I want to create something authentic.
VAIO SX12, the KACHI-IRO SPECIAL EDITION laptop was released to commemorate the 5th anniversary of VAIO Corporation. Engineers and craftsmen who worked on development discuss the challenges created by an uncompromising commitment to design.
Japanese excellence in manufacturing is embodied in KACHI-IRO SPECIAL EDITION.
VAIO Corp., Product Planning Dept., Product Planning Manager
What is the background behind releasing a limited number of KACHI-IRO SPECIAL EDITION VAIO SX12?
Product Planning, Kurosaki: Kachi is the brand color of VAIO and is a special color in many ways. Actually, this isn’t the first time we’ve released a KACHI-IRO SPECIAL EDITION VAIO. In order to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the “VAIO brand” in 2017, the VAIO Z KACHI-IRO SPECIAL EDITION was released in a limited number. This being the second time and related to our independence as a company, we wanted to create something more unique.
That’s when we realized our desire to create something authentic and true to the company. “KACHI-IRO” meaning “KACHI color” is a traditional color of Japan, and has been used for hundreds of years in the long history of Japanese manufacturing, which is where our own roots lie. With that in mind, and wanting to embody the concept of authenticity, we concluded that it would be necessary to go beyond the color and embody the emotion and spirit behind kachi color.
Specifically, we thought using kachi color in materials could also represent the flux of nature, while also making a connection to the spirit of Japanese manufacturing which VAIO advocates.
This is where the “KACHI-IRO SPECIAL EDITION” journey began.
A glossy finish reveals layers of rich color without hiding the carbon fiber texture.
VAIO Corp., PC Division, PC Design Dept., Mechanical Design Division
VAIO Corp., PC Division, PC Design Dept., Mechanical Design Division
For the VAIO SX12 KACHI-IRO SPECIAL EDITION, the carbon fiber top casing is dyed with kachi-iro and actually becomes one of the laptop’s features. What can you tell me about this choice and how it impacted production?
Mechanical Design, Asawa: VAIO has a long history of using carbon fiber because of its durability and lightweight as a casing, but I have always wanted to do something to highlight the texture visually. From my experience working on other products, I knew it was possible to create beautiful exteriors with carbon fiber. However, I knew I had to figure out how to make the unique mesh structure visible beneath layers of kachi-iro paint.
Similarly, the red edition of the VAIO S11 released in August 2018 was a major turning point in thinking about this process. The challenge with that product was to create a finish on the top plate with a UV coating to get a glossy effect, but it also revealed that it would possible to show the carbon fibers along with the color.
What about the gloss finish makes it possible to see the carbon fiber and color of the dye?
Asawa: This is something we really struggled with when developing the red edition of the VAIO S11, because when the surface of the casing has a gloss added to it not only is the color reflected, but the rough, uneven texture of the casing become very noticeable. With the VAIO SX12 KACHI-IRO SPECIAL EDITION, we consider these “flaws” to be a feature, which perfectly sums up being able to enjoy the kachi-iro and the fiber mesh together.
When we think of fibers we think of textiles where they cross to make a fabric, but on the VAIO SX12 KACHI-IRO SPECIAL EDITION, it appears that the mesh flows in horizontally in one direction. Why is that?
Asawa: The top casing is made by placing carbon fibers side by side and then hardening them into a sheet. The strength can be variable depending on how the fibers are arranged, so VAIO uses a material called unidirectional carbon, or UD carbon. Single direction sheets of carbon are stacked vertically and horizontally to create an exceptionally strong casing. If you look closely, you can just make out the opposing layers of fibers where they intersect. We wanted this complex texture to be visible on the VAIO SX12 KACHI-IRO SPECIAL EDITION.
Asawa: We were particular about the quality of the carbon panel used here. UD carbon is a common, mass produced product, and its appearance can be variable and irregular, but the top casing used for the VAIO SX12 KACHI-IRO SPECIAL EDITION is high quality to assure its visual impact is consistent and attractive.
What can you tell me about the technique used to apply kachi color to a carbon panel?
Mechanical Design, Hiroyoshi: To make the carbon fibers clearly visible on the VAIO SX12, we had to create a proprietary kachi color clear paint. And since carbon is naturally black, we partnered with a paint company in Azumino where VAIO headquarters is located to help find the ideal finish to highlight the fiber mesh.
Asawa: By the way, Hiroyoshi made numerous visits to this company to perfect the color.
Hiroyoshi：Not only does the color have a great influence on the appearance, but so do the thickness of the paint and UV coating, so it was necessary to try various recipes. I struggled in balancing my competing desires of wanting to see the kachi color clearly and to make carbon fiber mesh pop.
The logos and trim of the VAIO SX12 are also a different color. What was the thinking behind those choices?
Hiroyoshi: On advice from the designer, the logo and trim are in pink gold, which we think coordinates quite well with the kachi color, don’t you?
We were very particular about the color of the resin frame around the UC carbon top casing. It could be painted with the same kachi transparent paint but there was no carbon mesh to highlight. And because the effect of light on the top casing is so dramatic, it would look underwhelming on another surface such as the resin.
Asawa: We were making adjustments on this issue until the last minute.
But it all came together in the end, right?
Asawa: Yes. As I said earlier, despite my history of developing many products that use a variety of carbon materials, I am most proud of the finish we achieved on the VAIO SX12 KACHI-IRO SPECIAL EDITION. I want to show off the color and point out the fiber texture to all the people I meet, like in cafes. (laughs)
Hiroyoshi: These laptops have developed a fan base from the moment we put them into trial production, which makes me very proud. It was particularly nice to hear a compliment from a person who described it as “pretty.” We have heard our products described as “cool” many times, but not “pretty.” We want everyone to have a chance to see them.
The challenge behind coloring aluminum with natural indigo dyes
Nagao Manufacturing Company, Ltd. CEO
VAIO Corp., PC Division, PC Design Dept. Mechanical Design Division
First, tell us about your company, Nagao Manufacturing Company, Ltd., and then about this partnership with VAIO.
Nagao Manufacturing, Nagao: Nagao Manufacturing Company is a precision sheet metal processing manufacturer in Saiki City, Oita Prefecture. We specialize in processing aluminum, stainless steel, and iron. Essentially, we produce metal parts used in industrial products such as semiconductors and railway cars. About four years ago a conversation with an employee opened an interest in dyeing metal indigo, and after some trial and error, we developed a technology called color anodizing with a dye containing natural indigo. This technique was used to dye the flat aluminum palm rests of the KACHI-IRO SPECIAL EDITION laptops for VAIO.
Asawa: We found out about this technology only a year and a half ago. We were not yet in the planning stages SPECIAL EDITION laptops, but I recall thinking it was a technology well-suited for VAIO since kachi was our brand color (laughs). When we began planning and had decided on a product based on the concept of authenticity, I knew I had no choice but to use this technology, so I contacted Nagao Manufacturing.
Is it difficult to develop a process to dye metal with natural indigo, and aluminum specifically?
Asawa: The flat aluminum palm rests were dyed using a technology called color anodizing wherein tiny pores in the metal are filled with microparticles of the dye. For the VAIO KACHI-IRO SPECIAL EDITION laptops, only an organic, natural indigo dye was used.
Nagao: However, because natural indigo is a strong alkali, it will destroy the anodized layer on the aluminum surface if applied as it is. Also, the pigment particles were originally too large to fit into the pores. It was a difficult problem to solve.
What did you specifically do so solve it?
Nagao: I can’t give you specifics because it’s a trade secret (laughs), but we were able to extract several pigments that capture the beauty of natural indigo, and then combined it with organic dyes to create the color. By the way, the natural indigo plant used here is Awa indigo, or Japanese indigo, from Tokushima Prefecture. There were others like Indian, Ryukyu, and Ward indigo, but we chose Awa indigo as it has a long history is still used in a process called “aizome” by craftsmen throughout Japan.
Nagao: Additionally, while the entire Tokushima prefecture currently promotes the use of indigo, the people there thought the idea of dyeing metal was unique and interesting. When I showed an aizome craftsman our work he was impressed by how good the color was, which made me happy. And after presenting this technology at various exhibitions a couple of years ago, I was complimented by a certain plating company told us they could not replicate the color we had achieved.
Dying aluminum with a natural indigo seems like it would result in many color variations, so does that mean the differences depend on the kind of dye being used?
Nagao: No. The organic dye used use is a single color. The difference in color depends on the voltage and time of the anodizing treatment. With the flat aluminum palm rests on the KACHI-IRO SPECIAL EDITION laptops, we chose a setting made with VAIO supervision that created the ideal indigo color.
What was the indigo that VAIO wanted?
Asawa: It was actually a more bluish color on the early prototype. However, after consulting with the designer about the total color scheme for the laptops we decided on a darker shade of blue with more depth, which is how we chose the current color.
Nagao: By the way, if you look at the kachi colored armor used during the Civil Wars of the Sengoku Era, it is an almost black indigo, although that could just be due to the age of the dye.
What other difficulties did you encounter dying the aluminum palm rests?
Nagao: The palms rests of VAIO were largest dyed product we had handled so far, so it was a challenge for the existing equipment to maintain color uniformity within the prescribed range.
A single craftsman controls the quality of the dyeing process of aluminum palm rests by sight.
Asawa: With everything that’s been said, we believe the variations in coloring are unique to using natural indigo. When you place each side by side, you can easily tell the difference because some have a reddish hue while others are more blue. It is a variable color, and we hope customers will enjoy the unique differences, no matter the shade.
How fascinating it would be if VAIO owners had a meet up to compare the different shades of blue.
Asawa: It sounds like a fun experiment that would be impossible to recreate in another industry. (laughs)
Do you have any final thoughts on the product you helped to create?
Nagao: It was simply a wonderful experience, and that sums it up. By including the kachi colored top case, we consider these laptops be a uniquely finished product. I’m already trying to figure out how many units our company should purchase. (laughs)
(Originally Published July 9, 2019 on vaio.com)