Expanding Market Share
Motorola (now Zebra Technologies) manufactures a line of compact mobile handheld computers. Pursuing a new sector of the handheld computer market, Motorola decided to expand with a new product, the MC45. This goal required pushing the limits of size and cost without sacrificing features, function, or durability.
New Product Challenges
As with any new product, the MC45 came with challenges. The product needed to be well-built and easy to use, while also being compact and durable. The final product also needed to be produced at a cost that would allow a competitive price point to help ensure success in a handheld computer market that already included several competitors.
As is often the case for mobile handheld devices, the form factor, especially the thickness, of the product was of utmost importance. Motorola specified a hard limit for the thickness that had to be met despite the large battery and multiple components specified in the requirements. This product was intended to function like a personal cell phone while operating as a durable industrial-class tool.
A major challenge in creating the architecture of this device was that the dimensions of the internal components (touchscreen, display, circuit board, scanner, imager, battery) and the wall thickness required for the injection molded housing were largely fixed. Motorola pushed back on early layout concepts that exceeded their thickness requirements. Porticos engineers had to get creative with the architecture, refining and iterating to achieve a design that met often competing objectives: device thickness, durability, and manufacturability. Porticos found a way to eliminate a wall thickness in the stackup that helped meet the goal, which was confirmed by a detailed tolerance analysis.
Motorola industrial designers put a lot of energy into creating a full-function keypad layout that was as compact as possible. It was up to our engineers to turn this layout into a detailed keypad design that operated consistently with a good tactile feel for the user.
Porticos engineers also had to work with competing constraints in the ergonomics. The scanner and imager needed to have a functional field-of-view that could be achieved comfortably with ergonomic positioning. These solutions also needed to work with the product architecture, without increasing the product envelope.
Buttons for volume up/down, power, and optional user definition were also included in the product concept. Porticos created a simple but very effective design utilizing overmolded TPE, that was easy to manufacture, inherently sealed against water, and took minimal space.
One requirement was added after the bulk of the design was complete: a stylus for the touchscreen needed to be stored securely without increasing the device envelope. Porticos engineers implemented a creative solution that incorporated overmolded TPE (thermoplastic elastomer) retention features. This solution completely integrated with the styling, avoiding the look of being “tacked on” at the end.
Motorola was very specific in their desired operation of the battery latch. The latch button was to have a center position which moves to one side to release the battery, and to the other side to lock the battery in firmly. The release action needed to have two motions (push in and slide) to reduce the risk of accidental actuation, but the battery cover needed to snap into place without the user having to actuate the latch. On top of the specified latch operation, the force and feel of the latch needed to convey quality to the user.
This set of requirements required a clever solution to control force and feel with all the various motions while being producible at scale. Porticos adapted to the requirements and provided an elegant solution.
IP64 – with a Stretch Target of IP66
While the stated requirement for water resistance was IP64 (splashing water), Motorola wanted to pursue a stretch goal of IP66 (immersion to 1m). Porticos utilized its expertise in product design for extreme environmental abuse to incorporate a perimeter tongue and groove seal, which can keep out water while taking minimal space and being easy to assemble.
To withstand real-world abuse, the MC45 product had to be designed to survive 6 ft drops on all sides, edges, and corners, as well as 250 revolutions in a 1.5m tumble chamber. Porticos used materials, mounting of internal components, and attachment methods of structural parts to achieve this robust design.
This robust design also met the requirement for the product to rapidly transition from -40°C to 70°C (-40°F to 158°F) without failure.
The Final Product
The final product, the MC45, delivers on Motorola’s vision of a handheld mobile computer that balances features and price in a compact, ergonomic, and durable package. The product supplies a laser scanner and digital imager, plus full connectivity (cellular, WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS) in a great user experience. The solid set of features married with reliable construction, and delivered at a strong price point have made this product a success. The MC45 represents enterprise value without compromise.