How we helped a customer develop an industrial keyboard and how you too can make your products a reality.
At RapidDirect, a leading rapid prototyping and on-demand manufacturing service, we pride ourselves on our knowledge of manufacturing. Not only does our team of experts have in-depth knowledge of CNC machining, injection molding, sheet metal fabrication and 3D printing hardware, we also know how to design for these production processes. This makes us the ideal partner for product designers or innovative minds who want to turn their design idea into a real product.
On a daily basis, we receive production orders from all types of customers. And for every customer that knows exactly what they want (part geometry, manufacturing process, material, finish), there are those that, while having a specific design and product idea in mind, are less well-versed in the technical aspects of manufacturing. This is where we excel. We work with our customers as closely as needed to ensure that their vision is being reproduced properly, combining their unique ideas with our manufacturing skills.
Industrial keyboard, from concept to product
We recently had the pleasure to work with a customer who wanted to create an industrial keyboard. He came to us with in-depth knowledge of and a passion for industrial keyboards and had an idea to create his own. We worked closely with our customer to bring this idea to life, offering support throughout the design stage, into prototyping and eventually to the final design production. With our help, our customer is now preparing to bring his industrial keyboard to the market.
- What is an industrial keyboard?
An industrial keyboard is a category of computer keyboard that is known for its ruggedized construction. Specifically, industrial keyboards are built from durable and strong materials and are sealed to protect their internal structures from dust, water and other external agents. Industrial keyboards often hold specific certifications, such as IP65 and IP68, which prove they have undergone dust and water testing.
Industrial keyboard housings can be made from many types of material, including silicone, stainless steel, foil, glass and aluminum. These robust materials offer a longer lifespan than most traditional plastic keyboards and can withstand harsh and/or industrial environments.
- Industrial keyboard applications
While industrial keyboards may not be needed in a work-from-home setting, they are popular for many applications. For example, industrial keyboards are used in many factories or on the manufacturing floor, where they may be exposed to particles that could interfere with a conventional keyboard’s function or shorten its lifespan. Industrial keyboards are also suitable for use in extreme conditions, including hot or cold temperatures.
It would be impossible to list each of the applications that industrial keyboards are used for, but here are some examples to give you an idea of how widespread their adoption is:
- Construction sites
- Automotive production
- Oil and gas extraction
- Food processing facilities
- Medical facilities
- Industrial manufacturing
- Field computing
Depending on the application in question, the layout of the industrial keyboard will vary. Some keyboards will have the standard amount of keys (104-105), while others will have different configurations, ranging from 20 to 130 keys. Industrial keyboards can be equipped with different types of pointing devices, including touchpads, trackballs or joysticks. The size of the keys can also vary: for example, if the keyboard is to be used in a cold environment, the keys could be larger to accommodate gloved fingers.
- RapidDirect helps bring industrial keyboard to life
Working with our industrial keyboard customer, the RapidDirect team provided vital insight into the production process, offering design tips to optimize the keyboard’s performance as well as to streamline the manufacturing process. As with most product development cycles, we underwent several iterations of the keyboard design until the best version was obtained and our customer was fully satisfied with the design and production.
The final design, which is now being sold exclusively by our client, was made from a combination of aluminum&brass and was manufactured with our custom CNC machining service. The versatile industrial keyboard is suitable for several applications, including in the petrochemical, machinery, transportation, aerospace and medical sectors. The CNC machined industrial keyboard can also be adopted for personal use.
The collaboration with our client was an overwhelming success and in the end everyone involved in the industrial keyboard project was thrilled to see our customer’s original idea brought to fruition.
What is it like to work with RapidDirect?
Of course, the industrial keyboard is just one example of a product that RapidDirect can help its clients to create. With over a decade of manufacturing experience and a dedicated team of experts, we can help our customers to realize a range of projects, from industrial components to consumer goods and beyond. No matter how ambitious your idea—from motorcycle to aerospace model—the RapidDirect team is ready to help you realize your vision.
Still it can be helpful to know what to expect when working with a rapid prototyping service. Here is what it’s like to work with the RapidDirect team.
- Step 1: Bring us your idea
The first step is simple: get in touch! If you have a product you’d like to develop and aren’t quite sure where to begin, reach out to RapidDirect and a team member will help to assess what stage of the product development process you’re at. If all you have is an idea and maybe a drawing, we can help you to prepare the design files for production. If you are further ahead with the product concept phase, we can still help you to ensure your design (CAD or otherwise) is optimized for a given manufacturing process.
This step is reinforced by our intelligent quoting engine, which automatically analyzes a design file to assess its manufacturability. Our Design for Manufacturing (DfM) Feedback tool then lets you know if design features need to be adjusted. For instance, it will alert you if a wall is too thin, or a hole is too small to be successfully manufactured.
- Step 2: Choose a manufacturing process
The next stage is critical, and we are here to help you make the right decision. Every manufacturing process has its strengths and weaknesses, and our team can help you determine whether your project is best suited for CNC machining, 3D printing, injection molding or sheet metal fabrication. This step will take into account the size of your product, the volume of parts, your timeline and your budget. In the case of the industrial keyboard, we worked using CNC machining because the project required precision and tight tolerances.
Importantly, we can also help you to choose the right material. For example, if you want to begin with a visual prototype of your product, we would typically suggest using a low-cost plastic. However, for a functional prototype or an end-use component, we might suggest a production-grade polymer or a metal material.
- Step 3: Prototyping
As a rapid prototyping service, we specialize in one-off or small batches of products, which is ideal for product development. Our extensive manufacturing capabilities enable us to produce parts with rapid turnaround times, which helps our customers to meet tight product cycle deadlines. These rapid turnaround times also mean that you can quickly assess a product’s design and make changes on the fly, all while keeping development costs down.
With our industrial keyboard customer, for instance, we were able to deliver several iterations of the keyboard throughout the prototyping stage. This was achieved within a reasonable length of time and enabled our customer to truly achieve the best design possible. With rapid prototyping, there is no reason to settle for less to meet budget and time constraints: it is possible to test out several design versions without adding months to produce development.
- Step 4: Transition to production
Once our customer is satisfied with the prototype design, we can help them to transition to the production phase. Depending on the volume of products to be manufactured, we can even take care of the final production. Our manufacturing capacity can handle low- to medium-volume production, which is often what is needed for specialized products. If you are looking to mass produce your product, we can help guide you in choosing a suitable partner. We also specialize in manufacturing tooling and molds for injection molding and can therefore play a critical role in advancing your product to mass production. For a full guide to product development, keep reading here.
Let’s make it happen
If you are looking to develop a unique product or to bring a product to market, RapidDirect is the partner you are looking for. Our skilled team of experts will guide you each step of the way, consulting on your product design and manufacturability, offering manufacturing services and advancing through the prototyping stage until you are satisfied with your product.