Let’s design a box

Designing a box should be simple. Like all simple things, it’s too complex when you start thinking it even a little bit, and even more so if you have an aim to reach with the design. So take a pen and paper to go with this little exercise and let’s see what kind of results you’ll have just by going with words.

Our aim is to create a handy SCART switch box with a selector for normal customer use in households. As such, the box materials and the switch should be made of cheap materials, so we’ll go with either plastics or metals. Remember that it needs to be sturdy and have some weight, but also high quality in feel and appearance. It should also be design with utilitarian approach.

No indicator lights or anything that would require electricity, as we’re trying to go a bit cheap; all things should be work either mechanically or via SCART cables, so need to design power cord placements or anything similar either.

The box should have more width and depth than height to make it fit into any AV-table. However, let’s say that it should have eat least five SCART sockets; four for inputs, one for output. The lack of physically connected SCART cable should lower the costs, but also allows the customer to use select their own cable. As such, you should design the box to house these contacts. Keep in my that the box should be small nevertheless, and thus should be able to be easily lifted with one hand and not strain the user’s arm, so limiting the width would be ideal, but not by adding too much height so that even the small handed customers can grasp the box’ side easily. Now, find a proper placement for these five sockets on the paper as mentioned on the paper. This should give you an idea on the size of box’ front and back silhouette.

The sides sides should be simple, but have the screw that hold the box mostly together. Design the housing so that it can be disassembled for upgrading, modding and repairing. As such, the casing should be able to be removed easily, but also be put back together with ease. Think this through and draw how it should be.

Next, let’s think of the switch that we’re going to have on the box. To keep the box shape we will no have any coming out from the box to place the buttons on. Also, we need to think whether or not we want the box be able to stand on its side or not. If so you wish to make it able to go vertical, remember to make the sides symmetrical as you need to make some sort of legs for balance. You also need to think how the cables are going to go and whether or not it’s worth the trouble finding a good center gravity spot.

But back to the switch. If we’re going to use buttons for the four SCART inputs, the buttons should be easy to push, but not too easy. However, we need to take account the easy of use, and if we push something, it’ll move. Whether or not you can find (or design) buttons elegant enough that the box itself doesn’t nudge when a button is pressed, go with buttons. We could go with dial, as with dials we don’t have to worry about the box will move. It’s weight should be more than enough to stay still when the dial is turned. As such, the dial should also be loose enough not to require strength, but also have an audible click with each selection. It should be very tactile experience to turn the dial, not mushy. Mushy feeling with any electronic device is a sign of low quality and distances customers away from future products. Now design the buttons/dial on the box’ front. You might want to include some sort of way to mark down the inputs.

Finalize your design.

Now compare it to this one.

Removed logos and all that for your pleasure

Now, how much does your design differ from the above? If none, good. If it does, good.

With this simple (and compressed) exercise I hope to give a small insight in one form of design process. Each stroke you’ve done on the paper should have had a thought behind it, and every line should represent either one part of cohesive idea, or be an idea in itself. If you added excessive lines to create more form, congrats in failing the design.

I also would like hear whether or not you left the corners sharp, or did you chamfer then in any form to avoid cuts. A smooth, curvy surface in most cases feels better than rigid 90-degree corner.

We could add possibility for further ideas; the bottom could have places for bolts so that the box could be mechanically attached to a surface, or a battery slot for the lights you couldn’t add. However, doing anything more than that would cost more money, and we wanted to keep the cost down. Let the innards cost more.

If you decided to go with plastics I’d love to know what kind of plastic you would use. Same with metals. Plastics would have plus side of being light and somewhat sturdy, but we wanted weight. How would you add the weight? Well, the bottom could’ve been metal. However, with metal all over the shell could be thinner than with plastics, and it could have the same weight and smaller profile than the same design with plastics.

Next time you see a box of electronics or something, you can bet that someone had loads of work to design it. While the process might be relatively simple, it still demands work and thought process. I can admit that I have fought with a box design when I made my own arcade controller. While the controller works, the design is pretty bad. Horrible even. But it’s a box that I literally fought with a week straight every single day more than eight hours, sometimes physically and sometimes in my mind.

So yeah, designing a box isn’t that simple as I thought.

But now ask yourself; how much creativity you used? Is that art what you have on your paper?

Casting hot liquids

Casting is a process where a substance is given a form via a mold. We could divide casting into two very rough categories; one which destroys the mold, and one which the mold is not destroyed. I’ll be talking about two basic level casting processes, the evaporative casting and sand casting, to give you a peek behind the curtains what goes on in industries at large. The two examples are a form of metal casting.

Low level casting can be easily done with sand casting sand, which is a combination of fine sand, oil and clay kind of substance. The sand is rather crumbly at first, but after giving it some pressure, like forming a fist around it, makes the sand malleable much like Playdough. With this sand you can do open casting, sand casting, evaporative casting and few other casting methods I won’t go into. It’s relatively cheap material as 95% of the sand can be used again after the casting has done. This is because the liquid metal burns the sand around the mold. The sand becomes hard, black and can’t be used again because it has lost its malleable properties.

Evaporative casting is rather inefficient method of casting. In the process a prototype is made of easily flammable and quick burning substance, which serves as a reverse mold of sorts. The details in the mold is preserved in the cast, so one should always take care that the surface of the mold is as desired.

Sand casting is similar to evaporative casting, but the prototype is made of wood or other similar substance. The key difference to evaporative casting is that the prototype is not lost and can be used again and again for molds. Sand casting is superior method evaporative casting in almost every regard, especially if one wishes to mass produce a certain shape. Sand casting preserves the details on the prototype much like evaporative casting. However, due to the nature of sand, both of these methods are usable only on objects that have no escape corners.

The both methods of casting have nearly identical preparations. The casting case comes in two parts; upper half and lower half. The lower half is first filled with sand casting sand, which is stamped down with a hammer or similar tool to ensure that it forms a tight base. Depending on the size of the prototype the caster has to leave some space to the upper level of the lower case, as the middle line of the prototype has to correspond with the joint line of the casting cases. With evaporative casting the upper part is the put on and the prototype is covered with the sand to the uppper limit. Of course, a sprue has to be left either next to the prototype or on top of the prototype for the metal to run into.
In sand casting before attaching the upper half, the prototype is removed and the surface of the sand is covered in any powdery material of sorts. Talc or the like should be enough in a hurry. Then, the prototype is put back and covered in sand again with the sprue. After stamping the sand down, the halves are separated once again so that the caster can remove the prototype from the now-formed mold. The halves then are attached to each other and fastened for casting process.
I was going to post a reference drawing, but google has so many good examples that it wouldn’t served a purpose.

The casting process itself is quick and rather safe. The desired metal, in this case aluminium (Al) is heated up enough so that it turns into a bright liquid. Personally I prefer brass and copper over aluminium due the two being much heavier and thus they fill the cavities of the mold with more confidence. Aluminium barely has weight to burn through evaporative casting, and even then the temperature of the metal is the key.

Naturally, this is a hazardous operation. Liquid metal is a toy to plaid with. The temperatures with metal casting range from 650°C all the way several thousands. It burns through clothing and can cause extremely severe burns on the skin, and can even melt Terminators. Certain safety procedures are a must in any case. Safety shoes, inflammable clothing, inflammable gloves and safety visor. Minimum. With caution there’s no danger, and the only truly random factor is the occasional splashes from the liquid metal if colder temperatures are introduced. For example, adding more material to the already heated metal can cause a splash effect in the material is not preheated. In a small kiln there are possibilities of splashes simply due to cooler air introduced to the surface.

The process of casting itself is straightforward; pour the liquid metal in. This can be divided into two parts again. The first small pour is to give the metal some leeway. In evaporative casting this first pour is to burn parts of the prototype. In sand casting it is to drive out some of the excess gases. Very soon after (in matter of one or two seconds) the rest of the liquid metal is poured into the sprue all the way to the top of the sprue. Then the wait game begins and we can start to wonder whether or not the casting was successful.

In evaporative casting the prototype is now lost and the metal has taken its place in the sand. Depending on luck, the cast can have bits and pieces of the burned prototype, bubbles or the metal hasn’t burned all the way through. In sand casting the same things may happen, except the prototype burning. However, the metal might have only gone halfway through for some reasons like pressure, underheated metal or gas pockets that have no way to escape.

The excess metal is then poured out into an open mold.

The lump at the very end of the video is mass of impurities. You’re supposed to take those out of the liquid metal before casting anything, not after

The cast is then allowed to cool down on its own, as quick temperature changes may actually break the cast metal. There are occasions where the metal may be cooled down, but it includes risks. After some 15~30 minutes or more, the cast metal is taken from the sand. The cast metal is then handled with various operations, starting with the removal of the sprue’s residual shape, cleaning, grinding, sanding, and polishing. Not in this order in some cases.

With these casting methods we can create many products from medals and plaques to basic knife shapes and rough jewellery. For example, the plaques in old buildings are sand cast or done with with similar casting method.

If you stop thinking for a second how many different casting methods there are the answer is in hundreds. Most of them are separated by the cast material or slight difference in methods. Take look around your house you’ll most likely see at least ten objects that have been manufactured in some sort of casting process, may it be actual casting or molding. The frames of your monitor, the keyboard, the mouse your hand lays on, the CD cases, game console shells and so on.
It’s literally everywhere.