Hi-Tek and NMB
Hi-Tek Corporation was an early computer keyboard manufacturer, producting mechanical switch grids and later complete keyboard units. An early adopter of membrane keyboards, Hi-Tek and later NMB continuously produced rubber dome over membrane products from the 1980s all the way through to 2015. Mechanical keyboards were produced into the late 90s or so. Since 2015, NMB has no longer produced keyboards.
Hi-Tek Corporation was founded in the early 1960s by the late Don Hallerberg, and was located in Garden Grove, California. In the early 1970s (seemingly 1973), they began keyswitch production. From conversations with his son D’Milo, it is understood that their patented switch system was originally built as a fixed-arrangement keypad for calculators, before being retooled as a flexible mould system that allowed for key stations to be formed into grids of different arrangements, permitting full terminal keyboards to be built in bespoke layouts without compromising the advantages of a fixed grid system. At present, no details are known to be available of how exactly this mould system works.
In response to German standardisation, in 1982 Don Hallerberg designed a new, discrete switch that could be used in low-profile keyboards. The name of this keyboard series—Series 725—was derived from its height.
Hi-Tek v. Stackpole
Stackpole Components copied Hi-Tek’s design of keyswitch, for which Hi-Tek filed suit against them. For reasons unknown, the case was dismissed. The Official Gazette of the United States Patent and Trademark Office: Patents, Volume 1020, Issues 1-2 notes simply the following:
3,751,618, Hi-Tek Corp., PUSH SWITCH WITH SPRING BIASED PLUNGER, filed Mar. 17, 1980, D.C. Del. (Wilmington), Doc. 80-126, Hi-Tek Corp. v. Stackpole Components Co. Stipulation and Order of Dismissal with prejudice filed Apr. 21, 1982.
There is evidence to suggest that Stackpole originally used the exact Hi-Tek contact design (one solid and one quadfurcated), before changing over to their own dual-bifurcated design. The relationship between such a redesign, and the legal proceedings, is not known.
In 1983, shortly after Series 725 entered production, Hi-Tek was bought by Nippon Miniature Bearing (NMB), a Japanese bearing manufacturer that later changed its name to Minebea. There is no mention of Hi-Tek on the NMB and Minebea websites: it is as though NMB tried to erase Hi-Tek from history following the acquisition. For a while it appeared to remain a subsidiary, before being completely absorbed into NMB. Membrane technology in development at Hi-Tek at the point of takeover was put into production, making Hi-Tek an early adopter of the now ubiquitous rubber dome over membrane format.
It seems that Hi-Tek were still manufacturing in the United States at the point of takeover; production was moved to the Bang Pa-in factory in Thailand. A scene from the film Baraka depicts Series 725 keyboard assembly at the Bang Pa-in factory, specifically grey tactile and day-glow green space bar switches.
In later years, NMB keyboards made for Dell (and presumably for all their other customers) were sourced from Shanghai Shunding Technologies Ltd rather than their Bang Pa-in factory. This company was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Minebea, which was scheduled for liquidation in 2015 as a result of Minebea exiting the keyboard market. This liquidation marked the end of an era for one of the longest-running players in the industry.
On the 27th of January 2017, Minebea and Mitsumi merged. Minebea is now known as MinebeaMitsumi Inc., and Mitsumi is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of MinebeaMitsumi. NMB in the United States retained its name after NMB in Japan was renamed to Minebea, and it retains that name still following the merger.