Proto Labs guides RNIB through product development

Rapid injection moulding specialist Proto Labs is supplying plastic components to the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) for a revolutionary portable Braille writing tool for the visually impaired.

For about 200 years, Braille has been written using a special type of frame (made from metal, or more recently, plastic) containing predefined lines and cells. Each cell has six regimented dots composing a Braille character. By punching down a dot, using a round stylus, the paper is impressed and a circular dot is embossed on the other side of the sheet. Traditionally, this approach, although used around the world, makes Braille extremely difficult to write, as everything has to be written in reverse, from right to left. RNIB's solution to this problem was to introduce the Roller Frame. "The advantages of the new Braille roller frame are profound, as people will now be able to write Braille much more easily," says David Taylor, Braille support officer at RNIB. "Also, its compact and light design makes this new roller frame a very portable writing tool that can be easily carried around in a bag or brief case." The brainchild of Alan King - a designer at RNIB - this ground-breaking yet simple writing device was designed using 3D modelling software, allowing Mr King to draw the individual components at full scale. "The actual production of the roller components was particularly complex, as the correct functioning of the roller mechanism relied on the high precision of the ABS injection moulding components produced by Protomold, a Proto Labs service. These parts had to be designed in such a way as to respond to different paper thicknesses, and even be able to write on Dymo tape. Protomold's help during the development process was crucial to the success of this project. Their guidance has been extremely helpful," Mr King offers. During the first stage of product development, Protomold produced 100 samples so the RNIB could test the roller frame components. "The first batch of the new product was developed very quickly, thanks to Protomold's quick-turn service," highlights Mr King. "Before finding Protomold, we had difficulty in not only proving that our designs were suitable for moulding, but that we had the tooling and part costs with confirmed delivery information quickly. With Protomold, everything was very easy from the start. Based on the evaluation and testing of the samples, the Roller frame evolved and only required subtle changes. The Protomold team were very responsive and quick to suggest solutions and implement any changes. A truly excellent service!" Now that the product design and development is finalised, the new roller frame, is ready to be produced in large numbers. Protomold will make each individual plastic component then send them over to RNIB's production facility in Peterborough, where they'll be assembled and packaged. The new RNIB Braille roller frame is a key part of Dot-to-Dot: a brand-new, self-teach, grade-1 Braille course, for adults who wish to learn Braille, either by sight or by touch.