First customer ship, finalizing documentation, and the Chinese Shipping Apocalypse

Hello, world!

Probably the biggest news from this past weekend was that we've shipped our first printer to a kickstarter backer!  We selected a backer in the "Early Bird" HBP full kit pool that was A) a practicing Mechanical Engineer, B) has a residence and a workplace within 15 minutes of Mike's house, and C) had been active on the OpenBeam forum as our first guinea pig:

While we would *love* to tell you that the shipment was completely smooth and kits are flying out the door, the unfortunate reality is that this was a test ship to get a fresh, outside set of eyeballs on a problem that we've been working on tireless for the past two years.  (OpenBeam had already been involved in 3D Printer research and development for over a year when the Kickstarter campaign was launched).  We don't consider this shipment to be a success; as our brave tester had reported 3 errors thus far:

1)  The wrong count of ball bearings were included in the ball joint kit.  This is traced to a kitting instruction error - I (Terence) had kitted up the correct # of ball bearings and photographed the right thing, but put the incorrect number of ball bearings in the work instruction and into the BOM.  As a result, we went through and reworked all the ball joint kits that have been kitted up to fix the error.

2)  The wrong count of screws were included in the end effector kit.  This was traced to a down-rev assembly being included in his kit.  Because I broke protocol and kitted the kit myself, this was considered to be a one-off error.  Just in case, we inspected all the delivered sub-assemblies and checked and made sure that they have been kitted correctly.  They are.

3)  The laser cut plastic panels for holding the power supply in position is too thick.  The specs call for 3mm nominal, which is on the thick side, but would have worked with our supplied screws.  Unfortunately due to the variance in thickness for acrylic sheets, our backer received a piece clocked in at 3.5mm.  This did not give enough thread engagement to fasten the panel.

To fix this, we are going to abandon laser cutting and use CNC routing to fabricate this panel.  A local company is cutting this for us out of an acrylic/pvc blend panel and we are scheduled to receive the first 20 pieces for FAI (First Article Inspection) this coming Friday (day after tomorrow) and the balance of the parts will be available next week once we approve the samples.  The use of CNC routing allows us to use material that would otherwise be incompatible with laser processing; in this case, the material is Boltaron 4335, a flame-rated, high impact Acrylic/PVC blend that has a UL flame rating of 94V0 at a mere 0.5mm.  We will be using a 2.3mm panel for mounting our PSU and the power inlet module. 

Our backer's printer after a few hours' worth of assembly time.  Starting to look like a printer!

In other news:

A)  The Heated Build Platforms had finally arrived!  At 1/8" thick, these things are BEEFY.  And they should be, since that's the foundation for the print to sit on.  (Well, that, and the 5mm thick borosilicate glass plate...)

MikeZ of Z-Designs making a special delivery.  I am sure one of these days someone in our business park will call the cops on "two sketchy looking dudes exchanging boxes out of the back of their cars", just about every day at lunch time.

B)  I rented a bunch of video gear, and ended up buying myself a new external video recorder unit (which is really useful for shooting these assembly videos, as the camera is nearly ceiling mounted, looking straight down, and it's handy to be able to check focus and see what the camera is seeing without having to stand on a ladder:

Preliminary results here - we have about 350Gb of footage to sort through.  I am not 100% happy with this take, so I reshot another take with a 100mm macro lens so you can see the parts more clearly.  I hope to have more footage processed this coming weekend:

[vimeo 108747493 w=1280 h=720]

Our vimeo feed can be found here; but be warned, most of the stuff on there did not meet our quality standard and we have already reshot all the footage (just pending edit).

C).  Fall Golden Week, along with a new Chinese president's "crack down on corruption", is still wrecking havoc on our shipping schedule.  This is the time when every Western country is trying to get the latest hotness readied for the shelves for the Christmas season, and the entire country had just finished taking a week long vacation.  On top of that, due to recently drug seizures (and thousands of government, provincial and municipal workers being fired / arrested for all manners of crime and corruption), Chinese customs is now doing a 100% inspection on outgoing items.  

Unfortunately, our glass plates, power supplies, linear rails and end effector PCAs are still stuck in the export customs queue.  (It's already been about a week and counting for the glass plates and power supplies).  The bright side is that the plastics are most time consuming to kit and we've already received this into inventory, and our kitter is blasting through the kits.  Unfortunately though, we can't ship kits until *EVERYTHING * is received in - our existing glass stock and power supply stock is only enough for in house engineering testing.

D)  We've outsourced some of the trickier cables to a local cable manufacturing company (basically, as my old boss and mentor would say:  Throw reasonable amounts of money at this problem to make it someone else's problem).  Without the burden of crimping cables (each end effector cable takes *20* crimps) our kitter is freed up to just kit kits.  She's already done 20-60 of each subasssembly kit, and a lot of them are in the final kit form, waiting for the sealing label which we'll apply once we've verified contents of the kit.  We are being extra diligent on the kit contents because it doesn't do anyone any good if they are missing a screw or nut and it really hurts fainancially to spend $5.00 (or more) on postage to ship someone a 20 cent part, 120 times.

E)  Finally, while we've registered the domain for hosting our documentation, videos, and eventual wiki, the site is not active yet.  We'll announce here when we activate the domain.

That's about all for this update.  For both Mike and I, this project had been a huge personal growth opportunity as well.  We look forward to getting these kits into our backer's hands, and back to new product development, once the printer ships.  

-=- Terence & Mike