There's a nice article over on the Verge today by David Pierce that takes an inside look at how Microsoft's new tablet PC - the Surface, was created. What strikes me as unusual is the openness in which companies like Microsoft are now talking about 3D printing. In the past 3D printing was considered in many respects a 'hush hush' technology and many companies would try to hide the fact that they were using 3D printing, particularly from perceived competitors.
But as 3D printing has jumped into the mainstream over the last year, we now see the cloak of secrecy slipping away to reveal some very sleek 3D printers and prototypes inside those sterile rooms. And we are now hearing plainly and clearly how powerful this technology is in producing the next generation of leading consumer devices.
For Microsoft, the user experience and ergonomics of their new Surface tablet is critical to the success of this device. As general manager for the Surface, Panos Panay says, "there were no accidents in this device". Verge journalist David Pierce also confirms this when he says that "every feature on the Surface seems to be the result of countless meetings, iterations, and refinements. Engineers and designers are able to craft and produce a new model in only a couple of hours, and have clearly used that power liberally."
He's also seen the 3D printers used to create the over 300 prototypes of the final device - including an Objet system (which he refers to as PolyJet in his article) used to create the hinges and metal flap of the device's much talked-about kickstand. You can see a fleeting glimpse of an Objet Connex multi-material 3D printer at 01.15 in their film above - looks like it's printing a longitudinal frame part in Rigid Blue or perhaps a Gray composite Digital Material.
3D printing technology is one of the main reasons why design teams today are able to perform the 'countless meeting, iterations and refinements' that go into today's generation of consumer devices. Taking an about-turn to the standard, basic and boxy designs we all remember from the 90's, today's devices are in many ways, works of art that are finely tuned to the psychology of the consumer.
They convey a clear message that a computer device is no longer a cheaply pressed box of soldered wires that will break as soon as your young nephew gets his hands on it, but rather a lurcative product that is solidly crafted, long lasting and intutive to use.
With over 200 custom parts in the Surface tablet alone, Microsoft certainly appears to have taken quality design to the next level. I'm looking forward to a closer inspection as soon as I can!