Though technology has made prototyping much faster, it requires an under-standing of how rapid-prototyping materials behave compared to manufacturing materials. “If the SLS nylon fails in certain ways, we can tell how that will relate to the actual plastic’s performance,” Churchill says. “The SLS prototyping was particularly helpful with the ducting components, where air is blown into the air knives. The early SLS ducting models cracked quite easily, so we knew we needed to use plastics that would sustain expansion and contraction.”
Dyson manufactured an initial run of 300 machines to be bashed, broken, and tested in every possible capacity. The company does most of its testing in Malaysia in a large facility where most of its vacuum cleaners are made, primarily in hard plastics such as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). The casings of the first Airblades were made of die-cast aluminum for extra durability, and because a die-casting tool weighs as much as a double-decker bus, Dyson sought out the help of a China-based specialist.
The company has since perfected the Airblade in an ABS-polycarbonate plastic blend. In the Wiltshire facility, a finished hand dryer recently sat in a cage, being repeatedly whacked by an enormous swinging mallet. “Imagine the abuse it takes in a pub,” one engineer said. One has yet to crack.