Mounting the tablet
Having decided to use the Nexus 7 tablet, the next step was to determine how to mount it. From searching the mp3car, The370Z.com forum and other sites; I found numerous examples of tablet installations to learn from. The best I found was this one from a member Bandit_Kaine on The370Z.com forum.
Still, there were some features I wanted to improve upon such as a more recessed mounting to reduce glare as well as avoiding stark edges which would accentuate small misalignment issues. I also decided at this point that if I were to be able to create something better, I wanted to be make it reproducible for others. Since I have no fabrication skills, I met with a respected custom car audio installer to describe what I wanted. I was reasonably convinced that he could create a mount that would meet all of my expectations, but found that it would be a one-off installation done in fiberglass that I could not readily reproduce. Also, the cost would have been well out of reach for most people.
Shortly thereafter the idea of 3D printing came up, and this seemed to be a good project to learn something about it and to explore the possibilities. I started to play the "what if" game by putting together pictures and crude sketches of my concept and exchanged with a designer at a 3D printing start-up. My concept was to create a CAD model from a 3D scan of the cubby and to expand the interior box while retaining exterior features and the mounting points to make this a direct replacement for the cubby. I also included the objective of not having to modify any of the existing stock pieces. I discovered that in concept, this wasn't such a far-fetched idea after all and the cost I was quoted was comparable to the one-off fiberglass mount I received from the custom car audio shop. With this, I took my first dive into 3D printing
This proved to be a bit more challenging task than I expected because the cubby design modifications had to be done in isolation from the space it had to match. This meant that I had to go through several iterations of design and printing, only to find some unforeseen interference problems where the tablet bezel was not clearing some of the surrounding pieces. Nonetheless, after 6 months and several revisions, I finally reached my goal of having a reproducible tablet mounting bezel that bolts in directly replacing the cubby!
Finishing the job
Completing the design as exciting as it was, still left much to be done in order to produce a final part with a suitable finish and at an attractive price. Since the printing process deposits the material one layer at a time, the finish shows this stratification to varying degrees depending on the printing process, material used, and specified finish options. These choices also have a dramatic impact on the production cost.
This development thus required a third phase to evaluate and optimize these factors to be able to complete the job of having a suitable product to offer for sale. Since each potential buyer has a different standard or preference for finish and corresponding price, I have chosen to offer both an unfinished and finished version. The unfinished version provides the lowest cost and enable the customer finish to individual preference. I am able to provide some tips for painting, and I can also provide a black vinyl fabric which closely matches the leather covered center console trim and cubby door. For the finished bezel, I'm currently offering a matte black version which has been sanded and painted by a professional shop. While this increases the cost of the finished version, it achieves a quality standard I could not otherwise obtain. I am also evaluating a powdercoating process, and will continue to look at other options.