So I was working on a project that utilized the recording capabilities of the Pinnacle Video Transfer–a useful little widget that transfers a video feed directly to a storage device via USB.
And we had taken it apart in order to re-package it into a test rig where we didn’t have room for the housing (any excuse to take something apart). And I noticed this brick of fiberboard heat staked into one of the housing halves…
This added material doesn’t appear to serve any other purpose–the components don’t generate much heat and there’s no noise to dampen. My conclusion is that while the components on the PCB (other than the connectors) where not all that tall, the connectors were. So this drove the final thickness of the product. I guess when you’re spending $100 on a piece of video kit, you probably want it to feel somewhat solid in your hands. So this is a cheap way to add some “heft” to the product.
I wonder if this was the result of some early prototype testing where the test subjects complained that the product felt “cheap” or flimsy… I’m sure this isn’t the first time this “trick” has been used.
I’ve seen special grades of plastic where the resin was engineered to have an increased density to add heft and mass to the product (sometimes to mimic metal). For example, check out RTP’s high gravity compounds.
Let me know if you’ve had to add some dead weight or mass to one of your products to change how it feels in the hand of the user.
UPDATE: By the way, my little “discovery” inside this product wasn’t intended to reveal something deceiving or dishonest on the part of Pinnacle’s designers. I was merely pointing out something that I thought was rather interesting. I was just curious about it and whether other designers used similar techniques in their products.
So far, judging from the comments, it looks like this material might have been used to add some weight and possibly insulate the PCB from heat.
And one last thing: There was one *slightly* snarky comment posted on the Boing Boing re-post suggesting that (a) someone from IDSA–meaning me– was surprised by that piece of fiberboard and (b) was confused about its purpose. The reality is that I was neither surprised nor confused. There are several possible explanations for this material’s use in this product (adding some heft, as I suggest above, is just one of them). I was merely pointing out these things to spark some discussions on some of the more obscure and interesting elements of product design (mission accomplished).
Thanks again for helping advance the discussion. Feel free to e-mail me other “What’s That?” items.
VERDICT: Okay, after numerous requests for me to actually weight the fiberboard, I finally did it. And this is what I found:
That sucker was harder to get out of there than I expected–mainly because it wasn’t very rigid. It was actually denser than I remembered and appears to be less like a piece of fiberboard and more like a cake of sawdust impregnated with a dense wax or clay binder. It broke and crumbled as I pried it out with a screwdriver (after cutting out the plastic heat stakes).
Here’s what the scale told me: The complete product weighs 133.1 grams and this little brick weighs 42.4 grams. So it makes up 31.8% of its total weight. Or, if you’re considering it as an add-on, it added 46.7% more weight to the unit (which weighs 90.7 grams without it).
So I guess this little brick of material really did add a significant amount of mass to the product. It definitely makes the product feel more solid. But is it enough to help keep it from being pulled of the table? It doesn’t have rubber feet; that’s more of a friction issue. Does it prevent the product from being lifted up and flipped over due to the cables? Perhaps–it depends on the cables. I’m still curious about what this added to the cost of the unit…
Thanks again to everyone who commented.