Switch ON!! KEY PERSON INTERVIEW

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.

Mr. Kunio Nakatani
OMRON 80%
Figure 1:D2FC Market Share of Switches in Computer Mice
*As of March 2010 based on OES

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.

Figure 2:D2FC embedded in a computer Mouse

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.

Mr.Yasushi Kuramitsu

“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.

Figure 3:D2FC Stroke-Force Characteristic

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.

Ms.Megumi Ishiga

“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)

Figure 4:D2FC Structural Diagram

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 )

Mr.Makoto Funakoshi

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)

いかに人の感性に訴えるかが,いまやヒット商品を生み出すたすための重要なカギと言われている。特にタッチパネルを利用した斬新なユーザーインタフェースを備えたスマートフォンの登場を契機に,エレクトロニクス機器メーカーの間で,こうした考え方が一段と強くなっているようだ。

つまり,多くの消費者を引き付けるには,操作感や質感,感触など機器がユーザーに提供する体験を,いかに魅力的にするかが重要になっている。

だが,人間の感性にかかわる特長は,なかなかデータや図面に表すことできない。うまく言葉で表現することすら難しいことも多い。このため消費者の感性に響く製品を実現するのは簡単なことではなさそうだ。

実は,人間の感性を重視した製品開発に取り組む動きは,1990年ころから家電メーカーを中心にエレクトロニクス業界で始まっている。

1970年代ころまで基本性能の向上にしのぎを削っていた家電メーカーは,やがて付加機能の多さを競い合うようになる。ところが,多機能化が進むにつれて,過剰なまでに増えた機能を問題視する声が市場で出てきた。

「人」を重視した製品企画に取り組む機運が機器メーカーの間で高まってきたのは,このころである。「使いやすさ」や「快適さ」をキーワードにした製品開発を始めるメーカーが相次いで登場した。

その後,デジタル・スチル・カメラ,DVDレコーダーといった,いわゆる「新・三種の神器」が登場したことで,再び機能や性能を競い合う動きがメーカー間で活発化したものの,ここにきて再び人の感性を重視した製品作りにスポットライトが当たりはじめた。

これとともに従来の「殻」を打ち破る新機軸の製品がエレクトロニクスの分野から生まれる可能性が,一段と高まっているのかも知れない。