AZIO Develops a Luxury Vintage Keyboard
Tom Spendlove posted on July 31, 2017 |
AZIO talks about the development of keyboards using natural materials, and the benefits and challeng...

After launching their MK Retro mechanical keyboard in 2016, AZIO looked at customer feedback to figure out their next product offerings. The team decided that the mechanical switches and retro feel were the qualities they wanted to bring forward, and adding a commitment to natural materials and pushing the feel of simple elegance in the design. An Indiegogo campaign is currently running to fund AZIO’s “industry first luxury vintage keyboard.”

Daniel Chiang from AZIO answered a few questions for about the development of the new keyboard. He said that attending a huge BYOC (bring your own computer) LAN party really gave him the idea for building an elegant keyboard. While the computer towers and monitors were all customized and unique, the keyboards all looked the same and used the same materials, shapes and backlighting. Chiang used his industrial design background to answer the question “what will bring positive emotional relevance to the users?” Three guiding principles for design were developed: luxurious attire, vintage typewriters and authentic materials.

Design decisions for the development of the Retro Classic hinged on material selection. Finding the right material to feel vintage and elegant while maintaining cost and manufacturing goals was a big challenge. Natural materials are more fragile and create difficulties during manufacturing. The emotional connection to physical material won out as a product differentiator, and the touch or scent of genuine leather or weight and rigidity of the zinc alloy frame were incorporated into the design.

Using different materials at a 0.2 millimeter thickness was a difficult manufacturing challenge for the team. A keyboard needs 126 separate openings, and punching those out of a thin surface keeping the clean cuts and avoiding material breaking was one of the most difficult aspects of manufacturing. The leather top surface plates are also challenging, as the process requires thinning, punching, and heat pressing. Heat pressing is the most crucial to dial in because a light pressing means that the surface plate will not stay in place and a heavy pressing will flatten out the leather grain.

The switches used in the keyboard are Kailh Blue, chosen for their clicky and tactile properties. Each switch has a 50 gram force operation force, with 1.6 millimeters of pretravel and 3.6 millimeters of total travel. The operating life of each switch is 50,000,000 cycles. The keyboards are 147 x 455 x 40 millimeters in size and weigh 1588 grams.

When I think manufacturing my brain conjures images of automated machines using high tech processes and space age materials. It’s interesting to see how an engineering project requiring maker level craftsmanship and natural materials approaches product design and development. This is another example of the high amount of effort, design, manufacturing skill and quality control that is required to develop any product. The Retro Classic’s Indiegogo campaign ends on August 9 and units are expected to ship in October 2017.

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