Touchfire For iPad 3

Touchfire will be coming in two models – one for the iPad 2 and one for the iPad 3. Both of these models will also work with the iPad 1.

The Details

We are finally on the other side of getting Touchfire ready for mass production, and have dealt with some interesting and challenging issues along the way. Here’s a recap of what’s been happening over the last few months.

Touchfire is composed of a soft, flexible keypad area connected to some hard pieces we call the ears and the chin. The chin is the main structural component of Touchfire. It provides rigidity, holds several magnets and anchors Touchfire in place on the iPad.

The keypad area of Touchfire has been unchanged since January, when we made our first production test run. We are very happy with how the keys work, and that portion of the design has been completely frozen. The keypad is the heart of Touchfire, so we were thrilled to see how quickly it came together. This led us to believe that getting the rest of the design into production would also go relatively smoothly. Not quite what happened 🙂

The keypad is made out of silicone, and we were originally planning on making the chin and ears out of a hard version of silicone as well. That worked great for the ears, but we could never get the chin stiff enough. So in February we switched to a specially engineered injection-molded plastic that our manufacturer suggested.

This turned out to be a wonderful material, very tough and durable, and it generally goes back to its original shape when bent.

But changing material means a change to the manufacturing process; we have to build new chin and ear molds and modify the keypad mold to accommodate them. This takes us to mid-February.

We are back down at the factory, ready to try it all out. We spent a couple of weeks debugging, optimizing the flow of material through our molds and fixing cosmetic issues. Everything looks great, except … our magnets in the chin and ears aren’t as strong as they should be. What’s going on here?

It turns out that the thermal conditions of our new manufacturing process are affecting our magnets, which don’t like too much heat. We are going to have to come up with a different approach for incorporating our magnets into Touchfire.

Brad redesigns the chin and ears to accommodate this, and we send the molds back to the mold maker for rework.

We now have pockets in the chin and ears for the magnets to go into. But we need to seal those pockets. We create some tiny covers that do the trick. Brad makes some hand sketches, Steve takes them to a local die maker, and we have finished prototype dies a day later.

They work great. Now all we need is a manufacturer who can make a lot of them in a short time. Luckily, we were already working with a company called Seal Methods, which is making the stickers that go on the back of our cover clips. We head on over to Seal, only a 15 minute drive from the factory. No problem; Seal can manufacture the tooling for our covers and be in production in less than a week.

Fast forward to mid-March. The molds are back, we are down at the factory again, ready to make our next trial run. And we have just gotten an iPad 3. All indications are that it will work fine with Touchfire, since the screen didn’t change at all and the iPad 3 uses the same Smart Cover as the iPad 2.

Surprise! Apple made a change that nobody else seems to have picked up on – they reversed the magnetic polarity of the iPad 3’s speaker magnet.  This causes Touchfire to twist on an iPad 3. What are we going to do about this? We sit down and try and figure it out.

It turns out that all we have to do was reverse the polarity of some of our magnets to accommodate the iPad 3. We will need to have people specifically order the iPad 3 version, but no other changes. And the iPad 1 will work with either version. Hooray!

However, we did find another problem with the design; during the molding process silicone is leaking into the magnet pockets. Grrr! So we head off to our mold maker, Kingson Mold and Machine, to discuss.

Kinsgon is a pretty amazing operation. Kingson has rows and rows of these enormous machines growling away.

As always, they are very helpful, working with us to devise a fix. Our molds are once again in their shop.

Which brings us to today. We are hopeful that these final changes are the last ones that we’ll have to make. After the molds come back from Kingson we will  test them out and get them textured (texturing adds the final finish to the parts). And then we will finally get into full production.

Thank you so much for bearing with us as we work through getting Touchfire into production!

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