Switch ON!! KEY PERSON INTERVIEW - Asia Pacific
Switch ON!! KEY PERSON INTERVIEW
This Subminiature Basic Switch is known by its model name among enthusiasts who are passionate about the feel and responsiveness of their computer mouse. That model name is the D2FC from OMRON Switch and Devices Corporation (hereafter called OES). This Subminiature Basic Switch is used in nearly all computer mice purchased by end users who are looking for a mouse that provides functionality and responsiveness. This Switch has become the industry standard through the use of powerful networking among the sales, development, and manufacturing departments in OES.
The D2FC is a Subminiature Basic Switch developed specifically for use in computer mice. With a compact size of 5.7 × 12.7 × 6.5 mm (D×W×H), this Switch provides a comfortable feel and a satisfying clicking sound when the mouse button is clicked.
This Switch comprises an overwhelming market share for switches in mid- to high-end computer mice (see Figure 1).
“The D2FC is used in 70% to 80% of mice in this category.”
(Mr. Kunio Nakatani, General Manager, Consumer & Commercial Switch Department, OMRON Switch and Devices Corporation)
Since 2003, OES has maintained annual sales of at least 70 million units. This clearly shows that the D2FC is recognized as the industry standard for switches used in computer mice.
The Source of the Customers’ Needs Lies in the Feel of the Product
The main requirement for switches used in computer mice is the feel when the mouse button is clicked. This feel is an extremely important element for both mouse manufacturers and end users.
“We asked our customers who are the leading mouse manufacturers in order to determine what the end users most desired, and learned that the end users places the most importance on the feel of the product, which provides comfortable mouse action without tiring them out. The feel of the mouse, when it is used, is determined by the type of switch used, so there was a very strong need for switches that could provide this optimal feel in our customers’ products. Producing the right feel was a key factor in the development of the D2FC.”(Mr. Yoshio Mogi, Consumer & Commercial Switch Department, OMRON Switch and Devices Corporation )
The D2FC has become a hot topic among heavy users of computer mice.
“Enthusiastic users who are passionate about the performance and feel of their mouse go so far as to break down their mouse to inspect the components inside (see Figure 2). Among such users, the feel of the D2FC has been highly praised. This favorable praise has been further spread to other such enthusiasts through the Internet.” (Mr. Yoshio Mogi)
If you search the Internet, you can find many comments from end users about the D2FC.
Sharing an Image of the Ideal Feel Desired by the Customers
The sales department played an important role in collecting data about the market’s needs regarding the feel of the product.
The sales department has formed close relationships with major mouse manufacturers in America, Europe, China, and Taiwan.
As a result, they were able to understand the ideal image for the feel and responsiveness desired by OES`s customers, the mouse designers, and quickly provide that information as feedback to our development department. Each of the customers has a different image of the ideal feel for their products, but some were very abstract and difficult to grasp. In order to take that image and form it into a switch, OES needed to discuss these issues with the customers on their level.
“We created prototypes through trial and error based on the information about the feel and responsiveness needs of our customers gathered by the sales department, and repeatedly compared those prototypes with the desired image. The sales department played an extremely large role during the initial stages of development by facilitating communication between our customers and the development department.”(Mr. Yasushi Kuramitsu, Engineering Group, Consumer & Commercial Switch Department, OMRON Switch and Devices Corporation)
The development department took on the primary role of realizing the customers’ needs during the product development process. From the conceptual stage, OES's designers could take prototypes directly to the customers and discuss issues with them in order to quantitatively evaluate the feel of the product.
As a result, OES discovered that the feel of the switch is determined by the relationship between the stroke and force, and by fine-tuning these values OES could achieve the feel desired by the customers (see Figure 3). However, the next hurdle OES faced was how exactly to apply this knowledge to the design of the Switch.
Integrating the Feel into the Switch Design
OES has accumulated knowledge and experience in switch design through the creation of many Subminiature Basic Switch products in the past. However, OES was almost completely at a loss when it came to how to design specifically for the feel of the switch.
This is because Subminiature Basic Switches were originally used only to detect the existence of objects and were not normally manipulated in any way by the user, so there was no need to worry about the feel of the switch. Furthermore, they are extremely simple in design with only five components: the case, cover, plunger, terminals, and movable spring (see Figure 4).
In order to adjust the feel of the Switch while maintaining the basic component structure and configuration, OES carefully adjusted the shape of each component and relative positions between components in minute increments to optimize the design. In other words, in order to achieve the correct combination of stroke and force for the desired feel, OES needed to convert the individual component shapes and positional relationships to design values.
The designers repeatedly used CAE simulations and physical prototypes to make adjustments and establish the final design for the desired feel. They also tested how the Switch would feel when used in the customers’ mice in order to comprehensively evaluate the final feel of the product.
“We worked on every possible aspect of the design together with the customer in order to achieve the ideal feel and sound in the final product. We even sometimes gave advice on how to design the mouse so as to better obtain the optimal feel when the Switch is used in the mouse itself. By meeting the requests of top computer mouse manufacturers, we were able to create a final product that can also be used in a wide range of other markets.”
(Ms. Megumi Ishiga, Engineering Group, Consumer & Commercial Switch Department, OMRON Switch and Devices Corporation)
Providing a Subtle, Precise Feel and a Reliable Supply
Another aspect OES focused heavily on is the ability to provide both the desired feel and a reliable supply for mass production.
“Even if the desired feel is achieved during development, the Switch cannot be delivered to the customers without achieving mass production. Strict quality control is an absolute must in order to maintain the precise feel desired for mass production.”
Therefore, OES had to integrate all processes from component processing to assembly and inspection, and perform quality control for each individual process. OES also needed an integrated production system in order to flexibly respond to the extreme seasonal fluctuations in demand of the computer mouse market.
“We established an integrated system for the entire production process from component processing to assembly and inspection at our production base in China. We used to ship all components from Japan to have them assembled in China where our customers’ production facilities were located, but we determined that a completely integrated production system was required in order to handle the fluctuations in demand we were experiencing.”
(Mr. Makoto Funakoshi, Planning Group, Consumer & Commercial Switch Department, OMRON Switch and Devices Corporation )
Expanding the Switch Market through the Feel of the Product
The networking among the sales, development, and manufacturing departments in OES created the D2FC Switch for computer mice in order to meet the specific feel desired by the customers. However, this type of switch can also be used in a variety of other applications other than computer mice. OES plans to develop more switches with an optimal feel for a variety of other markets and applications in the future by utilizing their strong level of networking.
“OMRON Switch and Devices Corporation plans to incorporate the highly praised feel of our D2FC Switches to further meet the unique needs of the switch market. We are certain that this will enable us to further expand the user base of OMRON Switches in the future. (Mr. Kunio Nakatani)
It is said that how a company appeals to the senses of its customers is an important point in its creation of popular products. This line of thinking has become reinforced among electronic device manufacturers, particularly with the introduction of smartphones equipped with the latest in touch-panel user interfaces.
In other words, in order to attract large number of consumers, it is important that the experience provided to the user by a company’s product be attractive in terms of operational feeling, quality, touch, etc.
However, it is difficult to express features that appeal to human senses in data or drawings. Unfortunately, there are many examples that cannot be expressed well using mere words. For these reasons, it can be said that creating products that influence the senses of customers is not an easy process.
Actually, product development activities focused on human senses started in the electronics industry around 1990, mainly among home appliance manufacturers.
Up until around 1970, home appliance manufacturers who had focused on enhancing the basic performance of appliances found themselves competing to add even more additional functions. And, with this progress towards creating ever more functionality, opinions from the market began to emerge that excessive functions were in fact becoming a problem.
It is at this time that large numbers of device manufacturers began efforts to perform product planning by focusing on the customer. It is also at this time that manufacturers developing products based on keywords such as “ease-of-use” and “comfort” began to emerge one after another.
Although competition between manufacturers to again begin adding more functions and higher levels of performance was revitalized with the subsequent introduction of the “New Sacred Treasures”—in other words, high-selling digital cameras and DVD recorders—the spotlight has again begun shifting towards product development in which customer senses are the main focus.
With this, the chances that the next innovative product that breaks conventional molds will come from the electronics field have most likely increased.