While James Dyson is the obvious face of the company he founded in 1993, he isn't the only one tinkering away at high-powered blades or really sucky vacuums in Malmesbury, England. With over 700 some engineers under one roof, Dyson tasked Marcus Hartley with creating the new Airblade Tap about two and a half years ago.
Hartley, a veteran of the Airblade team, has been at Dyson for nine years, and I actually met him when I visited Dyson back in 2008. Here's a quick chat I had with Marcus, the lead designer on Airblade Tap, from earlier today.
Having seen the way you guys work and spending a day going through the design process for a new product, can you tell me how many prototypes were made before you settled on what is now the Airblade Tap?
Hartley: That's a good question! I'd say somewhere in the hundreds, at least. If something doesn't work, we try to make it better and then find something else to fix and make it better and better again. We go through that cycle until we think we're fit to release it to the public. So we've definitely gone through a few hundred prototypes of the Tap.
Were there any new manufacturing processes for the Airblade Tap? Hartley: The Tap has been a real challenge for us because we've never done anything with metal before. And because we keep everything in-house, we've investigated quite a number of different manufacturing techniques and came across laser welding. It's a pretty cool technology to cut each tube. It needs to be really precise. We join everything together with a jig and a laser robot rotates around the whole thing welding it altogether.
I've noticed over the last few years travelling around that a lot of Airblade clones have popped up. What do you think about that? Hartley: Personally, I think it's quite good. It opens your eyes to high-speed hand dryers and, let's face it, the existing technology needed to move on. The ones on the walls where you push a button are rubbish. They always have been and always will be. We were the first to get out there and really push the boundaries. But we haven't stopped developing hence the V and Tap. We're pushing into different markets.
I noticed with the three new Airblades, you've introduced a new user behaviour. Hartley: With the Tap and the V, we designed them to be super compact. The V, for example, is nice and compact and to do that we needed to have a single blade. Your hands are naturally in a v-shape and you kind of do that naturally anyway. We managed to maintain the hygiene and speed even though we went from a double blade to single blade.
Anything else different about the Blade system from the original to the new variants? Hartley: Having done hundreds of thousands of different blade geometries and tests, the best way to do it, and we've tried loads of different ways of stripping water off your hands, is a high speed stripping action. It's the best way. We've looked at spitting the water off and all kinds of manner of things but the most intuitive way is how we've done it. Once people try it once, they get it.
What else is there to know about the Airblade Tap? Hartley: For us, and I've been saying this, it's the next game changer for us. When we launched Airblade there was nothing like it out there. And like you said, five or six years later, we're seeing all the copycats. The Tap moves us into a different area. Specifically, it makes architects think differently. At the moment, they have to design wash rooms around stainless or glass or mirrored splashbacks. With the Tap, you can make your wash rooms smaller, for example, because you don't have to move around as much. You do everything in a confined space. It's a risk for us. We don't know how people are going to react to it. It combines the technology of the Airblade, like hygiene and speed, in one area now.