After what seemed like an eternity, our Lead Product Designer, Manel, is back from China! Yay! 🥳
We've been interrogating him for days to share with you every detail of his trip and, most importantly, the manufacturing status of the Dygma Defy.
During the last few weeks, he's been working tirelessly with our suppliers to validate the design tests of the different components, launch larger production runs, and prepare the assembly line for the Defy.
As you can imagine, there's a lot to unpack. So sit comfortably, grab a big bucket of popcorn and keep reading 🍿
It's a long read, but there's relevant information regarding the progress of the project.
You can also watch our live video, where we reviewed most of the samples in detail.
The aluminum top panel
The top panel is one of the most critical parts of the keyboard, both mechanically and aesthetically. Everything attaches to it –the PCBs, the base, the switches, the palm pads– and gives the Defy its premium finish.
To ensure maximum quality, we launched a 200-unit design validation test that Manel supervised on his visit 🔍
Making the top panel is a fascinating mixture of industrial and manual techniques, a unique combination of an engineering marvel with a human touch.
First, a press stamp molds a flat sheet of aluminum. Then, the holes are dye-cut in three phases to not alter the shape. Afterward, another press cuts the excess material on the perimeter, and we CNC the final shape to get a perfect finish.
But wait, there's more. Another machine places the inserts on the inside of the top plate –the little turrets where the base and PCBs are screwed to– and we CNC the recesses on the bottom of the keyboard for the battery, the magnets and the low profile switches.
Now that we have the final shape, it's time to give the top panel its sweet brushed aluminum finish.
This manual process involves polishing the edges to remove imperfections, sandblasting and brushing the texture before anodizing the aluminum.
This makes each top panel one of a kind, with a unique brush texture and little oddities around the perimeter that show its artisan process 👩🎨
These are noticeable under certain lighting conditions, especially in the silver top panel. We've changed the procedure to reduce them, but production will move forward regardless.We like that each top panel is its own.
The tenting legs
Another critical part of the keyboard is the tenting legs. We've been working on this for months and are in the final stretch. In China, we manufactured and inspected 200 legs, 50 whole sets) with particular attention to the paint finish.
In previous updates, we've talked about how happy we are with the stability of the tenting, but we still had some issues with the rods and the tenting legs' paint.
The problem with the rods was that some broke at the hinge for no apparent reason. After analyzing different samples, we found the issue: the little shaft on the leg was not perfectly round, and it pressured the rod while it rotated.
We've made changes for that shaft to be rounder and reinforced the plastic mixture of the rod, and it doesn't happen anymore 💪
The thing with the tenting legs was that they needed several coats of paint to achieve the desired finish. Due to the tolerances of the paint, some legs were thicker. And since the hinge shafts were also painted, that affected the feeling when moving the legs.
After going back and forth with the supplier to get a more consistent finish, we found a solution: put a little cap on the top of the legs while painting. That way, we reduce the tolerance from 0.2 mm to 0.05 mm.
We had to modify the hinge holes on the base by a few microns –before it considered the thickness of the paint– and also add a small flexible washer, but now we have a perfect feeling 👌
Besides that change on the leg hinge, there are some other things Manel decided to improve after inspecting the DVT samples on-site.
For example, we tried to eliminate the marks the mold slider leaves on the plastic beside the side tenting legs, but it was impossible. We will test a small sticker to cover them, but it's a minor, aesthetic obsession.
And most importantly, we've settled on the color of the base for the silver keyboards. We considered grey and white and settled on white with a lovely soft texture. You don't see much of it, as the mylar covers most of the base, but you know us, every detail has to be perfect 🔬
The palm pads
The new palm pads are one of the things that made us happier than having Manel back at the office.
For years, we've wanted to create highly comfortable, soft, fresh palm pads. Our first palm pads, the ones used on the Dygma Raise, were made of PU, but nobody would describe them as soft, so we kept looking.
Our next stop was viscoelastic, but it was extremely complicated to make it have a flat surface. Then we tried EVA foam, but it got warm after some use, and we were worried that it would degrade over time.
We also considered returning to PU, but the palm pad was too heavy for the magnets and would slide out of place 😭
Our December update showed our latest progress: a new, softer silicone that made the palm pads smoother. That was great news, but they didn't last long. Sticking the silicone to the base was a difficult and risky operation. You need a complicated glue that requires a long resting time, and we weren't sure it would stand prolonged use or heat. Plus, we didn't like the texture of the black leatherette our supplier offered us.
Fortunately, Manel visited other suppliers in China and found a fluffy, cool palm pad made of silicon gel that feels like resting your wrist on a summer cloud 🌥️
Finally, after more than four years of trying to make our dream palm pad, we had it in our hands. Luis, our CEO, was so happy that he even went on an office tour to show it to everybody 😅
However, the problem with silicon gel is that you can't stick anything to it –like the leatherette or the base– but we were quick on our feet: we added a second, thinner base and wrapped the silicon gel with the leatherette.
This means modifying the mold for the base, but we already have a working 3D-printed prototype, and the changes to be made are rarely simple. It'll be ready next week, and we'll launch the final test run of the palm pads.
The underglow diffuser
Another little thing Manel was working on was the exact plastic composition of the underglow diffuser.
This might seem trivial, but it is crucial in obtaining an even light distribution. We don't want any dark or burn spots showing up 🔥
The first designs were made of transparent ABS plastic with different proportions of white powder, but we weren't satisfied.
While in China, we worked with our supplier to test different materials and compositions, and we ended up with a polycarbonate diffuser that was approved to be mass-produced.
We were already really proud of the Raise's underglow, but the Defy's underglow is something else 🌈
Oh, the keycaps. So much fun.
Our supplier had various sets of each color and language –2 colors, 7 languages– ready for Manel's arrival 🧐
The following hours were spent thoroughly inspecting every one of those sets, placing little red stickers wherever an imperfection was spotted. Most of them had to do with legends not being correctly aligned in the keycap.
They would then try to correct those errors and make new sets, and Manel would be back the next day to do that all over again until the laser-edging was correctly calibrated 📐
On top of that, he also set quality control standards, as even a well-calibrated machine can produce non-acceptable keycaps.
Another curious thing about the keycaps is the jig we designed to ensure they are all properly aligned before the laser-edging. We had to order quite an expensive mold to produce those jigs, but they helped a lot with the quality of the laser-edging.
Just think about it: the machine can be perfectly calibrated, but it all goes south if you place the keycaps slightly misaligned.
Finally, Manel also used his visit to explore the possibility of making dye-sub PBT keycaps with our molds.
The quality is pretty impressive, with very sharp legends and even the possibility of creating crazy designs. Still, with so much on our plate, we decided to focus on the core features and leave this for the near future.
The accessories, like the travel case or the enhancement kit, may not seem so critical, but sometimes the tiniest thing can derail the whole operation 😬
In that regard, there's nothing to worry about. The enhancement kits are all manufactured; Manel has greenlighted the golden sample of the travel case, so they are now being manufactured; and we have also tested and ordered the boxes in which the keyboards will be shipped.
Manel also visited our PCBa factory just as they assembled the DVT for the RF PCB for the wireless Defy.
It's an exciting process that's highly automated 🦾
First, a stencil printer places the soldering paste following our design.
Then, a Pick and Place machine places all the components on the PCB.
Next, the PCBs are placed in an oven, where the paste solidifies, effectively soldering the components.
Afterward, it goes through an Automated Optical Inspection and an X-Ray machine.
The last step is our test jig, ensuring all the electronics work as designed.
However, not all is good news regarding electronics 😔
We detected emissions on the cables while performing a new certification test on the wired Defy –now with SPI communications instead of I2C.
To fix it, we've had to modify the Keyscanner PCBs –we added some components next to the USB plug– and found new, better-shielded wires.
It's not a complicated fix, but we've had to launch a new design validation test (DVT) for those PCBs before manufacturing a larger batch –we already found the new wires.
That test run should be ready soon, but we just learned today that the larger production run (about 200 PCBs) can't happen until April, pushing the whole timeline backward by three to four weeks.
The assembly line
Either way, Manel has been getting our assembly line ready for when all the components arrive. He met for days on end with the owner of the manufacturing plant and several assembly engineers to design and document the SOP (Standard Operation Procedure) ✅
They sat together and assembled multiple Dygma Defy, meticulously documenting every step of the process and setting different quality control checkpoints along the way.
To give you an idea of the extent of this process, let me list a few of those quality control checkpoints:
IQC, or Incoming Quality Control, to ensure all the components we receive meet our standards.
Once the top part of the keyboard is assembled –with PCBs and all– we test that it's completely flat and that everything works before installing the base.
We also run an Automated Optical Inspection (AOI) at this point.
Once the base is installed, we check for wobbling in EVERY SINGLE ANGLE from 0º to 60º.
We even check small things like how the wireless Neuron fits beneath the base.
Then there's a full functional test: Bluetooth, RF, wired, batteries, LEDs, and key presses.
Finally, there's an OQC (Outgoing Quality Control) to check for aesthetic issues before shipping.
It was an arduous task, but it's the only way to ensure that every Dygma Defy comes out off the assembly line just as we designed. On top of that, we'll do the final assembly and quality control in our fulfillment facility here in Spain 🎁
Ok, what's next?
Well, now all the components need to be manufactured in larger batches –a production validation test– and we'll use those to assemble the first batch of Dygma Defy.
Then we'll fly those to Spain, do final quality control, and ship them to the first 100 Early Delivery Kickstarter backers at the same time, we'll be producing the whole batches of the component and assembling all the keyboards.
Here's the updated timeline.
We're incredibly excited about how the Dygma Defy is coming together, especially now that the goal line is so close after months and months of fine-tuning the design. We can't wait to start shipping the few units and hear your thoughts 😊
As always, we can't be grateful enough for your support. You're simply the best.