A long, long, overdue update

Hello, Terence here.  It’s been a while, so here we have a long overdue update.

First things first.  ZT Automations, of which Mike Ziomkowski and I share 50-50% ownership, had taken over the OpenBeam name and day to day operations.  The transition actually started last year.  This includes this website, our soon to be launched webstore, any of our merchandise on Amazon, etc.  I am aware of the outstanding pre-assembled machines owed to our kickstarter backers on the Kossel project.  As part of the transition, ZT Automations will be handling the outstanding kickstarter liability of undelivered, preassembled Kossel Pro printers as well.  I have dipped into my personal finances and am transferring to ZT Automations money to cover a full refund of each and every outstanding pre-assembled machine ordered on my Kickstarter campaign and we will be in a position to issue refunds starting March 15st, 2017. I'll go into why I made this decision in this update.

Now, the long story.

At the end of February in 2016, I left a very cushy, relatively difficult to get fired from “iron rice bowl” job at Thermo Fisher, and joined a hot Seattle startup called Glowforge.  I joined the team as one of the few people building their amazingawesome hardware. 

I ended up leaving Thermo Fisher as I didn't really see myself moving up in that company, and needed a change of pace.  I was missing the fast paced product development world of a startup.  So, when the opportunity at Glowforge opened up, after some soul searching, I decided that it was probably best for my mental health to move on.  It was the best thing for my sanity to switch things up a bit and to go work at a company where one’s individual contribution everyday makes a difference.  It also is the next logical step in my career, working on a high volume consumer electronics product.

The thing one has to understand about product design and engineering, is that in a well managed, well equipped and funded team, the camaraderie formed between the members is quite strong.   Good, modern product design requires intense collaboration from a multidisciplinary, diverse team (and ultimately, it was crazy how non-diverse Thermo Fisher’s design team was - the 2016 Republican contenders for president was a more diverse group - I was the only non-white engineer, and we had zero females on the team) with each member contributing to the process.  Along the way, you have to be dependent on your fellow team members - their ability to deliver gates your progress, and vice versa.  And I work with some truly amazing coworkers - no one I’d want to disappoint, for sure.  Overnight I went from pretending to do useful work and sitting in unproductive meetings to fill out 40 hours a week, to working probably 60-70 hour weeks, and having the time of my life.  For my first few months at Glowforge, it felt like I only really saw my son on the weekends; I was eating all 3 meals at work a few days out of the week, and there were plenty of engineering catch up work to do.  (I had originally planned to try to finish the prebuilt machines in the break between jobs, but Thermo Fisher decided to terminate my family’s health insurance coverage on the day I walked out the door.  Given that my new Glowforge insurance wouldn’t kick in until the first full calendar month at the company, I set my start date at Glowforge to Feb 29th to minimize the amount of time my family had to go without health insurance).  

Now, busy seasons comes and goes, and when I joined Glowforge I knew that I was going to be busy for a while as a long hard slog to get products shipping..  However, a few more major events happened:

1)  My wife’s seasonal busy season started, leaving me as the single parent to care for my then <1 year old son.  
2) We had the opportunity to buy (upgrade) our house, which we jumped on.  We then rented the house back to the original tenants while they prepared for downsizing.  Eventually, when they were ready to move, it would coincide with my wife’s busy season.  
3)  Glowforge, due to its rapid expansion, outgrew the space that it was in.  (The neighboring beer brewery also had a drain rupture and flooded our old basement with sewage from their brewing plant, which during the summer made for a very unpleasant work environment).  So, on top of moving houses, I had to move offices - and our hardware and engineering lab, as well.

At the time of our move, Zachary was just learning how to walk, which bumped a whole slew of home improvement projects, such as installing tamper resistant outlets, baby gates and general cleanup to the top of the priority pile.

IMG_20161210_182724.jpg

 

Originally, the plan was to do a nice cleanup, move and sort, into our new home.  However, circumstances from 1-4 pretty much meant that it was “sweep everything into a box and sort it out at the new place”.  Even more unfortunately, we rented Frogboxes for the move and those had to be dumped out and returned.  Doing this severely degraded our ability to conduct any sort of engineering work on OpenBeam / Kossel project for MONTHS.

I might have been able to handle switching to Glowforge, and maybe one of the above items.  But all of those hitting at once, while still burning the candle from both ends at a startup?  Let’s just say I’ve been very unresponsive to lots of people for a while.

So, where does that leave us?

OpenBeam, as you may recall, raised about $120k from the Kossel kickstarter campaign.  While this seems like a princely sum to a lot of people, $120k does not go far in hardware development AT ALL.  

At the time we did the Kossel kickstarter, a very well funded group out of Singapore, Bucaneer / Pirate 3D, launched a similar kickstarter.  Their machine would have been built on a much simplier and much better understood CoreXY mechanism.  Their team received a half million dollars grant from the Singaporean government to front load their R&D and they outraised us by an order of magnitude.  Despite this, they failed to complete all deliveries.delivery.  Most of their backers lost money - there was no shipment, no product, no refunds.

OpenBeam was able to deliver a vast majority of its rewards because of the existing business in selling aluminum bars.  Without the steady influx of income from OpenBeam sales, we would have  ran out of money long ago, and there wouldn’t have been a Kossel Pro 3D Printer either.  But we’ve not been diligent in keeping up our marketing, our web presence, or our product line refresh, and sales have suffered as a result.  We’ve put a tremendous amount of engineering resources into Kossel - resources that really would have taken OpenBeam to a new level if we had spent it wisely on its core products, and sales have suffered as a result.  Today, as ZT Automations take over the OpenBeam brand and operations, my first order of business is to revive and strengthen our core product offerings.  

Kossel Pro and its related development will still continue, but at a much slower pace as before.  (I will share progress at the end of this post and more in depth in the upcoming months).  It is our hope that Mike Z will be able to take over most of the business day to day operation and I will handle R&D, product design work and blogging where I am much happier and where my strengths lie.

I’ve finally dug myself out of most of the hole from moving.  My computers are now finally back up and running.  I just rebuilt the optical inspection fixture for K-heads (having to order new parts to replace what was lost in the move).  I can actually find my calipers and thread gauges and inspection tools.  As part of the move / upgrade, I’ve moved back all the prebuilt machines and all of Kossel’s R&D back into my garage.  It’s been hell trying to find time to go to our shop in Lynnwood, while caring for my son.  More than once I started transporting goods, only to have to unload the car to make sure that a stray 3D printer subassembly won’t bash him in the face when he’s in the car seat in the back and I take a corner a little too aggressively.  

We’ve been building out our infrastructure for documentation and testing as well.  The home office is finally somewhat organized, and we now have dedicated photography area to facilitate technical documentation.  (Before, this had to be set up and torn down at various parts of the house that was deemed “not in use”).

Where we are going with the Kossel Pro Platform:

As far as Kossel kits are concerned:  We delivered a kit that can be assembled into a printer.  People have assembled and printed successfully with it.  Of course, it's not perfect, and the documentation could have been better.  But as far as commitments for Kickstarter rewards goes, I considered them fulfilled.  

However, with a preassembled machine, the user has every right to expect that the machine would work, flawlessly, 100% of the time.  And, to be honest, this is where I feel that we fell short.  Our machines print, but this is not the user experience I would consider acceptable as a turn key consumer electronics product.  (Working at Glowforge had skewed my perception as to what constitutes a *good* user experience.  I wouldn't feel right releasing what I have right now to someone who may not have had any experience with a 3D Printer at all)).  

Some of the biggest frustration with the Kossel Pro lies in the following areas:

  • We engineered our own controller PCA for motion control.  While electrically the board performs well, we chose an off-the-beaten-path processor and as a result for some people, the USB communications can get a little bit wonky.  On top of that, the code base for Marlin is a freaking train wreck, the moment you stray off the beaten path.  
  • Knowing what we know about delta robots in general, it is very difficult to achieve perfect parallelism between the end effector and the build plate unless the underlying mechanical subsystems are built to tight tolerances. Our mechanical auto levelling probe, which sits offset to where the end effector is, exacerbates this problem.
  • The world had generally moved on, and we engineered a very tightly integrated and pretty closed off system.  To do what is right, we need to make it so that 3rd party parts are more easily integrated with the Kossel Pro.

Here are a few things that our existing Kossel Pro users can do to mitigate some of the issues that we’ve identified above.

1) We've been testing our preassembled machines with a Raspberry Pi configured with Octoprint.  We noticed that the USB communications issue seems to be hardware dependent, this way we can at least mitigate the hardware risks by controlling both ends of the USB communications.

2,3 )  I’ll write another update on what we are doing to fix some of the parallism issues in our machines, and the design changes that we are hoping to execute in the molds to bring the existing install base of machines closer to open source hardware standards.  These changes include designing out some of the tolerance stackup in the mounts, releasing again our machined end effectors to allow for 3rd party parts to be integrated with Kossel easier.

4)  Mike had been doing a bang up job keeping stuff in stock on Amazon; and hopefully in a few weeks we can put more inventory for Kossel spare parts back onto Amazon. 

5)  Matthew Wilson, one of the original team members, have been experimenting with FSRs and running Reprap Firmware on the new Duet controller board, with great results.  You can see pictures of his machines.  Matthew administers a fleet of 4-5 Kossel Pros (spread across Google's sites here in Seattle) as well as at home.  

We’ve had a rough 2016, for sure.  I’m not out of the woods either, as we prepare to ramp up at Glowforge for our product launch.  Mike and I, however, are in this fight for the long road, and we’ll keep at this.  
 

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 

New Products!

With the trainwreck that was Tully Gehran's Factory For All behind us, we are happy to be hitting the ground running on R&D again.y

One of the things we've been doing, before, during, and after our supply chain disruption, is to continuely test and qualify new manufacturing processes by small Mom and Pop shops in China.  One of the areas we've been doing work is finding ygood quick turn sheet metal vendors; after all, good sheet metal work is the foundation of many consumer electronics.  

In order to quick turn sheet metal parts, we found a laser cutting vendor that does reasonable quality work for reasonable prices.  The advantage of laser cutting is that there are no NREs (Non-Recurring Expenses) and no need to buy expensive stamp tooling.  The part cost is a bit more, but not prohibitively expensive.  Laser cutting also allows us to form fine features that wouldn't be traditionally possible with punch tooling - the rule of thumb is that the smallest feature (hole diameter, etc) have to be at least the thickness of the material that it is punched into.  OpenBeam long ago had standardized on 2mm thick brackets (in order to keep the screw lengths uniform).  Some of our newer motor mount brackets have holes drilled for M1.4 socket head cap screws.

Here are some of the new kits for various different brackets that we have developed:

Servos:

We've traditionally carried a stamped metal bracket for full size metal servos; we revisited the design and made the mounting of the servo a little bit more secure, and we created the servo mount in two directions - one having the long edge of the servo parallel to the length of the extrusion, and one having the long edge of the servo perpendicular to the length of the extrusion.

We then designed a total of 6 new servo brackets for micro, mini and full size servos respectively.  

That's it for this update!  We are trying to get into a habbit of pubishing more often and frequent.

48 Hours in Hong Kong - A Multi-Part Series (Repost)

In November of 2015; I made a “weekend” trip to Hong Kong – spending slightly over 48 hours on the ground there.  An absurdly short amount of time, for sure, given that each leg of the trip involves 15 hours of flying and a 4 hour layover in fairly spartan section of Beijing Capital International Airport.  I’d like to take this opportunity to share with some of you my travel experiences.

Air Koryo - North Korea's national carrier.  Now that's a sign you don't see every day.  (Beijing International Airport, Terminal 2)

 

As we have now revealed, dealing with Tully Gehan's Factory For All had been nothing short of a big giant train wreck.  Determined not to get screwed again, I've decided to start looking at taking back over control of my sourcing operations.

The primary objective of this trip was to renew my Home Return Permit.  This is a special travel document issued to Hong Kongers – and prior to the availability of the new 10 year Chinese entry permit, was worth its weight in gold for me, as it allowed me to travel to China at the drop of a hat. 

Yep, this is the last time I'll let this permit expire on me.  Oops.

Even with the availability of 10 year entry visas, Home Return Permits are still great for getting through immigration faster – all major ports of entry are equipped with biometric based automated passenger screening systems and a home return permit meant not having to wait in the slow line with all the visitors on foreign passports).  Unfortunately, I had stupidly let my Home Return Permit lapse, and failed to account for the nightmare that can be Chinese government bureaucracy.  These permits are issued by the Guangdong Province Public Safety Bureau and can only be applied for in person in authorized offices in Hong Kong, or in the case of a loss during travel in China, a special office in Huang Guan in Shenzhen.   So after some debate, I decided to make the trip and make the best of it, cramming as many meetings with potential partners and current suppliers as possible, and doing as much as we can to unjam the current logistics mess and prevent it from happening in the future.

Above:  Roadside cell phone repair stand.  Apliu St, Shumshuipo, Hong Kong.  It is estimated that 1/5 of sub-Sahara African cell phones passes through Hong Kong

Above:  This roadside stand specializes in CCTV cameras and automation gadgets

In this mini-series on our blog, I’d like to share with our readers the whirlwind 48 hours that I’ve just spent in Hong Kong.  We’ll touch on what the next steps for OpenBeam will be as we step our our international market presence, and why we chose Hong Kong as our remote base of operations.  I’ll take our readers through the electronics shopping district in Shumshuipo, and go over how we are building out a relatively inexpensive photo and video studio for doing better documentation for our product line.

(Tools, tools tools!  This store specializes in measuring equipment; scales, dial indicators, even low end inspection microscopes).

Trip Planning:  Flight planning, Where To Stay, etc

My primary requirement for flights is that Seattle is my port of entry into the US; since I will be carrying commercial merchandise back to the US, I expect to be fully searched by customs.  Put it to you this way:  I’ve never made my connecting flight flying through SFO and I’ve missed my share of connecting flights flying through LAX.  Nowadays, the only other port of entry that I would consider is YVR (where you could clear US customs on the way in); this way if I missed the connecting flight I have the option of hoping onto a bus and getting home without much delay.  There are also other advantages of picking this route, we'll touch on that later.

Tight quarters aboard the Hainan 787 enroute to Beijing.  A few more trips like this though and we'd have multi-material support for the Kossel figured out.

Delta has a new SEA <-> HKG nonstop flight, but unfortunately it doesn’t fly every day (and my vacation / sick days have already been wiped clean, no thanks to Thermo Fisher screwing me on my unpaid paternity leave).  Eventually I settled on Hainan Airlines; as a huge bonus, I’d earn half the flown miles as elite qualifying miles on Alaska.  Sure, there are a few oddities with the inflight entertainment selection, but for $800.00 round trip, there’s a power outlet in every seat (which meant I could actually get some serious design work done), the food was decent and it was on a very comfortable Boeing 787. 

A civilized way to fly.  City Check-In allows you to cart your luggage and check in for your flight 24 hours ahead of departure, so on the day of departure you just have to show up with the boarding pass and breeze through immigration and security.  Not available for US bound flights due to "security" concerns

There’s another bonus with this route selection as well:  Hong Kong Railways offers a city check-in service where up to 24 hours in advance, you can take your luggage to the Airport Express rail station and check your luggage in, obtain your boarding pass, etc.  The plan was to carry back, at the allowable weight limit, 2x 23kg of fastener packs, and two robotic screw dispensers in my checked luggage. 

This is why Seattle is my port of entry into the US.  Customs is going to have fun with me...

My flight’s boarding time was at 07:00, and I was in no mood trying to schlep over 100lbs of cargo in one trip with public transportation.  Thus, City Check-In is quite invaluable – but unfortunately due to security concerns, it’s not available on US bound flights.  So, on the day before my departure between trips to visit vendors, I carted my two bags to the Airport Express rail terminal and checked in for a flight to Beijing – with the bags checked through to Seattle.

Dad and I having a celebratory bowl of beef brisket noodles in soup, with a bowl of fish-skin dumplings, right before visiting the local hackerspace, aptly named "Dim Sum Labs", night before departure.  Traditional wonton noodles are made by repeated pressing of a dough with a bamboo stick in an up-and-down motion to develop the gluten and gives the noodle a very springy texture - reasonable substitutes exists in the US, but the real thing is impossible to find.  The fish skin dumpling hails from Chiuzhou - the skin is made by mixing minced fish meat with tapioca starch, while the filling is actually pork.  Also impossible to find in the US

Because of the tight schedule and all with meetings all over the map, I decided to stay somewhere centralized.  I quite like the Mong Kok / Prince Edward area, and the MetroPark Mong Kok had decent rates (~$100/night) and for that price you get a decent sized room.  I’ve seen the closet-like rooms of $80.00 budget motels (where you literally had to put the luggage in the toilet in order to close the main door).  The hotel’s seen better days – the signage wasn’t lit, the wallpapers are peeling, the carpet is lumpy and uneven, and it was where they quarantined people from the last SARS outbreak 10 years ago, but the bed is clean and $100/night for a decent sized room is pretty hard to beat.  The MTR station is 3 minute walk away and from there I can hop onto both the green and red lines, which covers all my meetings.

With flight and lodging taken care of, I'll go over some of the goodies I picked up at Shum Shui Po, as well as a visit to some of our vendors, in the upcoming blog entries.  Stay tuned.

Hong Kong's only Stratasys Fortus MC900 - big enough to print a car seat in one go, out of Ultem, no less

A cargo consolidation complex, near the Kwai Chung Container Terminal.  Lacking real estate, Hong Kong builds upwards, even cargo storage facilities

 

 

 

 

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 FactoryForAll.com.  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 ztautomations.dozuki.com) 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

FactoryForAll - a case study on everything that can go wrong with offshore sourcing

TL;DR:  Our experience with Tully Gehan’s FactoryForAll.com bordered on fraud and extortion and significantly impacted our ability to do business.  We are sharing our experience here with others in the Maker community on the pitfalls of offshore sourcing.

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First of all, let me get this out of the way.  We debated for a long time on whether to write this article.  Business, by its very nature, involves risk.  Bad things happen to good people..  We don't come onto the blog every time something goes south to throw a vendor / re-seller / supplier under the bus, because we recognize that there are two sides to each story and factors that are out of control for both parties involved in any transaction / relationship gone bad.

That being said, despite checking their references, the level of communication, transparency, and professionalism that we experienced with Factory For All bordered on outright fraud and extortion.  And, even more unfortunate, when I sat down with friends in the Maker community and lament about all the issues and struggles we've had, multiple people have told me that these guys were not reliable, yet not a single negative review (that would have saved us a lot of grief) can be found.  We note that Factory For All was mentioned in Make Magazine's "Shenzhen for noobs" article and we would like to leave our experience for the record for fellow Makers as another data point to consider, when selecting a vendor.

We approached Factory For All in June, placed purchase orders and wired 100% of the money the first week of July.  We were purchasing items that should have been roughly 2-4 week lead time, from vendors that we have already vetted and have pre-existing business relationships with.  We wired the money based on vetting Tully’s references; someone that I know personally and respect from the Maker community reported a good working relationship with Tully and we wrongly assumed that it would have been relatively straightforward to purchase these parts, arrange for them to be delivered to Tully’s location, and then shipped out via ocean freight, since they claim to do all of MPJA.com’s Chinese  sourcing.  

We chose to do things this way for two reasons:  

1)  by issuing a single PO to one company we were hoping to keep our accounting clean, and

2) we’ve ran into problems in China before where companies trying to act as a freight forwarder and found out that they cannot export our goods after all the goods have been purchased because they were unable to show a paper trail of the money and goods transaction; without which they cannot make the proper export tax declarations.  

I first met Tully Gehan at Bay Area Maker Faire in 2015.  They  had a sign offering Chinese sourcing, contract manufacturing and kitting services.  At the time I made contact, I already have vetted Chinese suppliers for packaging for both OpenBeam and ZT Automations as well as located and qualified suppliers for every line item on Kossel’s 200 line item BOM.  However, we were hoping to move some of the kitting and repackaging overseas to simplify the import paperwork, and we were hoping to find a single source agent to help consolidate our shipments.

What we didn't know at that time was that our funds were diverted from day one into another business's account because Tully and his girlfriend had broken up; the FactoryForAll business was registered in his girlfriend’s name, along with the bank account, so Tully had us wire the money into his “friend’s” account, who promptly became unavailable and who later was afraid of tax implications and decided to wire the money back. This wasn't made known to us until our vendors, a month in, started communicating with us directly that they weren't getting paid, and Tully let it slipped out that he was having issues accessing the bank account because it wasn't his.

There were other issues as well.  Because Tully’s Chinese skills was questionable at best, he had to rely on a string of different translators, none of whom have any basic technical background.  I found myself having to WeChat, QQ and Skype multiple people to explain to them in Chinese what we are trying to accomplish, only to watch a frustrating game of telephone unfold 6000 miles away.  This was brought to our attention when one of our suppliers contacted us thinking that someone was masquerading as OpenBeam's "purchase agent" to try to get them to produce OpenBeam parts under the radar; our supplier even went as far to ask if Tully was a "rented foreigner" because he couldn't field even the most basic answers regarding what was being ordered.  What’s also worse is the team in China is overly reliant on WeChat, QQ and Skype; there was hardly any documentation on what was actually being ordered, a highly problematic situation when ordering CNY$100,000+ worth of goods.  At my insistence, we had written contracts and BOMs drafted up in Chinese which I double checked against our English BOM.  (One of the things that came out from this fiasco, is OpenBeam now releases its engineering drawings bilingually).

It wasn’t until mid September when all goods would arrive at the warehouse - communications got dropped with our cardboard vendor, and even though PO was placed and the money was wired the first week of July, our “two week lead time” cardboard boxes didn’t show up until mid September.  There another nightmare started; despite us repeatedly asking for them to prepare for ocean shipment when the boxes arrive and despite repeated Skype messages telling us that they were “working on” our shipment, it wouldn’t be until around October 21st when we received an “invoice” for their services, and a proposed shipping plan that was by far the most expensive freight bill I would see in our company’s history.  


The invoice that we were presented with contained thousands of dollars more in fees that were previously agreed upon.  Upon reading the invoice and shipping manifest, it was found that an entire purchase order worth of goods was missing from the shipping manifest, and the invoice contained multiple, unreasonable line items.  For example:

1)  We were charged close to $1000 in Skype talk time, including accounting time for calculating Skype time.  At no point were we told that talking to them would incur a fee.  

Even lawyers don't charge for accounting time when billing their customers.

Now, some amount of payment to compensate for time to clarify engineering requirements is perfectly reasonable, but most of the Skype calls were follow-ups and problem solving in nature (as in us helping them figure out how to do their jobs). One call dealt with the fact that they couldn't figure out how to transfer money from the bank account in Hong Kong to a Chinese vendor in Shenzhen and ended with me vetoing Tully’s suggestion of “walking” a backpack containing CNY$120,000+ in CNY$100 notes.  (The largest note in circulation is a $100 note; we purchased over $120,000 from one vendor alone.  We’ll leave it up to the reader to figure out the volume and weight of 1200 bank notes and how long Obvious Foreigner Who Can’t Speak Chinese would last walking that across the border before getting mugged).  Other calls involved us following up on order status, being told that things are ordered, only to find out weeks later that the order never went through because they didn’t have money for the order in the first place (due to troubles with accessing the bank accounts).

2)  We were charged US$334.00 for a UPS shipment, AFTER we had sent a prepaid waybill for.  

How incompetent do you have to be to spend 20 hours shipping a package?

The cost was supposedly for their commute time to their facility, to place the call to UPS to arrange for pick up, and for the labor to package these for masterpieces for us:

For comparison, it’s typically $100.00 per carbon box in UPS shipping fees (including pick up) for a carton box of this size filled with engineering sample parts, on my negotiated UPS account.  When we raised the concern, the response came back that because the shipment had went out on a holiday, they should have charged us 3x more than what they already gouged.

3)  They wanted to charge us close to $600.00 for 8 pallets (the actual pallets themselves), and a total of $2300.00 to place pre-packaged material into a 20ft container.  Included in this is a $150.00 "research charge" for them to find a place to rent a forklift and pallet jack.  Note, this does not include the actual ocean freight charges or any export charges, this is just for loading a container.  

$67.00 per pallet - Bespoke pallets made by hipsters in Williamsberg, NY, from wood sustainably harvested from the Whole Foods shipping dock won't cost that much.  

Here's a link to brand new, heat treated wood (that meets ISPM15 fumigation requirements, required for any wood packaging products used in export - $24.50 each.  And that's assuming that you're buying brand new pallets - these things are the workhorse of the shipping industry, any decent material handling company would have a stack of them on hand as goods move in and out - all on pallets.  And on top of that, for a company that claims that they do lots of ocean shipping, it sure is funny that they have to charge 9 hours to figure out where to rent a pallet jack and forklift and pallets for ocean export.

Typically for small amounts of goods like what we are trying to ship, we ship using LCL (Less Than Container Load).  Included in an LCL shipment are CFS fees - this is where they handle the material, palletize and pack the goods onto a cargo container, etc.  To give an example, our last shipment, which involved over 4.5 metric tonnes and close to 200 carton boxes?  The overseas CFS charge portion is less than $230 - ten times less than what Factory For All wanted just to pack the container.

In fact, when we finally got the goods out of Tully’s warehouse, trucked it to Hong Kong; here was the total damage.

There were many, many other whiskey-tango-foxtrot moments, but I think I've made my point loud and clear.

Aftermath:

We ended up paying the invoice from FactoryForAll in full; not because it was the right thing to do, but because they made it very clear that without paying for all their bullshit charges, they wouldn’t release our cargo to our supplier who stepped up to the plate and helped arrange for the export to Hong Kong so that our goods can be ocean freighted to us.  Even though Tully had agreed to a different compensation scheme, what can we really do?  They had been holding US$40k of inventory hostage for almost half a year.  The dollar amount they were extorting is not worth an international lawsuit over and both of us knew it.  

From what we can tell, Tully and his girlfriend got back together; his girlfriend was the one that sent the invoice and the packaging work.  It is a conscious decision on my part not to name Tully’s girlfriend here in this blog post; I am giving her the benefit of a doubt; after all, she wasn’t the one that diverted the funds into another bank account in the first place and was stuck in the position of cleaning up the mess that Tully created.  With some attitude adjustment, and lots of coaching in the areas of business management, customer service and logistics it is plausible that she could actually run a sourcing business some time in her life, and I didn't feel like condemning her online for the situation that she didn't help create.  For what it’s worth, despite being CCed on every email during the invoice dispute, we never heard from Tully again.

Most people, when I tell them this story, are shocked by the timeline: placing the order for 2-3 week lead time items in early July, not seeing anything until January of the next year.  It’s pretty apparent that the team at Factory For All is incompetent at 1) sourcing, 2) exporting and 3) running a business and providing customer service in general.  However, the damage done here is way more than just time lost.

$40,000 is not a small sum of money for us; for comparison, we only purchase about $100,000 of OpenBeam per year for resale.  This meant that a HUGE amount of our working capital was tied up with nothing to show for - we were hoping to land some of this inventory quickly and resell them to bring traffic to our web store.  This obviously couldn’t happen, as the container boat didn’t dock until the day after Christmas and we didn't take delivery until the first week of January.  (Of no fault to Factory For All; US Customs also decided to X-Ray and inspect our container.  You can see in the picture the original container seal as the container left Hong Kong and the CBP inspection seal - both had to be cut off with bolt cutters to open the container).

On top of that, virtually every product across both ZT Automations and OpenBeam was affected.  Back in May I redesigned the packaging and content of the OpenBeam Construction Kit - by far our most popular item. The redesign assumes a custom sized box and was driven by a plan to push OpenBeam into brick and mortar stores.  The box size selected isn’t covered by off-the-shelf box suppliers such as ULine or Tharco.  We knew in May we had enough stock to last until October and we’ve already had great working relationships with this box supplier, so there was no reason to expect such a delay on sourcing something as simple as a box.

Yet, due to these delays, I have 4 pallets - 500 sets of each color of our construction kit, sitting on a pallet since the the end of August.  Our extrusion vendor faithfully executed on our redesign and delivered, our plastics injection molder delivered the brackets and our new hardware vendor delivered the fastener packs.  But without a box, and without the ability to buy an off-the-shelf equivalent, we were forced to hang an “out of stock” sign for a few weeks on our Amazon webstore, miss the launch window for launching the kit at Seattle Mini Maker Faire (where we were ultimate sponsors) and completely missed the window to launch the kit in retail stores this year.  (We ended up spending some money to UPS boxes over; that’s what FactoryForAll charged us $334 for their work in “shipping” the boxes) that they dropped the ball on ordering.  The four pallets of construction kit extrusions are worth another $40,000, and blocked off access to a good chunk of our new warehouse for a long time.  And with the Kossel project still in high gear, we didn't have enough free cash flow to just go out and order a box cutting die (3 dies, domestically, for probably $1000 each), purchase the MOQ of a box stamping in the US, and write off our inventory that we've already purchased in China.

Tens of thousands of dollars worth of inventory, none can be moved because it was missing a fastener pack, a box, etc.

Cash flow is king in a business, and this little episode was highly detrimental to our cash flow.

There was a huge psychological impact as well.  Business continuity was at stake here; we *needed* the goods from this shipment to continue shipping products and stay in business.  Given how unprofessional these people have been, and their propensity to stop responding, there was a very real fear that we may just never see our cargo.  So, as much as I had wanted to hop on a plane and go knock on someone's door, we really had no choice but to go along and beg, plead and repeatedly, politely ask for status updates.  For months, it was impossible to do any long term planning; unjamming this logistics mess was the #1 priority.  There were nights that I’ve set aside for engineering and project admin that got blown completely because we ended up having to spend it verifying shipping manifest, talking to vendors and generally fighting fires.   All that stress had left me drained and burnt out.

We’ve finally received our cargo, after 7 long months.  On the stepper motors that Tully had packaged for us; 1/3 of the boxes were folded wrong (inside out).  He went ahead with packaging not having the Amazon FBA labels (this was our fault but at the time that decision was made, we just wanted our goods out of his warehouse) - so we'd have to rework 100% of the kits anyway.  We were charged (and paid) a total of $575 for the labor involved in packaging 250 stepper motor kits.  Suspiciously - we paid 7.5 hours @ $10.00/worker/hr of 4 workers packaging motors, but we paid for 11 hours @ $25.00 per hour for a "supervisor" - supervising these workers.  As a comparison, here in Seattle, I pay my packaging contractors $25.00 per hour (well above Seattle's proposed $15/hr minimum wage) and they can generally pack more than 12 kits per hour (1 kit every 5 minutes assuming $2.00 per kit labor cost).  In other words, the "cheap Chinese labor" turned out to be more expensive than Americans earning a living wage - and that's not counting the rework time we have to put into it.

We have taken steps to mitigate against this sort of fiasco, which we'll share when it's appropriate.  Supply chain is hard work for sure...

-=- Terence

 

State of the OpenBeam Project (2016)

TL;DR:  OpenBeam sales will be handled by ZT Automations, a company jointly owned by myself and Mike Ziomkowski of Z-Designs, created to handle the Kossel Pro project.  This move allows me to focus my energy on OpenBeam R&D work while bringing new help on board to help with critical organizational improvements, keeping the shelves stocked, etc.

--

Hello everyone!

2015 had been a challenging year for OpenBeam.  First and foremost, I accepted life's ultimate promotion to fatherhood, when my wife and I welcomed our son Zachary into the world.  

Mr. OpenBeam, Mr. OpenBeam Jr. and Mr. OpenBeam Sr.

Fatherhood certainly brings its own unique sets of challenges; it certainly gives me a different perspective on things and teaches me to be a better person.  Well, it also helps that we have a really cute kid, and his happy giggles makes cleaning up 3am diaper blowouts more bearable.

He's almost catching up with me in the mess making department.  Almost.

On a professional side, things have been pretty rough.  We got screwed big time by our contract manufacturer / sourcing agent - long story short, after checking their references and wiring a significant chunk of money, it took them months to order what should have been 2 week lead time items.  We wired the money in July 2015 and didn't get our goods until early January of this year; during this time we were constantly lied to about progress and on top of that, they had the audacity to hold our goods hostage until we paid them thousands of dollars in fees that we never agreed to in the first place.  We will be writing up a full expose and publishing it far and wide as a warning to other Maker businesses about what happened, but in the mean time, we are focused on rebuilding the business, taking care of customers and our workers.

On the organization side, we have a big organization change coming down the line.  In order to focus my energy (and my diminished amount of free time) on product development, I have decided to entrust the daily operations of OpenBeam to my good friend, Mike Ziomkowski of Z-Designs / ZT-Automations (of which I am 50% owner).  We have already commenced the transfer of sales of all OpenBeam items to ZT-Automations, with the goal of shutting down OpenBeam's Amazon listings by end of February.  

One of those enlightenment moments in running a business, is learning one's strengths and weaknesses, and for the things you are bad at, hopefully figuring out whether it can be made someone's problem with a reasonable amount of money.  In my case, although I am a pretty decent design engineer, my organization skills leaves a bit to be desired and it's became apparent that the business had grown beyond what I can reasonably manage while holding down a day job and being a good father to my son.  I am very fortunate that I have someone whom I trust (Mike and I have been friends for almost 2 decades) whose skills complement mine well, and I'm 100% confident that Mike will be able to handle our businesses's growing organizational needs.  For me, the most immediate gain is the ability to focus my energy on what I do best -  design engineering.  We already have a collection of new products that are on its way to our Amazon web store, and we'll be updating the blogs with new product announcements soon.

Thank you for your support,

-=- Terence, Rachel, Zachary & the furry monster puppy

Eff-Cee-Ess

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).  

IMG_20160123_160312.jpg

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.

ZT-KIT-00301(01)b.JPG

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:

IMG_20151105_224136.jpg

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

 

3D Printing a Halloween costume

Thought I'd take a quick break from our normal programming to show off my son's first Halloween costume!

Rachel found a teddy bear hoodie outfit for Zachary, so Zach wlll be Winnie The Pooh for Halloween.  Given the amount of time I  spend away from family to work on the Kossel project, I immediately offered to take care of the honey pot for the costume.

I started by googling for a good picture of the honey pot:

 

I then brought the image into Adobe Illustrator and did a bitmap to vector conversion:

Next, I opened up Solidworks.  I have some leeway with the cross section of the pot; knowing that a good 3D Printer can print a 45 degree overhang without issues, I modeled in the profile as a couple of splines.  We measured Zach while he was sleeping (~24") and determined the pot height to be aprpoximately 10" or so for the pot to bear size ratio will look correct.

And, being completely artistically challenged, I converted the text from the graphics into a DXF and brought that into Solidworks, then scaled it up and used it to cut a 1mm offset below the surface of the pot:

The handles are swept from a circular profile and a 3D Curve; nothing fancy.  Again, I have some artistic freedom, so I made sure that the initial angles are 45 deg (max safe overhang without support).

The pot printed perfectly on the first try with my personal Kossel Pro.  It was a 26 hour print; we used Polymakr Polymaxx for the filament.   Just to be safe, I printed a second copy for Rachel in case something went screwy with the painting.

And another quick test fit while Zach's asleep.

All together, from initial concept to finished print, about 30 hours (26 of which was unattended print time).  We're really happy with how that turned out.

Feel free to check back after Halloween to see how the costume turned out!

-=- Terence

Calibration

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

 

 

New Product Announcement

First, an update on the joint OpenBeam / ZT Automations shop.

We continue to put lots of work into organizing the OpenBeam / ZTA shop; the Kossel Project showed us just how unprepared we were with the logistics of running a complicated program, and highlighted the need for a central facility to store inventory and provide work space for kitting up kits.  As someone whose dorm room once made the front page of the school newspaper for how cluttered it was, this level of organization represents a major step up.  And after threatening to piss in my landlord's bushes for the past two months, they've finally completed our bathroom.  

One of the exciting capability we are adding is a photo / video space.  Documentation is traditionally one of the areas we are weak at; having a photo / video studio will allow us to crank out better quality instructions.

The photo studio, configured to shoot hi-key images for product catalog and documentation.

Now onwards to new product annoucements!

For 2015, our precut kits got a bit of a face lift.  We've redesigned the boxes to be more compact and potentially more retail friendly to support a push into the retail space.  We went back and examined the makeup of the kits; traditionally; we've optimized our kits based on the assumption that we'd have to process the 1m long raw aluminum bars ourselves, and the traditional lengths that we've included is optimized to reduce wastage when cutting from 8x 1m bars.  However, now that our vendor is handling the cutting and kitting, and only charging us for the material delivered; we sat back and looked at what actually makes sense, both from a packaging and from a "what serves the customer best" standpoint.  

Our new kits now comes with every length from 30 to 300mm, in 30mm increment, packaged into a nice, compact brick that we sell individually (clear and black anodized).

Specifically, inside the box, you'll find:

4x: 30 | 60 | 90 | 120 |180 | 210 | 240 | 270mm pieces
6x: 150mm pieces
8x: 300mm pieces


As for the accessories, we've kept the same accessories (32 L brackets, 8 T brackets, 8 feet, pack of nuts and bolts.  We did switch out the nice Wera driver for a generic ball end hex key to simplify our supply chain logistics.  All the accessories sit nicely on top of the brick of aluminum extrusions, in a nice tray with dividers:

Unfortunately, we aren't out of the woods yet with the colossal clusterf**k that is our "sourcing agent" - these boxes (typically a 2 week lead time) were quoted in June, ordered first week of July - and still have not left China.  Obviously I can't let the incompetence of these guys (who were featured in Make Magazine's Innovated In China article in the June 2015 issue, btw, feel free to ask us for a reference on who to avoid) stop me from selling my number one seller.  The packaging won't look quite the same if you were to order the ZT-KIT-00101 or ZT-KIT-00102 now from Amazon, but the contents are exactly as I described.   

Next, we have our stamped metal L and T brackets.  People have been asking for it, and we've finally found a good supplier that are willing to do the stamping at reasonable rates.  Our metal L and T brackets are now on Amazon.   And because of the volume of stamping work that we are passing onto this vendor, we are able to lower the cost of our NEMA17 motor mounts as well.  

Finally, most people have been frustrated at our lack of fasteners on Amazon.  Against the behemoth that is Amazon, we couldn't sell M3 nuts at any profit and be remotely competitive (against their Small Parts department).  So we took a look at where we can add value and we're happy to offer this fastener kit, at less than the cost of ordering these parts from McMaster or BoltDepot.  

Oh, one more thing... 

Actually, two.  We've always been amazed at how young children have taken to building with OpenBeam; to me as the product creator it is especially rewarding because OpenBeam, unlike Legos or similar construction toys, is a scaled down version of what is actually used in industry.  However, our educator friends have always asked if there's anything we can do to make it easier for little fingers to load nuts into an OpenBeam extrusion.

With our new and improved manufacturing abilities, we are happy to offer T-nuts for OpenBeam.  Now, we designed OpenBeam to use standard M3 nuts, so it does seem a bit of a sell out to offer T-nuts, but the customer demand is there, and we've made the T-nuts compatible in size with a regular M3 hex nut.

Of course, when you go into the effort to design custom fasteners, you should really try to make it as pleasant to the end user to use as possible.  Note how when the nuts are loaded here in this example, they are spaced at the correct spacing to align with the holes from an L or T bracket.

At the end of the day, we feel that some people will really like, and be willing to pay a little extra, for the convenience of T-nuts.  Others on a budget will continue to use our low cost hex nuts.  
 

Finally, we've all been there:  We build a structure, only to find that we need to add a T-nut in and both ends have been capped off.  We are now happy to offer a drop in T-Stud.  These studs can be dropped in anywhere along a closed off extrusion, and tightening a nut down onto them cams the head into the profile channel to stop rotation:

T-Nuts, and drop in T-Studs (8mm and 12mm) will be available next week on Amazon.com.

That's it for this update!  We'll give a Kossel update on the ZTA blog next, before coming back for more new product announcements on here. :-)

-=- 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

Expansion, Seattle Mini Maker Faire

First, a big announcement.

A month ago OpenBeam successfully acquired a lease on a commercial space.  We had to move quickly to secure the space, but it works well for our needs.

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.  OpenBeam as a company does ok, but we would still like to keep expenses as low as possible, and moving up from $400.00 per month for two storage lockers to $2000 per month is a bit of a steep jump.

 

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.

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 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.  

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 the new shop, one of the first things we are going to set up, once the bathroom is completed, is a photo / video studio.  A proper photo and video studio takes up a lot of room, and we have a nice white painted wall (perfect for those high-key pure white background pictures that we shoot for our technical documentation).  

Photo / Video studio will go on the other side of the bathroom wall.

Seattle Mini Maker Faire

With the birth of my son, Zachary, and the Kossel project stretching our resources thin, we have not been very active in our Maker Faire participation.  That being said, we've sponsored the Seattle Mini Maker Faire since our inception and since the SMMF's beginnings 3 years ago, and it wouldn't feel right for us to sit out.  We're happy to announce that we're sponsoring our local Maker Faire again, for the 4th  year in a row.  Not only that, we'll be having special discounts on OpenBeam merchandise at MakerFaire to help our local makers build cool things, and we'll be doing new product announcements at the faire!  See you there.

-=- 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 ztautomations.com.  

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.

Kossel_Pro_Crated2.JPG

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:

https://s3.amazonaws.com/seattleautomationzdocs/Kossel.zip

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: 

http://ztautomations.dozuki.com/

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.  

Links:

ZT Automations on Amazon: www.amazon.com/shops/zt-automations

Documentation: ztautomations.dozuki.com

 

-=- 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 Amazon.com 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)

Kossel Pro - now at SeattleAutomationz.com

We've been pretty slammed, and we've been neglecting the OpenBeam core product line for the last two years due to the work that's been poured into Kossel.  After a few months of planning, Mike and I took the next step and spun off the OpenBeam Kossel Pro project into a new company.

We will still be actively developing the Kossel Pro,  under the Seattle Automationz banner.  The decision was made specifically to spin off the 3D Printer so that we may bring on additional resources to help with the project easier.

A status update on the Kossel Pro project can be found on our new blog, here.  

As for OpenBeam, we've got a few new products on the horizion.  Stay tuned.

-=- Terence

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