A red-laser musical system from beamz Interactive Inc. uses structural arm rigidity to connect six beams enabling a person to play a sound, note or riff harmoniously.
Performer and songwriter Jerry Riopelle of Scottsdale, Ariz., imagined the concept 14 years ago, but it took serious design and development work to get the beamz-brand ``laser harp'' to the market. Two funding rounds have raised $6 million, typically from high-net-worth individuals.
Atomdesign Inc. was instrumental in completing the industrial design as part of the commercialization.
The ``experiential'' device is ``powered through a USB port using Windows software and allows people to play music effortlessly,'' Yani Deros, Atomdesign founder and president, said in a recent office interview in Phoenix. Software for Apple Inc. computers will come later.
Two glass-filled polycarbonate, ripple-lattice frames constitute the sweet spot of the precision-molded, W-shaped system. ``Each [U-shaped] ripple arm is a work of art from both a design and functional standpoint,'' he said.
The outer covers are molded of unfilled PC.
``Extremely tight tolerances on the flatness, warp and distance across the open arms were imperative to the functionality,'' Deros said. ``The lasers and sensors had to stay within a 1-millimeter spot across 12 inches of the vertical arms and maintain alignment in the assembly.''
Simple trim pieces snap into the assembly to complete the cross section of the arm. Each ripple is 2mm thick.
``We started with 20 models on a computer and then worked with a manufacturing partner to get the tooling,'' said Mike Gaumond, president and chief executive officer of privately held beamz.
Gaumond joined beamz in May 2007 after running Motorola Inc.'s digital media services unit in Tempe, Ariz.
Material for the identical internal arms was critical. Finite element analyses compared using 10 vs. 20 percent glass fill in clear PC. ``We ended up with 30 percent'' reinforcement, said Deros. Aluminum also was considered.
The first samples failed to meet flatness requirements.
Bill Close, Atomdesign's production manager, learned that the contract manufacturer was experiencing torque, resin-flow and shrinkage issues in molding the frame. The contractor had dialed in the tool incorrectly, Close found, and the part was shrinking too fast.
The arm tooling has 940 features in SolidWorks computer-aided-design software, nine side actions and five gates. The same tool can mold either frame.
In another problem, the 1 mm-thick leg covers showed weld lines. To fix that, engineers abandoned five entry points for each leg cover and used a hot-tip runner with a single entry point. The covers are molded in a compounded resin in a warm-gray color, and trim parts are spray painted to achieve a contrasting metallic finish.
Asia Sourcing Corp. of Taipei, Taiwan, produced the tooling, injection molds the frames on a 450-ton press and handles the bulk of the assembly.
South Bay Circuits Inc. of Chandler, Ariz., builds the circuit boards, does final assembly of the base and deals with logistics like packaging and shipping.
No training is needed to make music with beamz. A player can assign the sound of a musical instrument to each laser beam, select a song and play harmoniously. A player's hand breaking a beam creates the sound.
Software for popular compositions in jazz, rock, blues, reggae or other genres allows a player to accompany music with tones from a string, brass, percussion or other instruments.
A compact disc with 30 songs is supplied with each unit, and the beamz Web site offers downloads of original compositions. Five U.S. patents protect the intellectual property, Gaumond said.
Scottsdale, Ariz.-based beamz Interactive launched the tabletop product at $600 in April through Sharper Image Corp. of San Francisco and received widespread media coverage but found that the timing was poor. Sharper Image was operating under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code after filing Feb. 19 for protection, and subsequently closed its stores.
In its relaunch, the product now is offered at $400 on the beamz Web site and in 2008 holiday catalogs from Hammacher Schlemmer & Co. Inc. of Niles, Ill., and Brookstone Inc. of Merrimack, N.H., and in some of their retail outlets.