Brutal 3D Ceiling Tiles - How are they Engineered?
One of the challenges in any new product launch is managing customer expectations and adapting accordingly. With a relatively limited amount of information, customers create a picture in their mind as to what the product is and make the purchase. They may base the purchase on a nice picture and not bother to read the details. A ceiling tile - something square that drops into a grid. Sounds simple enough, but there is a lot of nuances to a product like this. Sometimes when they open the box, they cannot believe that what they received actually performs as advertised. They see the lightness and flexibility and cannot believe that it works. Even worse, they perceive it as cheap junk. They already decided that any ceiling tile product must be bulky, rigid, thick and heavy like a piece of plaster or a mineral tile. And then they return the product without actually trying them in a grid. This really happens. Bad product? No. Lack of understanding, yes. A side effect of the tiles being so light is that in windy areas near entry doors or vestibules, they may flutter of lift out of the grid. This requires grid clips ho hold them down. Awkward to state that on an Amazon listing. Time to tweak the messaging.
How can a material so thin work as a ceiling tile?
Let's nerd out together and understand why Brutal tiles are so awesomely engineered!
First of all, I am a mechanical engineer with 35 years of experience designing medical devices (not boring by the way). I wanted to try something that combined my love for product development and really cool mid-century modern design. Most of the tile designs out there is a re-hash of 100-year-old designs which do not go with contemporary or modern decor, so there should be plenty of opportunity for what I am selling.
Everything that has been designed properly (by nature or humans) has been designed to optimize performance. This includes economics. What is the best cheapest way to make a product that performs some function? Constraints like a Class A fire rating force you to use a particular material, in our case it is PVC plastic. Using the thinnest possible material is always the goal. You would be amazed at how thin some of the metal is on aircraft and cars. The Japanese use sheets of paper as their privacy walls in traditional homes. Only as strong as it needs to be is the mantra. Since our tiles must be stacked in a box for shipping, you can't make them too thin, or the ones at the bottom of the stack get crushed. This is particularly undesirable as our tiles are actually optical products. They are made to be appreciated for the texture and landscape effect that the interaction of light and shadow gives the installation, being on the ceiling or attached to a wall. Any tiny ripples or dents that get created during shipping absolutely ruin the effect. The goal is to produce a product that once installed looks like it was carved out of a piece of Carrara marble by a mid-century modern Michaelangelo. That is in fact what we have achieved. An impossibly light and flexible part that looks incredibly solid. Our designs derive their rigidity from their 3D shape combined with the support they get from the ceiling grid. The sheet material that we use does not work in the grid as a flat sheet. It sags and the edges lift in several places. Our designs only have to support themselves, so would actually work with even thinner material. They also have to work right side up and upside down in the grid. We are unique as no other tiles do that. We do tell customers that any light fixtures need to be supported from above and may not place any forces on the tiles. There are many incredible shapes out there and reducing that number to a handful of shapes that can work as a ceiling tile was a big challenge. A few of my favorites had to be abandoned because they were not stable enough when the shape was pointed upwards. Gravity tended to pull in a way that caused slight ripples that ruined the shadowing effect. What works best is double curvatures, like the surface of a sphere or a dome. They can be incredibly thin and support themselves nicely. Globen and Europa are great double curvature designs. Simple arches work too, but one needs to be careful to not have the arch too wide or shallow for a particular material thickness as you get ripples. This killed a design based on a chocolate bar square. Bummer. I really liked that one. Brasilia is an example of a tile that has a reasonable arch but would probably not work well in a thinner material. The challenging ones are those with big flat faces. This includes Blox, Bilbao and Sobe. Fortunately, the flat faces do not sag noticeably and ruin the optics. They are all sufficiently supported by the 3D shape of the neighboring elements. We settled on 0.48mm thickness after also trying 0.75mm. Both worked fine, looked great, stacked fine and you pay by the pound, so thinner won. One of our competitors uses a 0.33 mm and calls it "Feather Light". Probably too thin for us. So, there you have it. They are awesome!