Prebuilt machines

Terence here, with a quick update.


My old boss used to say:  “If you want to really learn about your product:  Get someone else to build 100 copies of your product.  Line ‘em up in a room and go bang on them”.  


Building 100 machines is still a bit beyond our current capabilities, but we were able to build 10+ and test them.  Even more importantly, within this 10 unit pool we have replicated the common pitfalls identified by our builders on the forum, and we are working actively awards finding a resolution for these issues.


Our First Customer Ship unit had reached its intended customer, and cranking out good prints.  One thing did slip past our QC process and we are happy that the FCS unit had some burn in time - apparently loctite wasn't applied to the auto probe arm.  We've since reworked the rest of the prebuilt machines, and we are making some minor revisions to how the printer is shipped.  Specifically the tools that we ship with the printers will now be loaded into a zip lock bag and taped to the shipping crate structure to prevent it from rattling loose inside the box while in transit.


The FCS unit verified the design of our packaging and its ability to protect an assembled printer its transit (in this case, to Florida, by truck!).  We’ve also completed the hard work of mechanically rebuilding the entire pre-assembled printer fleet to our specification.  Now the only thing that is left is the installation and tuning of firmware on each of the machines.  We are doing this to study the effects of manufacturing tolerances on values in the firmware; specifically, the Z-probe offset, PID tuning values for the hot end and HBP, and the steps per mm value for the EZStruder.

We are also taking the opportunity, with our printer fleet, to tune our print profiles.  Here are some examples of the test prints that we were able to get out of the printer fleet.  

Still outstanding is the task to have all the laser cut crate parts laser cut and assembled, and getting burn-in time on all printers.  We are hoping to be able to finish this up in the next 2 weeks or so, and resume shipping out preassembled machines.

That’s all for this update.  I’m including the work-in-progress tuning profiles for MatterControl and 

Why we went dark - getting screwed by our sourcing agent.

Over at the OpenBeam blog, I've blogged about our experience  with Tully Gehan's  What happened bordered on fraud and extortion, and I am happy to report that after half a *year*, we finally managed to collect on the goods that we've wired money for back in July, 2015.  We didn't go public with this earlier because, long story short, these folks were essentially holding $40,000 of goods hostage (in fact, they outright refused to release the cargo until we ponied up thousands of dollars of bullshit "handling" charges that we never agreed to).  The last thing we need was to go public with the situation and give them any excuse to disappear / stop communicating while holding our goods hostage.

ZT Automations have been hard at work, getting our Amazon web store restocked, getting OpenBeam products stocked to take over distribution of OpenBeam in the US, and getting the last of the Kossel Pro units built and tuned.  Our first focus is on revenue generation - we've skated way too close to the thin red line and need to get some buffer back.  Our FCS unit went out last week and will be delivered to our customer on Monday.  After which, we'll take a look to see if there's any shipping damage.  Already, the next machine is going through burn in testing, and the rest of the machines should be able to follow soon.  

On the development front, we have stepped back up our game on much needed support and documentation.  We've installed a ticketing system (zendesk) and brought on additional help.  Our next step is improving our documentation (at and also doing a better job at releasing source CAD files.  Finally, we have some new parts development in the works, and we'll be sharing that on the blog soon.  

It's been an incredibly difficult journey, and the last few months in particular have been soul crushing, dealing with all the shipment issues and getting our goods delivered.  We are emerging out of this as a much stronger company.  In the mean time, it feels good to be able to focus on design work again.

-=- Terence


Hi all!

Exiting times at the ZT Automations Shop - we are closing in on FCS, or First Customer Ship, on the preassembled Kossel Pro.  It had taken over 80+ engineering hours to get to this point, along with multiple fixtures along the way.

The first shipment will be going to a fellow engineer in Florida.  We chose her as the FCS candidate for two reasons; Florida is about as far as we can go from Seattle for ground shipping, and will put the maximum amount of transit stress on the machine being shipped.  We also hope to be able to get useful feedback on packaging - not that we think that anything will break, given how we prep these things for shipping, but if something does go wrong, we'd want to fix things before sending the rest of the printers out.

Now for the bad news.  We've found significant errors in the pre-assembled printers (one of the reason why its taken us this long).  So each machine will have to be reworked and inspected before they can go out the door.  

I take full responsibility for the rework required; we did not have good enough documentation (and also things were in a state of flux) when the pre-built machines were assigned.  That being said, looking at what issues crop up on these pre-built machines have given us a tremendous amount of insight on what needs clarification on the printers (and what needs to be addressed in post-built checkup).  For instance, one of the printers had an issue with probe retract after G29.   Upon further inspection, it was found that the new rev K-Head heater block had been clocked in such a way that the heater block and heater cartridge hits the glass plate on the probe retract move and causes the motor to skip.  (It actually hit with enough force to bend the K-Head's heat break - well, at least the electronics and motion control system is nice and strong).  


Here's what we've learned from working on a bunch of Kossel Pros, and all the improvements that we have made to these pre built machines, and how we plan to push these as an update out to machines in the field.

1)  As noted in our November update, the manufacturing discrepancy in the injection molded linear rail cartridge appears to be the primary source for auto-levelling issues.  We now have a set of laser cut shims and a kit containing these shims.  I've ported the Excel spreadsheet that I've been using to calculate the shim placement to an online calculator here.  With these shims we have consistently been able to reduce the tilting bed symptoms of the auto levelling routine.  If you decide to try shimming, please let us know how it worked out for you.

Shim sets - already on their way to our Amazon web store.  ZT-KIT-00309(01)

Shim sets - already on their way to our Amazon web store.  ZT-KIT-00309(01)


2)  On the recommendation from the team at MatterHackers, we have been gluing the ball joint arms to eliminate another source of potential inaccuracy in the printer's construction.  Up until now, we have been performing a 100% inspection on the arms after gluing using the same gluing fixture as a go/no-go gauge; we slip the glued arm back onto the fixture and note the amount of resistance it takes to put the arm back on.  Anything that drags on the arm gluing fixture, we reject.

However, we wanted to really see how well we are doing with the gluing operation.  So I designed up a new fixture for *really* measuring the center-to-center distance on the ball joint.  As the parts have lots of ball bearings and can free rotate, it can be quite difficult to get an accurate reading.  Our fixture rides on a linear rail guide and uses a spring to apply the same amount of force on the swing arm being measured every time to ensure accuracy. We then coupled this to a Mitutoyo dial indicator and tapped into the digital readout; now, our 100% inspection also allows us to see just how far we deviate from the 300mm center-to-center distance that's programmed into the firmware.

Furthermore, since we are doing 100% inspection, we can bin the arms based on where they fall on the bell curve.  Our arms are now binned in 0.1mm increment; majority of the arms are within +0.05mm to +0.15mm of 300mm.  The full set of data can be found here.

One of the things that had really surprised me is just how precise the ball joint linkage have to be in order to build an accurate machine.  Getting this fixture in place will give us better insight into our gluing processes, as well as help us understand how inaccuracies in the ball joint arm length translates to performance issues in the real world with the printer.

3)  Firmware tuning - every Kossel Pro that we ship will have its firmware tuned; the PID controls tuned to ensure even temperature output, as well as the extruder constant tuned to account for manufacturing variances in the extruder's hobbed pulley.  Here is a fixture that we built for extruder calibration:

So far, our default values have been within 2% of actual measured values on the extruder constant; but we're about to learn more as we compile the tuning data on these 10 printers.

4)  Other upgrades.  As these are the last machines to leave our shop, we've installed every known upgrade to them.  We are shipping these machines with our latest tungsten-disulfide coated K-Head parts.  Tungsten Disulfide is an aerospace approved process that puts a high temp non stick coating onto metal parts, and it really works!   Other changes:  We've tossed in a spring loaded lanyard onto the printer to keep the feed tube suspended in place.  PTFE tubing have been substituted in on the bowden feed tube.  There are complaints about push fit fittings not holding onto PTFE tubing correctly, so we designed a new one from scratch, and solved some of the complaints that we have about material feeding on the SeeMeCNC EZStruder with regards to filament snags.  Our bowden tube adapter uses the same, highly reliable push fit fitting that is found on E3D hot ends and have been rock solid in our testing, as well as completely eliminating snags in the EZStruder's push fit adapter.


Our first machine is now entering burn-in testing; as part of the test, the machine prints its own shipping restraints that lock the linear rails from moving during transit.  We have assembled the laser cut crate and it works great and should provide the protection to allow the machine to arrive in one piece.  We expect to ship it next week and we will update the blog with a shipping schedule for the balance of the machines once we confirmed that the machine had reached its destination.

We've were dealt some very major setbacks in the last 6 months - our dealings with our last contract manufacturer / sourcing agent bordered on outright fraud and blackmail and tied up a huge chunk of cash, as well as countless hours of my time to unjam.  I ended up having to fly to Hong Kong for a long weekend to lay the groundwork to resolving the issue once and for all.  For now, please know that we have not given up on the project.  We've emerged from our crisis as a much stronger company, and we have some exciting R&D projects in the works, as well as long term development plans on the Kossel that we'll share in due time.

Thank you,

-=- Terence T. & Mike Z., ZT Automations

Calibration and Ship Prep

Terence here, with an update on our progress towards shipping, as well as our continuing work on studying the effect of calibration and accuracy tuning.

Laser cut crate, first article.

Laser cut crate, first article.

We've received our first article crates back from our laser cutter.  For the most part we are really happy with the fit and finish, but we're going to make a few additional tweaks.  Specifically we are going to add a cross brace to retain the heated build platform.  (The glass is already removed from shipping configuration, separately packed in its own foam-lined box on the top of the crate):

Glass, packaged in it's own foam and cardboard box

Glass, packaged in it's own foam and cardboard box

Here's the overall printer, crated for transport.  We use additional corner protectors meant for pallet shipping to reinforce the shipping box.  Should be nice and sturdy for shipping:


On the accurization front, we've been laser cutting laser cut shims to increase our test base of fixed machines.  We are still dialing in the laser cutting process, there is a lot of ash when laser cutting these shim stocks, and we need to add an ultrasonic cleaning step to make the parts more usable after they are laser cut:

That's about it for this update.  We hope to start shipping the prebuilt machines in about 2 weeks.

-=- Terence



It's amazing how much more productive we can be, now that we aren't spending most of our time shuffling boxes through our various living rooms and garages.

Matthew Wilson, Chris Gilroy, Mike Ziomkowski and I have been working towards refining the calibration and auto levelling accuracy of the printer.  We've made some good progress, but we aren't quite ready to release the mods to the world just yet.

This "Millennium Falcon Windshield" part is a custom calibration part that I drew up really quick in Solidworks.  The outer circle is 225mm - which brings it pretty close to the very edge of a 250mm glass plate.  (The skirt from this barely snags the bed clamps with the K-Head).  It is a single layer thick print, and after the glass cool it just popped and lifted off in one piece.

We think we've root caused some of the delta motion geometry issues.  There is a slight difference in width of the plastics at the ball rail carriage and at the end effector; nominal CAD is 41mm.  While the carriages are pretty much dead nuts on (after installing the metal standoff and tightening everything down), the end effector's mounting surfaces measures approximately 41.2mm apart on newer plastics.  This is a random error - we have to measure more parts to confirm.  My personal test machine, built from first run injection molded parts, show a much smaller difference - my end effector's mounting surfaces are much closer to the 41mm nominal than later manufactured parts.

Now, 0.2mm (0.008") is pretty close to allowable manufacturing tolerances.  But apparently for delta geometry, even over a 250mm rod swing, this 0.1% deviation is enough to cause things to go haywire.

Our current fix is to punch, from shim stock, shim washers, to correct the ball rail carriage's mounting surfaces to match the end effector's mounting surface distance.  Because the error is random, it would explain why some people have more issues with bed levelling than others.  We were able to induce an error, and make it go away by applying the shims.

Shimming drastically improves auto levelling accuracy, but there is still a little bit of tilt.  (Across the bed, the variance on the test part is about 0.1mm - usable for sure, but could be better).  

To fully understand, and fix the accuracy approach, I believe this is going to require a 4 prong approach:

1)  Make sure all the delta rod arms are the same length (we already do this with ZT-KIT-00255s by pre-gluing the arms on a machined fixture; we'll soon gain the ability to really measure with dial test indicator the true deviation from arm to arm by means of special test fixtures).

2)  Make sure that the mounting faces are as closely matched in distance as possible.  We'll have to release instructions on measuring the flange-to-flange distances and how to apply the shims as well as getting shims laser cut.

3)  Micro adjustment on the end stop switches.  Chris Gilroy have been playing with doing this in firmware's EEPROM.  The current thinking is releasing a calibration object that users can print and measure and use to dial in the EEPROM setting.

4)  Make sure that the ball joints are actually tucked in against the mounting frame.  This will likely take the form of a set of printable parts and a tension spring / elastic band to pull the arms in physically.

Anyway, this is great news for everyone out there with a printer; and we'll update in the next week or two on what progress we've made on getting this update / patch out to people.

-=- Terence

Preassembled printer test plan, logistics and documentation

Terence here.  Fatherhood certainly brought new logistics challenges, but I am happy to report that we are finally settling down into a routine with our newest addition to the family (ZT-KID-00101...) and we've been making steady progress at the shop.   You can see some of the progress on the shop here.

Early this week, I've retrieved 9 Kossel Pros in various stages of assembly from Nick, our tech.  (7 of these are fully assembled, the other 2 just needs a few parts).  We are losing Nick to a new job on the south side of the lake; we certainly wish Nick all the best in his new endeavors and we're happy to also see him grow professionally and all the cool things he's been able to do with his personal Kossel Pro.  Additionally, I have 2 machines that I've been building / rebuilding, and I will also be building 2 more machines as part of our documentation upgrade as well as training process for our new tech (more on that below).  This is enough assembled Kossel Pros to fulfill our existing Kickstarter liability (8 KSPs, 3 Orange KSPs) after refunds that have already been issued.

Midnight run to the shop to drop off the Kossel Pros, so that the car seat can be reinstalled for next morning's day care dropoff. :-P

Midnight run to the shop to drop off the Kossel Pros, so that the car seat can be reinstalled for next morning's day care dropoff. :-P

So much for trying to keep the shipping area clear.

So much for trying to keep the shipping area clear.

The first shipping crates are going out this week for laser cutting as well.  Once we receive our crates back in, there's some additional prep work to get the printers ready for shipping.

One of the most frustrating things about this project, is that comments that make it back to us on the printer falls onto two extremes:

1)  There are a small subset (<10%) of (very vocal) people for whom this printer doesn't work.

2)  This printer, especially with the K-Head upgrade, is one of the most reliable / accurate machines in this price range if reasonable care goes into the construction of the machine, and that it is the most commonly used tool in their arsenal.  Google, for instance, is about to buy their 3rd machine for their Seattle office.  

Now, obviously our shitty instructions are to blame for 1), but we don't have a very good picture of what the common pitfalls are in assembly and how it affects accuracy and user experience.  We are hoping to  unearth some data though to hopefully get a better understanding to where the pitfalls are.

Throughout this project's  history, printers have always been in short supply.  This is our biggest sample size, and this is also the one time where we get to test the printers side by side (and finally have the *space* to set up 12 printers side by side - where we aren't finally tripping over boxes of parts in a living room).  At the same time, we need to devise a way to test the printers and to test it in such a way that our backers can receive them, run the same test and compare results to see if something came out of calibration along the way.  These are the following tests that we are considering for our test plan:

A)  "Normal" tuning enchancement.  PID tuning, extruder amount tuning, logging all the custom values for the firmware.  Part of this includes writing up the procedures we use to tune our printers so that others can repeat it for themselves to dial prints in.

B)  G29 repeatability.  At this time, knowing the limitations of an offset probe, I do not consider a slight tilt in the numerical results a defect unless it affects the ability for the first layer to stick across the plate.  However, successive G29s should result in similar data (showing a high degree of consistency in the returned results).  I'll talk about what our plans are to improve G29 accuracy in a future update.  

The plan is to run G29 on each printer multiple times and record the G29's data plots.  Successive runs should all agree within 0.1mm or so.  If we see a large deviation in successive runs we'll fail the test and look at what options we have (maybe replacing the probe, for example).

From a group perspective, being able to run G29 probing on a bigger statistical sample may also give us insight as to why certain beds are tilted in a certain way.  I have designed and am building a specialty fixture to measure very accurately the center-to-center distance on the ball joint arms with a micrometer - and certainly this is part of the characterization that we'll be using when we are evaluating these printers.  One theory is that uneven gluing of ball joint arms leads to a tilted bed.  

C)  Long Print - We are going to print the 75mm OpenBeam Reprap Kossel Vertex - this is approximately a 12 hour print - from the SD card of each machine, to ensure machine stability on long prints.  We'd figure that we'd donate these parts to local schools trying to build 3D printers afterwards.  We'll be using MatterHackers Pro PLA for this test.

D)  Calibration Objects - As part of the test, we plan on printing calibration objects (and shipping these with the printers) as part of the calibration process.  Likely, this will be printed with MatterHackers Pro PLA as well.  

E)  Shipping Restraints - I've designed a 3D Printable shipping restraint that locks out motion on the arms to prevent the end effector from flying around and damaging things.  These will be printed on PolyMakr PolyMax - I've been using these for my fixtures and such and it's been working out great.  It's a good "fall back" filament if an extruder becomes fussy - I've never had a jam on PolyMaxx.  This test will also validate proper retraction settings on the printer / slic3r toolchain, as we'll be printing 3 copies of the shipping restraints simultaneously per printer.

Assuming each printer's power supply draws 400W, I can safely power and test 3 printers on our shop's circuit, and the tests and calibration should take about a week to cycle through on each batch of 3 printers.  (assuming nothing major goes wrong).  Here's our new 3D Printer test area in our shop:

Next trip:  Install power strips, laptop, networking cables for the Raspberry Pis, MatterControl Touch units, etc...

Next trip:  Install power strips, laptop, networking cables for the Raspberry Pis, MatterControl Touch units, etc...

As for the rest of the Kickstarter "plastic parts only" rewards, etc, we are waiting for our next shipment of plastics to come in.  They are due in a little bit over two weeks.  Good thing we got most of the shop cleaned up before the new shipment arrives.  Unfortunately, we are still f*cked with my other CM- my stuff still have not left on a boat yet.  I made an expensive call to ship the rest of my merchandise across on an ocean shipment first - and we should have enough stuff to hold us over for a bit.  

Finally, as these printers enter V&V testing, we will be finishing up some assemblies and shooting new video and pictures to finish up the documentation on the Dozuki site.  We'll also be documenting our printer tuning tricks as well.

That's all for this update,

-=- Terence



Minor setbacks, new shop space

It's been a while since we've updated.  August proved to be a very busy month - I took some unpaid paternity leave to be primary care provider for my newborn son due to Mom's business trips and between all the travelling, we've only really been home for about a week or so  since Aug 6th.  I've also been pretty sick from the grueling travel schedule, which didn't help things.

One of the biggest news that we have, is that OpenBeam had secured a commercial lease on a shop space, and we're sharing the space with them.  We had to move very quickly to make this happen, during whatever little time we had in August, to complete the move.  The reason why we jumped on this is because In the Seattle metropolitan area, warehouse space generally rents for about $0.95 per square foot, plus maintenance fees on the shared space of the property (in our case, the electricity for lighting the parking lot, for example, and various real estate taxes, the cost of hiring a gardener to mow the sidewalk grass, etc).  Unfortunately, in the Redmond / Woodinville / Kirkland area, spaces under 2000 sq ft is pretty hard to come by; and most commercial leases requires a 3 year lease.  

We were able to find a warehouse space at 1260 sq ft (20 x 61 ft bay).  Not only that, they only required a one year lease.  The space is about 10 minutes from my current job, 5 minutes from Mike Z (the Z in ZT Automations) house, and with easy access to both I5 and 405.  It was also completely empty - they just put a bathroom in for us.  We don't need fancy offices; we just need a place to store pallets of extrusions and parts for both OpenBeam and ZT Automations.

And look!  The landlord was even nice enough to put in a bathroom for us.  As an entrepreneur, I've peed into a fast food beverage cup and discretely dumped out the contents a few times in my storage locker.  I considered it part of paying the dues; but I can't exactly ask hired staff to do the same; the nearest public restroom was at a gas station that's 5 minutes drive away at our locker.  The fact that we get a real bathroom now means I can actually hire staff / contractors and give them a decent place to work!

We've been running OpenBeam and ZT Automations out of garages, storage lockers and borrowing living space from family members.  It is AMAZING how much time this sucks up - on average, we spent hours per week ferrying materials and supplies from one place to another as they are worked on.  Our dining room tables have at various times been the shipping station, the receiving station, the engineering meeting table and occasionally, a place for the family to eat.  And as we found out the hard way time and time again with the Kossel Pro project, for the lack of a single part, single envelope, or label, the entire operation can shut down.  Both OpenBeam and ZT-Automations have also grown beyond what we can shuttle to the UPS store; an average order for OpenBeam and for Amazon replenishment now requires 2 SUV loads to the UPS depot; the last printer order to our distributor left Mike's garage on a wooden pallet.  It surely will be nice to be able to pull a lift-gate truck up to our bay door and have them take a couple of pallets worth of goods off our hands - or drop off 5 metric tons of cargo!

Here's our shipping station - the shipping and counting scales are already there along with one of the two label printers.  The shelves holds various USPS Flat Rate boxes, plus all the different pouches for various courier services, Customs declaration forms, etc.  It's really exciting not to have to repack everything up and spend 15 minutes unpacking every time I need to ship a package.  

Here's our shipping station - the shipping and counting scales are already there along with one of the two label printers.  The shelves holds various USPS Flat Rate boxes, plus all the different pouches for various courier services, Customs declaration forms, etc.  It's really exciting not to have to repack everything up and spend 15 minutes unpacking every time I need to ship a package.  

Of course, with a shop, we are planning to expand some of our operations, now that we have space.  I took over Zach's room before he was born and converted it into a photo studio to bang out our documentation; we look forward to having a full time photo and video studio setup again.  On the other side of the shop, we're going to get some stainless kitchen carts from IKEA so that we can start running Kossels unattended for long term testing and filament characterization.  We only print with PLA while running at home as I didn't want to expose Zach to VOCs from the 3D Printing process, but I'd happily run Nylon, ABS and PC/ABS on these printers once we have the print stations setup (and remote monitoring in place).  We still have assembled machines to ship for our Kickstarter campaign, and having this facility will allow us to test and package these machines for shipping.  (They are BIG - a single shipping box minus the crate took over all my space in the living room and I have 10 of these machines to deal with).

Supply Chain Setbacks

Unfortunately, not everything have been smooth sailing on our supply chain side.  Without naming names, we ran into a big hot mess on our supply chain.  At Maker Faire Bay Area, I met two people that I thought would be able to help us with consolidation and packaging of our goods.  They have a mediocre website, lives in Shenzhen, and seem to be pretty well connected in the Maker Pro community.  Being cautious, I even checked their references cited on their website - one of them is someone I know and respect in the Open Source Hardware community, and the reference came back positive.

A few weeks after we wired them the money, it became apparent that there is something amiss.  Simple things, such as moving funds from one account to another, or paying vendors, appeared to be way more difficult than it should be.  We started getting back channel feedback from our vendors of payment not arriving.  One vendor even thought someone is masquerading as OpenBeam, because they couldn't answer basic technical questions that was posed by the vendor.  Upon questioning, it was discovered that the funds were wired to one of this guy's friend's account, one that he had no direct control over, and things seemed really sketchy.

Turns out, the organization was the partnership between a boyfriend and girlfriend; the relationship went sour, and the boyfriend wanted to set out on his own, but unfortunately, since the girlfriend was the one that is a native Chinese speaker and Chinese national (whose name was on the bank accounts, business registrations, etc, as it's really hard for foreigners to get set up in China, especially running a business) - boyfriend wasn't terribly successful on his new venture.  At one point, the conversation revolved around how we are going to pay our fastener manufacturer.  For better or for worse, we ended up placing a roughly US$20,000 order for fasteners for combined OpenBeam and ZT Automations -  and in local currency, this was a 6 figure sum (over CNY$120,000).  With recent banking regulation changes and anti-corruption measures in China, the bank rejected the transfer of such a large dollar amount across border (since the bank account was in Hong Kong, and the vendor was in Shenzhen).  The only idea from boyfriend was to *walk* the currency over.  I promptly shot down the idea - my Dad amusingly pointed out that the largest bill in Chinese Yuan is a CNY$100 bill and that it would take a small suitcase to transport that much cash -  while I pointed out that's a dollar amount that someone would get mugged or killed for, even a white boy in China.  Of course, we would have zero recourse if the money was to be "confiscated" by a corrupt border guard or if the guy had tripped and dropped the suitcase into Shenzhen river, etc.  We ended up getting the money wired back and paying the fastener vendor by some other equally interesting ways...

We don't believe that anyone is going to take the money and run (there would be easier ways to rip us off US$50k - and there's been progress on goods being ordered and packaged - and admittedly, 2000 stepper motors isn't as useful to someone in Shenzhen as it would be to us with an Amazon account to sell them on), but every step of the way, we have to do a LOT of hand holding and a LOT of followup and re-followup.  This had significantly cut into the available time that Mike and I have to handle other business stuff, such as answering emails, and providing support.  (Well, my travel schedule didn't help things either).  I didn't really want to air the dirty laundry or sink anyone's business, but I also feel that people require some transparency, and what's been going on had been a freaking nightmare to say the least and we need to come clean with how we've been spending our time.

There is some silver lining in this cloud.  It is beyond ridiculously painful to think that the engineering on Kossel had been done for a year - for over the past year, we've been killing ourselves trying to figure out how to source parts, get them over to the US and get the parts put into a box - and to some extend, helping people grow their business.  And, it's not like I can't speak Chinese - since the start of this project I've been brushing up on my technical Chinese, as well as practicing my Chinese input skills, to the point where I can now issue bilingual Chinese and English engineering drawings and work instructions.  As a result of this last f**kup, I've finally decided to do research on, and will most likely be spinning up my own company in Hong Kong to handle the logistics and import-export for this business.  With a Hong Kong company (and a Hong Kong business account capable of sending and receiving Chinese  Yuan) we should be able to resolve the issue of paying vendors in China relatively easily.  The other advantage is that it will drastically clean up our books in the US; we'd cut a PO to our Hong Kong company and our HK company can take care of all the various sketchy ways to get large amounts of money across the Chinese border.  (Under HK law, companies are required to have their books audited every year by a certified CPA, so as long as we pay up and get a certified CPA to keep the books and explain to them what's going on, we'd be fine).

-=- Terence

Name change, shipping crate engineering, source release, and a new documentation site.

As you may have noticed, the site of the name is changing to  

When Mike and I  decided to spin off the 3D Printer business to a separate business entity and allow OpenBeam to go back to its roots as a fast and nimble engineering organization, it should be noted that neither of us are particularly creative nor business minded.  With my first business, OpenBeam, the name came pretty easily:  It was an open source product, and it was aluminum beams, and the name stuck.  (We've even have people selling generic T-slot extrusions calling it OpenBeam as a fragrant misuse of our trademark in the reprap world, which is an annoying result of having made it for brand recognition).  

Mike, whose full name is Maciej Ziomkowski, had only one rule:  The business name should have a Z in it, since hardly anyone can pronounce his real name and he's been going by MikeZ in the nearly two decades since I've known him.

Well, since then, we've received plenty of polite feedback on how much the name sucks.  (we wanted to say that we are the A to Z in low cost automations, but being sued by a major online retailer isn't in my business plan either).  And since we're committed to sponsoring our local maker faire, we feel that a rebranding should probably occur before we sign the sponsorship check and get our logo and name plastered all over the web.

We're no more creative than we were a couple of months ago, so we'll do what another garage based startup did 76 years ago and name the company after the initials of its founder's last name.  All our kits and part numbers already starts with ZT as a part number prefix anyway, and it's unlikely anyone will give us too much grief on the new name.

Shipping Crate Engineering

We have a few preassembled printers from our Kickstarter campaign left.  In order to ensure that these printers make it to their backers in one piece, we've been engineering a shipping container to ship them fully assembled.

Here's a few Solidworks screenshots.  The red blocks are polyurethane foam, 2" thick, 4 x 4" in size.  The two halves of the crate slide together with 4 pieces of OpenBeam, and the cardboard box that it goes into have all corners reinforced with cardboard edge protectors to guard against damage.  The glass bed will also be removed, packed back into its custom foam insert (that we've been shipping with all new printer kits) on top of the crate.  We've shipped a Kossel Pro in similar configuration as checked luggage and are pretty confident that this is the way to go.


We are laser cutting the first articles this coming week and we'll try to ship one of the first assembled printers (to California) this coming week.  If all goes well, we'll ramp up shipping the week of 8/3.

Source files for the Kossel Pro:

Now that we've got most of our manufacturing figured out, here's a link to the source directory, in its uncleaned, and unkempt glory:

We will be cleaning up and releasing better documentation along the way as well, but for those who want it, there's the raw dump of the design folder.

New Documentation Project:

After getting the last of the prebuilt machines shipped, my focus will be split roughly 50-50 on the new Kossel 1.5 upgrade parts, which includes a solution for using FSR bed levelling with the heated bed and a simplified, machined end effector that can take an E3D V6 or the next version of our K-Head hot end.  These parts should fix the last nagging issues for the Kossel Pro and really get us to the point where the machine will print reliably and accurate for everyone out of the box.  

But designing a good machine is just half the story. Our documentation had been sorely lacking.  Now that we've had a chance to catch up on shipments, the other 50% of my time will be focused on improving the documentation on this project.  Our new documentation can be found here, and we'll be trying to do smaller and more incrememntal updates to the documentation instead of pushing major releases.  We've also enabled a wiki on the page to allow for user-contributed feedback on settings and such.

Finally we've invested in a new SSD based video monitor and recorder.  Traditionally, it's been really difficult to shoot instruction videos because I have a hard time seeing what's being recorded on video (and I don't have the benefit of a production team or even an assistant camera operator).  By mounting the camera overhead with the appropriate lens and mounting the Ninja2 nearby, I can remotely frame my shots and start the recording.  The device records in ProResHQ (a very disk intensive, but easy to edit format) directly onto an SSD that gets plugged into the computer for editing.  This allows us to turn around video clips faster than before.  An inexpensive wireless Sony Mic completes the audio capture setup for this rig.


You can see some of our new documentation (including our first video) here:

Other adminstrative stuff:

Our primary kitter should be back from vacation this coming week and we should be able to start building more K-Heads, heater cartridges, and box up cooling fans to put onto Amazon.

That's all for this update.  


ZT Automations on Amazon:



-=- Terence & Mike

EDITED:  Fixed Mike's name's spelling.  Even after 18 years...

Back to engineering

First, a bit of good news.  Rachel and I welcomed our son, Zachary into the world about 2 weeks ago.  Mom and baby are doing well, although we are all a bit sleep deprived at this point.  I thought I was busy before our child arrive - boy, was I wrong.  Now that we are hopefully settling into a schedule of some sort, I'll just try to find ways to work smarter.

We return to work on the project this week with lots of engineering:

1)  Shipment of preassembled printers

We've received in the cardboard box and polyethylene foam that we've picked from ULine for shipping the completed machine, and now all that remains is designing and building the internal crate structure to hold the completed Kossel Pro printers.  Based on our experience shipping demo printers around, we are pretty confident we have something that'll work.  I should be able to finish up the design of the crate "insert" in the next few days and get the first prototypes laser cut.  Then we'll perform a drop test or two, before shipping a completed printer or two to a few selected backers.  Once we verify that the printer will survive the journey, we'll ramp up shipping.

2)  Kossel 1.2 prototyping

We're  in the process of prototyping up parts to address some of the shortcomings of the printer.  That's all I'm willing to say at the moment.


We also have received in some replacement parts - 24V fans to perform a retrofit on field units (to quiet down the power supply), as well as our next batch of heater cartridges and K-head parts.  We have already sent the K-Head parts back out for tungsten disulfide coating, and we're going to get the new heater cartridges crimped ASAP.  Having both of these at Amazon's warehouse will greatly improve our ability to provide after sales support to customers with units in the field.

That's about it for this update.  

The race against time

Terence here.  Early this morning I delivered the last of the K-Heads, lubricated linear rails and glued carbon fiber rods to Mike, and helped him a little bit with kitting, before rushing off to take my wife to the hospital, where they did confirm that her water did break.  It looks like my child already inherited my time estimate ability - his due date was June 17th, but if all goes well, he'll be coming into the world tomorrow. :-P.

With the delivery to Mike we are in a position to close out the rest of the purchase order from MatterHackers and fulfill all our kit printer obligations on the books.  These were the most technically complicated and tricky subassemblies - so unfortunately, it fell on my shoulders to assemble them, to take notes and develop the assembly process, before they can be delegated out to someone else.   

Three of the prebuilt machines from the Kickstarter campaign are completed; and the rest of the machines should be completed this coming week.  The only thing left is a calibration test and some engineering of the shipping crate.  Earlier in the year, I took my assembled Kossel Pro down to Eugene, OR, for a presentation on 3D Printing for my day job.  Based on this, we have some idea of how we want to package these machines for transit and what we can do to ensure that the machines that we've built survive the track to their owners intact.

Selected parts have already started their journey to and more parts will be on the way.  In the meantime, MatterHackers and Solarbotics will have these printers in stock, and for those who want one, they are going to be the only ones carrying the printer for the time being (and being able to help with offering post-sales support).

This had been a LONG project; with major life changing events for me  (getting married, and having a kid) along the way.  Obviously, dropping off the last set of printer parts to your business partner before taking your wife to the hospital is cutting it WAY closer than I'd like; I am just happy to be able to get over the hump before my child arrives.  

-=- Terence, Rachel & baby Zachary (and uncle Mike)

New firmware build, new print head, all hands on deck

Just a quick update.

1)  K-Head print heads.  We finished the engineering work on K-Heads quite a while ago now and found a domestic supplier who quoted a reasonable price and fairly reasonable lead time.  Unfortunately, the lead time sailed past and the vendor went Helen Keller on us for about 2 weeks, during which I managed to find a new overseas supplier to start a quotation process.  It wasn't until I cancelled the PO did the domestic vendor break radio silence to tell us that they've not started on any work on the parts.

Unfortunately this mean that we lost a good 6 weeks or so on the project.  We've recovered and we've since found a vendor, vetted them and have parts delivered.   We've been testing the new print heads and we're pretty happy with the results; we'll release a new firmware build this week with new tuning parameters to get good results out of the new print head.


2)  We are currently in "all hands on deck" mode to get the balance of the printers out the door.  We estimate this to be no more than 2-3 weeks.  

As engineers, we were hopeful that a suitable CM can help us with the kitting work (ie, not wanting to do the grunt work ourselves).  It is now pretty apparent that we need to dual path until we can get some CM spun up SOMEWHERE to handle the kitting.  As a result, we've been busy converting Mike's garage into a work space.  We've been installing winch systems to lift the bikes, boxes and other things off the ground so that we can put an assembly line into the garage.  We finally managed to get our air freight cargo through customs last Friday and we've been kitting parts left and right.  We've also pushed a lot of fastener kitting upstream to our fasteners supplier and that had greatly helped with us being more efficient.  

At this time, we believe we should be able to ship all outstanding orders in about 2-3 weeks and also be in stock at MatterHackers and Solarbotics in that time frame.

That's it for this update.  We look forward to getting back into engineering.

-=- Terence & Mike