You need an acoustic widget, something that works and you need it fast. You can’t find it in the catalogs or the back of trade magazines and it doesn’t show up on Google searches. Now what?
You came to the right place. How do you know? Well for starters, you worked hard to get here. Secondly, if we are anything, we are an acoustic product development company. Most of the time, we make things for our own use. But sometimes we get to develop and make things for someone else. We’ve cooked up so many gadgets and systems over the last quarter of a century that it's hard to imagine running into something we can’t do. The closest we came to a flop was when we tried to make an anti-snore pillow.
It starts with brainstorming. Here in these early team sessions, many conceptual ideas are tried on for size and tossed out. Here is where we begin to learn about all the constraints that are built into the project and here is where we begin to realize why we got the job. Usually there are so many NO's to the project that it begins to feel like we'll never find a YES that works.
Then we work hard and fast and always seem to find a few little YES spaces between all the NO zones. And it’s in these YES spaces, somewhere between all the NO zones that we find the room we need for the system that’s going to work.
Just to make matters a little more tense, we usually had to bid the job and obligate ourselves to meet some deadline long before we had any idea about what we were going to do on the project. How can we do that? Because we’ve been doing product development for so long, we take a look at the problem and the constraints that are known and that gives us a feeling for what it will take to get it done.
And most of the time, despite the expected many the false starts, we get the job done right, in budget and on time. There’s only one thing we haven't quite been able to do yet, which is to get a new job that we have already done before......
1) One spring day a TI engineer flew in, hand carrying an operational prototype, one of their last dot matrix printers. They had a huge order for a wide bed printer that was tough enough to print through 8 copy inventory forms. The printer worked fine, except for one thing...it was way too loud. If they couldn’t quiet it down they wouldn't get the contract. We experimented with every kind of normal printer containment box we could imagine and there was always something in the way of something and the answer from corporate kept being “No, that won't work.”
Finally, having failed to come up with a macro solution, we attacked the problem from a micro solution perspective. To do that you look for what makes the noise in the first place. It was the impact of the print pin on the paper that made the noise. We wanted to hold the paper down so it wouldn't vibrate after being hit but we couldn't get anything to push hard enough on the paper and still let the head fly around at dizzying speeds. Finally we cooked up a tiny flying sound baffle that simply attached to the plastic shield already mounted to the print head. It was sitting there all the time.
We just retrofit the shield with a lightweight piece of sound absorbing foam and we were done. It was light enough to not cause an increase in the inertial load on the drive train and strong enough to hang on during those Hi-G speed reversals and it still cut that impact noise just enough to get the job done. In the end, that solution cost TI an extra 10 cents per machine. And the best of all was that they got the contract and delivered over one thousand of these high-end hammer and anvil printers.
2) Some time later a national hearing research center got a grant from the Army to come up with a training program about hearing protection that could be set up in large noisy waiting areas. It had to be sound proof, familiar to the troops and yet interesting to the inductee age group. It had to be able to get set up or torn down in less than one hour and had to stuff into a couple duffle bags thrown into the back of a Jeep, or maybe it was a HumVee.
These brilliant clinical people had some ideas but really just didn’t know what to do. Someone suggested “Call ASC.” They did and we said "Yes." There were so many “NO’s” in this project it began to get desperate. One design after another ended up on the floor. Nothing normal in the world of sound booths would work. We finally struck home when we figured out that we could take two military grade canvas tents, set one up inside the other and drape sleeping bags, zippered together, over the inside tent.
This design created a sound wall out of two heavy limp mass sheets separated by an air space in which sound absorbing materials were placed. Not only would it work in the noisy staging areas but it turns out that we also had developed a portable SCIF (secure soundproof room) suitable out in the rough field conditions of the real world.
3) Then there was the time we got a call from Miller Hi Life, the Champagne of Bottled Beer. They still had their original caves which ran under the hill behind their headquarters in Milwaukee. In those early years, horse drawn delivery carts pulled into the caves to get loaded up with cave cold beer. One of those caves had become a tourist center...Ok, a Mecca for beer devotees. Miller management also wanted to use it for high-brow invitation-only dining events, just like they used to do back in the roaring 20's. And they even had a picture of one of those old dinners.
This cave tunnel had a concrete floor and all brick walls with a rounded brick roof. And the reverb noise was awful. They obviously needed a few sound panels and we thought the job was going to be a slam dunk. But their architect had different ideas. We changed colors and patterns and it was still NO. We proposed large acoustic bezels for the hanging "oil" lamps and it was still NO. How about a large sound panel down the length of each side of the tunnel with an old time picture gallery mounted over top? NO. It was NO-NO-NO to every proposal. We all slowly realized that no one could stand the idea of changing the appearance of this historic tunnel. At least we finally knew what the YES would be, doing nothing and still getting something done. We began to play with making sound absorbing half bricks and imagined gluing them onto the original brick lining of the tunnel...Close but no cigar. By now we were running out of time. Invitations had already been sent out for the big dinner début of the renovated tunnel.
We tried another approach. We took photos of the tunnel surface, had them printed on fabric, cut tiny slices of Styrofoam to match the shape of each brick and glued it all together. The architect signed off on the demo sample. We had developed an acoustic transparent relief surface that looked exactly like the brick wall it would eventually cover. We also had to invent at the same time a bendable sound panel so we could match the ever-changing curve of the tunnel and install it with bolts so it wouldn't fall down. We fabed the project over the weekend on overtime and shipped it redball. It took the local sound contractor two days to put it up. 15 minutes after he was done cleaning up, the invited guests in their tuxedos began to arrive for the inaugural dinner.