Pittsfield, MA--What secret to success do the leading personal computer makers share in a cutthroat marketplace? In the case of companies like IBM, Dell, and Compaq, it's materials and processing technologies that simplify the PC designs that make the difference--profitable at lower prices.
Given these criteria, GE Plastics asked its research-and-development and design studio teams to come up with a PC design that would meet them. The result: the Nomad project, which centered around these objectives:
- Portability within the home.
- Utility in various situations and locations (table, floor, couch).
- Use of existing components.
- Target both the family and single user.
- Provide easy access for service and upgradability.
- Limit the number of cables used.
- Employ an LCD screen (size dependent on price).
- Require little desk space.
"With Nomad, we can show our customers that the technology exists today to make radically different personal computers with engineering thermoplastics," says Kevin Andrews, GE Plastics technical manager.
The concept PC features a flat-panel screen, plastic chassis, and extensive snap fits and ribs. It also showcases how engineering thermoplastics can provide molded-in color, UV stability, impact strength, and thermal properties.
Nomad grew out of GE Plastics' 1996 LifeForms program, a collaborative effort between the plastics division and Polymer Solutions (PSI), a joint venture of GE and the industrial design firm Fitch Inc. As part of the program, GE Plastics conducted extensive research about how consumer lifestyle needs could impact the future design of computer enclosures. Nomad expands on one of several LifeForms concepts that place added emphasis on material selection, design, and assembly possibilities.
"Our research indicates that consumers prefer a PC that is not fixed to one place, but can be used where it is most convenient," says Ton Borsboom, director, PSI. "We sought to illustrate a combination of the functional advantages of a laptop with the cost and performance of a conventional setup."
Nomad's mechanical design is as radical as its box design. The centerpiece, a plastic chassis, supports all components and creates the backbone for the structure of the enclosure. The design takes advantage of the latest advances in thin-wall technology and design-for-assembly techniques.
Thin-wall technology incorporated into the design increases productivity for the PC maker and reduces product weight for the end user, according to the design teams. Two processing approaches, high-speed injection molding and sequential valve gating, set the stage for the design. High-speed injection molding utilizes mechanical stress as the primary way to reduce resin viscosity and maximize material flow for thin-wall applications. Sequential valve gating employs multiple gates to shorten flow lengths and reduce pressures, without creating knitlines typically seen in multiple-gate applications.
For instance, adding a sequential valve gate manifold to the thin-wall notebook tool (see diagram) resulted in a knitline-free, sub-millimeter component. The part was molded from a 10% glass-filled, high-flow Lexan(reg) polycarbonate. This, the design teams report, should result in opportunities for reduced wall sections, lower injection pressures, and stronger parts.