs.
Some of the models are clearly derived from the design of the big bench scopes, but some have innovative flip-down covers and other interesting elements that never made it to production. Most of the models are cardboard, but some were made of aluminum in the machine shop and sport the familiar “Tek blue” livery. But the pièce de résistance of the collection is a working engineering model of what would become the 200-series of miniscopes, a handmade prototype with a tiny round CRT and crudely labeled controls.
The vintageTEK museum sounds like another bucket-list stop for computer and technology history buffs. Tek has been doing things their own way for a long time, and stopping by the museum is sure to be a treat.
Good design starts with a good idea, and being able to flesh that idea out with a model. In the electronics world, we would build a model on a breadboard before soldering everything together. In much the same way that the industrial designer [Eric Strebel] makes models of his creations before creating the final version. In his latest video, he demonstrates the use of a CO2 laser for model making.
While this video could be considered a primer for using a laser cutter, watching some of the fine detail work that [Eric] employs is interesting in the way that watching any master craftsman is. He builds several cubes out of various materials, demonstrating the operation of the laser cutter and showing how best to assemble the “models”. [Eric] starts with acrylic before moving to wood, cardboard, and finally his preferred material: foam core. The final model has beveled edges and an interior cylinder, demonstrating many “tricks of the trade” of model building.
Of course, you may wish to build models of more complex objects than cubes. If you have never had the opportunity to use a laser cutter, you will quickly realize how much simpler the design process is with high-quality tools like this one. It doesn’t hurt to have [Eric]’s experience and mastery of industrial design to help out, either.
If you move as a hardware hacker through the sometimes surprisingly similar world of artists, craftspeople, designers, blacksmiths, and even architects, there’s one piece of work that you will see time and time again as an object that exerts a curious fascination. It seems that designing and building a chair is a rite of passage, and not just a simple chair, but in many cases an interesting chair.
Some of the most iconic seating designs that you will be instantly familiar with through countless mass-produced imitations began their lives as one-off design exercises. Yet we rarely see them in our community of hackers and makers, a search turns up only a couple of examples. This is surprising, not least because there is more than meets the eye to this particular piece of furniture. Your simple seat can be a surprisingly complex challenge.
Moving Charis From Artisan to Mass Market
The new materials and mass production techniques of the 19th and 20th centuries have brought high-end design into the hands of the masses, but while wealthy homes in earlier centuries had high-quality bespoke furniture in the style of the day, the traditional furniture of the masses was hand-made in the same way for centuries often to a particular style dependent on the region in which it was produced.
Recycling beverage cartons isn’t 100% efficient. The process yields some unusable garbage as a byproduct. Why? Because containers like juice boxes are mostly paper, but also contain plastic and aluminum. The recycling process recovers the paper fibers for re-use, but what’s left after that is a mixture of plastic rejects and other bits that aren’t good for anything other than an incinerator or a landfill. Until now, anyway!
It turns out it is in fact possible to turn such reject material into a product that can be injection-molded, as shown here with [Stefan Lugtigheid]’s SAM bird feeder design. The feeder is not just made from 100% recycled materials, it’s made from the garbage of the recycling process — material that would otherwise be considered worthless. Even better, the feeder design has only the one piece. The two halves are identical, which reduces part count and simplifies assembly.
[Stefan] makes it clear that the process isn’t without its quirks. Just because it can be injection-molded doesn’t mean it works or acts the same as regular plastic. Nevertheless, the SAM birdfeeder demonstrates that it can definitely be put to practical use. We’ve seen creative reprocessing of PET bottles and sheet stock made from 3D printed trash, but recycling the garbage that comes from recycling drink cartons is some next-level stuff, for sure.
A while ago, [Eric Strebel] created a backpack hanger. The result was great — by just bolting this backpack hanger to the wall, he kept his backpack off the floor and out of the way. There was even a place for him to set his phone to charge. [Eric] is thinking about turning this idea into a product, and just posted a video on his process of making a cardboard mockup.
Since this is a study in industrial design, any mockup will need to keep in mind how the finished article will be constructed. In this case, [Eric] is going to use 4-5mm thick aluminum, cut on a water jet, bent into place, and finally anodized. The finished product will be made out of bent sheet aluminum, so this little bit of product design will use Matboard — a thick, heavy cardboard often used for mounting pictures in frames. The Matboard will substitute for the aluminum, as it is carefully cut, bent, and glued into shape.
The tools for this build are simple, just a hobby knife, razor blade, ruler, and a pen. But there are a few tricks to working with Matboard. To bend these pieces perfectly, [Eric] is painting one side with water. This loosens the fibers in the Matboard, allowing for perfect creases before one layer of the build is glued together.
Once a few layers of this Matboard are glued together, the finished product becomes less like cardboard and more like a very soft wood. This allows [Eric] to use belt sanders and countersink drill bits to give a little bit of polish to this one-off prototype. This finished article works great, and now [Eric] is looking at taking this idea into production.
Almost every product on the market has been through the hands of an industrial designer at some point in its development. From the phone in your pocket to the car in your driveway or the vacuum in your closet, the way things look and work is the result of a careful design process. Taking a look inside that process, like with this wireless phone charger concept, is fascinating and can yield really valuable design insights.
We’ve featured lots of [Eric Strebel]’s work before, mainly for the great fabrication tips and tricks he offers, like how to get a fine painted finish or the many uses of Bondo. But this time around, he walks us through a condensed version of his design process for a wireless phone charger and stand. His client had specific requirements, like being able to have the phone held up in landscape or portrait mode, so he started with pen and paper and sketched some ideas. A swiveling cylinder seemed to fit the bill, and after a quick mockup in PVC pipe, he started work on a full-size prototype in urethane foam. There are some great fabrication tips in the video below, mainly centered on dealing with not owning a lathe.
The thing for us with all of [Eric]’s videos, but especially this one, is seeing the design process laid out, from beginning to (almost) the end. He sure makes industrial design look like a cool gig, one that would appeal to the Jacks- and Jills-of-all-trades who hang out around here.
Due to the graphic nature of this post, small children and the elderly may want to leave the room. One of the hottest toys this holiday season has been gutted like a fish so that we may better understand the nature of its existence. Or maybe just what kind of sensors and motors the craftsmen over at WowWee managed to cram into a “robot” with an MSRP of only $15 USD.
[Josh Levine] mercilessly tears a Fingerling Monkey limb from limb on his blog, and points out some interesting design decisions made. While some elements of the toy are rather clever, there’s a few head-scratchers to be had inside the Fingerling. It’s interesting to see the final results of a decision process that had to balance the relatively rough life such a toy will live with the ever crucial cost of production.
The eyelids are particularly well thought out, operated by charging a coil under a magnet which is embedded in the plastic. Opening and closing the eyelids without a separate motor or gearbox is not only easier and cheaper, but prevents the possibility of damage if a child attempts to force open the eyes or otherwise manipulate the mechanism.
Other cost saving measures include the use of foil tape as a capacitive sensor, and simple ball-filled tilt sensors to detect orientation rather than an expensive accelerometer.
Interestingly, other parts of the toy seem overengineered in comparison. A cam and limit switch are used to detect when the Fingerling’s head has turned to its maximum angle, when it would have been cheaper and easier to simply detect motor stall current.