The Creative Lounge opened on the first floor of Sony's global headquarters in Tokyo’s Shinagawa in 2014. Created as an in-house fabrication space, the facility formed one element of the “Seed Acceleration Plan” (also known as “SAP”), a program by Sony which was started in April 2014 to support the creativity and business activities of startups. The unusual in-house laboratory attracted both domestic and overseas visitors when opened and garnered extensive media coverage. From opening the facility has included a Speedy 400 flexx laser engraving machine which has helped to create new businesses through its valuable contributions to prototyping and product development.
Once registered and trained Sony employees can make use of the tools in the Creative Lounge. The facility is also a co-creative space allowing the public to utilise it through introductions by Sony employees. Hundreds of people have already registered and undergone training at the Lounge.
The Speedy 400 flexx laser engraver is the facilities workhorse. It is used for producing prototypes and jigs, with the laser engraver demonstrating its flexibility with the latter application, handling acrylic based materials. The second most popular application for the laser machine is the production of moving parts, including cogs and mechanisms. The alignment of such parts can be impacted by the smallest deviation, so on each occasion that the laser is called into service, the detail-driven users of the Creative Lounge can cut out their test pieces on the laser cutter to a pattern precise down to the micron level, and then measure everything with callipers. The laser cutter is also used for the production of protective substrate cases, specialised switches and hole cutting for LED mechanisms. With their creativity, users create products beyond the realm of imagination using the laser cutter.
When piecing together structures, machine tools such as 3D printers and laser cutters are usually employed. Lasers are not only fast but they are capable of creating almost anything flat. Another advantage they offer users is being able to process numerous different materials such as wood, and they excel at handling other materials such as acrylic. Meanwhile, complex three-dimensional items can be manufactured using 3D printers, while there is also the pattern of putting the finishing touches to larger laser-created pieces by adding parts fabricated on a 3D printer. By combining the use of these machine tools, each can highlight its own strengths while working in concert with the other.
There are regular “auditions” held as part of the SAP initiative, the aim being to create ideas that stretch across the entire company. Every few months SAP Training is conducted to promote the participation of interested parties prior to the auditions process, so that not just spontaneous ideas are submitted when the time comes. Individuals are given an opportunity to learn about structuring ideas and testing them. After that primer, the three-phase audition process begins, involving document submission, video production, and a final judging process. Once the submitted ideas have passed through in-house voting and judging, a certain level of funding is given to the successful proposals, and an intensive education program offered to help turn ideas into reality.
Since its inception, as an entry point to participating in SAP, the Creative Lounge holds itself to the motto “freely try and make things.” What was initially corporate policy has been matched to the wishes of employees. Until the Creative Lounge opened there were no facilities available that Sony employees could readily use. Mr. Akichika Tanaka, responsible for planning the Creative Lounge, submitted a detailed proposal that argued it would be more efficient if a facility were focused on a single open-access location. He went further in interviewing the individuals who applied to various idea competitions run within the company. In doing so, when asking questions as to “what kind of materials would give form to ideas,” and “what kind of facility would make it easy to act,” he realised that within the company there were many voices in favour of something like the Creative Lounge. Having previously taken part in in-house contests, Mr. Tanaka recognised the importance of speed and effectiveness. From when the facility was opened, a decision was made to respond to the most pressing need by introducing from the outset only a laser cutter and a 3D printer as the major pieces of machinery.
When deciding on and introducing a laser cutter to the Creative Lounge, Mr. Tanaka used his experience from his time as a student in the United States. In 2013, he had the opportunity to study robotics research and development at Stanford University. In the general neighbourhood there were fabrication facilities along with lots of equipment that could be found on campus. Mr. Tanaka used laser cutters daily, both as part of his research and in his lessons. “At that time, laser cutters were very much part of the scenery that surrounded me. Thus, when I thought of something, I was usually able to get access to a cutter and create it without much hassle. More than painting a specific picture, being able to easily create something from an idea’s inception provides an opportunity to learn, and that’s very effective.” Mr. Tanaka had experienced the limitations of what he could achieve when attempting to create his own high-precision test products before founding the Creative Lounge, having had had experience outsourcing to contractors, leading to long delays, sometimes up to a week until something was returned. In addition to the time and expense involved, he thought that something might be done to improve the efficiency of such procedures in that it was unreasonable to ask contractors to do something that he had not had the opportunity to mock up himself. He imagined that it might have been an easier proposition if he initially made things roughly, and then proceeded to ask contractors to fabricate the genuine article. Mr. Tanaka states, “In that I believe that it is important during the initial stages to think in terms of the big picture and to create it by my own hands as well, having a facility like the Creative Lounge makes for better efficiency, and better-quality proposals. More than anything, it gives you the opportunity to clearly realize and shape your ideas.” Moreover, from Sony’s corporate culture of “fabrication,” is what allowed for the belief that such a facility would be able to be used effectively was the fact that within the company there are so many individuals who want to pursue their own ideas and turn them into products.
The principle reason Sony selected Trotec for its Creative Lounge, was the exhaust systems used alongside the laser cutting machines. When Mr. Tanaka was using machinery at a certain fabrication facility while in the United States, he realised the switch for the exhaust system was very quick to engage, and that there were a number of risks associated with that, such as managing to forget that the system was actually turned on. He felt that such a small hassle of having to turn the exhaust system switch on and off separately could easily lead to an accident. What is more, not having the exhaust unit directly linked to the machinery itself resulted in many cases of exhaust-related trouble. Due to these experiences, Mr. Tanaka believes; “having a set up like that of Trotec laser cutters where the machinery itself and the exhaust unit are joined together is very important.”
As installing additional exhaust ducts is a very difficult proposition within a building located in a downtown area, it was essentially felt that Trotec was the only real choice for the Creative Lounge, as its laser cutters came equipped with their own dedicated exhaust units. As Mr. Tanaka says, “from the perspectives of safety and convenience as well, I think that exhaust system units are also important.” Additionally, when deciding what machinery to introduce, the thoroughness of Trotec’s support was also an important factor. With something like the Creative Lounge, anybody who is registered as a member can make full use of the facilities, and because the equipment gets used at least once a day almost daily, there must be good maintenance if something breaks. At Sony, there are many instances of ideas coming on the spur of the moment, and in that there was some attraction in the idea of being able to work in metal, a decision was made to introduce a flexx dual source model that came equipped with both a CO2 and a fiber laser course. From his past hands-on experience, Mr. Tanaka felt he could appreciate equipment output if he had the opportunity to witness specifications. Thus, by personally attending some events, and by having acquaintances do some research and comparison, a decision was made on which model to introduce in just a couple of months
Mr. Tanaka had the following to say about Trotec laser cutters:“If I look at all the different products that we proudly have lined up in the Creative Lounge display cases, I think every single one has some connection to the use of a laser cutter. For some of them, their connection goes back to their prototyping stage. Some of the specialised parts that we have on display were also similarly processed. I actually remember somebody telling me that, ‘if I hadn’t had access to a laser cutter, I wouldn’t even have created a proposal.’”
“As to the project that allowed me to pass through the applications process and get involved with SAP, it was called ‘toio.’ I made use of the laser cutter at the prototyping stage, and what sold me on the Trotec unit was the size of its controller. From early on, I found it very convenient because using the laser cutter I was able to trial different sizes and materials for my project.” ”Furthermore, there are also examples on display of items in which laser cutters had a role even after initial ideas would be turned into products. There is also the case of panels that display product names and descriptions, etc., which were made by hand and subsequently used at shops. For example, for some of the products on display, a laser was initially used on a test basis, and the products were subsequently turned over to contractors for manufacture. The machinery is also being used a fair bit for design work such as the making of packaging, etc.” ”Four years have passed since the Creative Lounge opened its doors, with the workhorse Trotec Speedy 400 flexx laser engraving system proving indispensable. The processing speed has increased dramatically and has proven itself a cost winner in that just requires some acrylic and wood. Furthermore, in that there are lounge members who had no idea beforehand of what a laser cutter was, some have had their eyes open as to the necessity of this technology.”
Mr. Tanaka had the following to say on the significance of the Creative Lounge.“In talking as to its significance, I think that what the greatest focus has been placed upon is the concept of ideas being thoroughly linked to business, and then in turn becoming products. That is why we made these arrangements and provided this facility. The setup links the audition process and the turning of ideas into products, and the lounge is also a point of departure to the wider world. It allows both our employees and those who participate to seriously take up a challenge. It is not simply a case of them being able to freely use this facility, or of being rewarded. Rather, the measures that we have taken have the intention in the final analysis of contributing to business.”
”Concerning this sort of co-creative space, it might be linked to the company’s next big product or act as a major support. It also has a role to play in nurturing future leaders. Speaking as the company, while there are also many businesses in which a lot of investment has been made with respect to long-term themes that might last 5 to 10 years, there is a a href="here to the making of ideas into products much more quickly. In that respect, as a result of the sharing of specialist knowledge, I think there definitely exists the chance of new ideas being discovered.” ”Furthermore, rather than the equipment being of a very specialised nature that would restrict its usage to highly-specialised individuals, at this facility, we only have equipment that can be used by anybody if they care to undertake a simple training session that lasts approximately one hour. This is a place where ideas will not be buried, and I think that it is very much in keeping with the free and vigorous fabrication culture which has been around since Sony was founded.”