I spent a day at Dyson’s technology centre and here’s what I learned

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"We never go home, we're usually here all night," joked Dominic Mason when asked what it's like being an engineer at Dyson, head of product design and development (Environmental Control) at Dyson Technologies.

Technology companies don't usually look and feel as geeky as you would expect. There's a healthy dose of marketing and communications professionals, finance etc. It's usually more "corporate" than "engineering".

Dyson’s new V10 motor for the cyclonic vacuum cleaners

But not with Dyson. Walking around the company's facilities in Singapore, you feel like you're amongst a bunch of geeks, who would rather solve equations than sign cheques.

Of course, it would be ridiculous to think that Dyson runs only on engineers, but it feels like there's a disproportionate dose of that. The company's Singapore offices have an 80-20 ratio between engineers and other employees - finance, HR etc.

Walking in, I found myself in a soundproof acoustic lab, where Dyson tests its products for noise. Here, only the floor reflects sound, while the rest of the chamber is designed to avoid echo. The walls absorb any sound above 100 Hz.

Dyson invested £10 million into this acoustic facility alone, where a team of four engineers work, led by Nicklaus Yu, Senior Acoustics and Vibration Engineer for Dyson. As Nicklaus shows us his lab, the acoustic chamber, you can literally feel the glee that only a geek can exhibit when talking tech. When he's done talking, he points to an air purifier at our feet, which was turned on all along, but no one in the room heard it.

It's his 'et voila!' moment.

Dyson’s soundproof lab

He's delighted, in a way that only engineers can be when laymen marvel at their creations.

Lab after lab, engineers demonstrated different elements of Dyson's technologies, waxing eloquent about them. And every few sentences, they would stop and remember that it's laymen they're talking to. We eventually found ourselves facing a blacked out room, where future products are being developed, and it's out of bounds for most, including those sitting right in front of it.

But, how do you sell geek to Indians?

It's no secret that good enough is usually good for customers in India. Most companies have learned that the hard way, accepted that and moved on. Refusing to budge, usually means hurting your bottom line.

You could simply make "good enough" products and call them excellent. That's marketing. But somehow, Mason agrees that his purifiers are struggling against extreme pollution, like what we have in Delhi. On being asked how he's going to deal with that, he says he's collecting data right now, which will help him answer that question in the future.

Robots preparing parts for Dyson’s vacuum cleaners, at its Singapore factory.

It's an admission that few will ever make. On the one hand, Mason says his products are the best. But on the other, he's also saying that "the best" still needs to be better, something engineers always believe in and marketers only preach.

When James Dyson first made his cyclonic vacuum cleaners, he wanted the bin to be transparent. He wanted people to see how much dust his product is picking up, hence proving that they do actually work. At his company, this is called the "clear-bin" moment, and literally, everyone I met at Dyson seems bent on achieving that.

When I asked Mason whether his products can ever be "affordable" for India, he basically said they can't. Another admission I've rarely come across.

Dyson's discourse has always been that their products use the best components and have the best engineering possible, which drives prices upwards (which is what Mason also said, answering my question). Whether you believe that is up to you, but it's clear that the company ain't budging.

The innards of Dyson’s Pure Cool air purifier.

For Mason, he would rather customise his technology to tackle Indian conditions than bring prices down. While the company doesn't explicitly say so, it seems like Dyson is perfectly happy catering to those who appreciate its technology and can afford it. Only a company of engineers would make technology the answer to every question.
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