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Looking for a Close Shave
We have become use to new devices appearing on a regular, some would say daily basis. Yet how often to we stop and consider the various development stages that must have been completed in order for these devices to have reached the position where they are considered suitable for human consumption and arrive as a finished product for the benefit of users such as you and I. This point was brought home to me with a recent visit to a facility whose sole purpose is to undertake the research and testing required in the development of a product.
The product under the spotlight is one that is used by many, sometimes every day, and yet it hardly given more than a passing thought. I am referring to a razor such as those manufactured by Gillette. I must admit that I had never given more than a passing though to this device which has been my constant companion over many years.
Since the safety razor with disposable blades was invented 110 years ago by King C. Gillette, this product has undergone a metamorphosis into high tech shaving tools such as the Gillette Fusion® ProGlide and Gillette Fusion® ProGlide Power with low cutting force blades, Snowplow comfort guard and an innovative microcomb feature to mention just some of the features. But just what lies behind the development of products such as these. The answer, or maybe answers to this, can be found in a location referred to as the RIC.
This is the Reading Innovation Centre which has been home to the research behind numerous Gillette branded products. At this location, where you have to hand over any cameras before being allowed access, research groups are busy at work. These groups consist of scientists, engineers and specialist technologists who are continuously working at developing an understanding of hair, skin and the shaving process itself. So just what does go on at the haven of shaving technology?
Knowing how the individual customer uses the product is an important element in the overall design concept and a possible starting point in the research. The RIC can call on a panel of customers who take part in various testing procedures such as measuring the rate of water loss from different skin surfaces and being guinea pigs as they are observed in the actual shaving process using one-way mirrors. Interviews and questionnaire sessions are also conducted to gather data.
Taking this information into the area of the Science of Shaving, Gillette scientists can use tools such as a video microscope which can be run over the facial skin and beard hair of various participants at very high magnification. The actual shaving process can be studied in even greater detail through the use of 3D motion analysis and advanced high speed filming techniques so that every movement of the razor, wrist, elbow and arm is taken into consideration and analysed by experts.
The knowledge gained is then passed on to the concept engineers who can use their skills to begin the process of developing a new product by creating sketches and models through the use of CAD (Computer Aided Design) software. Gillette’s experts make use of technologies such as CT Scanning and Advanced Scanning Electron Microscopy to aid in the future development of any new concepts. State of the art Rapid Prototyping technology is used to turn virtual computer designs into real 3D models as a laser beam traces a profile into light-curing resin to produce samples of the various components that form the latest razor models.
All these technologies are used to product a product that is used by millions to remove unwanted body hair. But that is not quite the end of the story. Every single product has to undergo a quality inspection process. At RIC this involves microscopic analysis that is under the control of a human expert. Even the slightest blemish, invisible to the naked eye, in a single blade is enough for a cartridge to be rejected as being unsuitable for use by shavers.
Some of the technology used at RIC has to be seen to be believed as every aspect of shaving is minutely explored. Remember this is for a device that performs the mundane tasks of removing facial and other body hair. So next time you are shaving give a thought to all the people and equipment that is in constant use to ensure you have the smoothest experience possible and try not to cut yourself because that is more likely to be a human rather than equipment error.
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