Fancy cloud-based solutions vs construction equipment

Over the last few months, OpenBeam and Z-Designs have been quietly upgrading our infrastructure that's been sorely inadequate to manage a project of this magnitude.  We've migrated over to QuickBooks online, we've deployed Arena, a cloud based PLM system, for managing our Bill of Materials and document control between our vendors and us as engineers.  And, as FiOS fiber optic based internet became available, we jumped out of an unhappy, antagonistic  relationship with Comcast and their "Oh, you may see some network degradation when the ground gets water saturated when it rains" network.

Then, a construction crew working downtown Redmond decides to tear up the main trunk line, leaving 6000+ subscribers without cable, phone, 911 or internet services:

"Hello?  Can you hear me now?"

"Hello?  Can you hear me now?"

Obviously, this isn't Frontier's fault (although, they *were* supposed to have *some* redundancy in their network and how cables are routed).   It still doesn't change the fact that we've been without any sort of connection for the past 48 hours.  This is especially a hard time for me to get hit; my laptop has a corrupted hard drive and Apple, in their infinite wisdom, stopped shipping OSes on physical media as of the last major release.  (And even though I mostly use my Macbook Pro in Windows for engineering, I still needed the MacOS install to install Bootcamp drivers.  That, and we were going to be doing video editing this past weekend).

For our engineering files, we use Dropbox (with a plan to switch to OwnCloud after this project is over).  These software were specifically chosen because they keep a local copy of the data - useful for when I'm on a long flight, or overseas.  While an outage does limit collaboration, there's plenty that I got done this past weekend with regards to documentation which did not require a connection to the internet.

For our PLM and accounting systems and social media though, we are completely offline until our connection is re-established.  (We also live in a part of Redmond that has atrociously bad cell service regardless of carrier, thanks to home owners with a NIMBY mentality when it comes to putting up new cell towers).  

The moral of the story is, if you as a business is dependent on cloud based solutions for operation, redundancy in your network connection isn't such a bad idea.  For most people this could be as simple as a cellular modem / hotspot, which is a reasonably inexpensive investment.  

Try this on a Cartesian printer... :-P

While we were at the 3D Printer World Expo in Seattle, we had the pleasure of meeting Stefanie Mueller, a PhD student from Berlin, Germany.  She showed us a video on her cell phone that completely blew us away.

Now that the video is public (and the paper is submitted), we are excited to share this with you:

WirePrint is a low-fi fabrication technique that prints 3D models as wireframe previews. By extruding filament directly into 3D space instead of printing layer-wise, we achieve a speed-up of up to 10x compared to traditional 3D printing.

It's taken over two years of hard work, with lots of ups and downs, to build our company, recover from our manufacturing issues, move production overseas to a competent supplier, and finally ready the OpenBeam Kossel Pro for launch.  But seeing cool projects like this, and knowing that you've played a small part in building something very cool, makes it all worth while.

-=- Terence

Back from Vacation!

The Kossel engineering team is back from vacation with all limbs intact.  No 3D Printed splints and OpenBeam braces :-).

We were expecting all components except for our heated bed to arrive while we were away at Whistler Bike Park - but UPS managed to "misplace" our package with all the end effector plastics in it.  This is doubly frustrating, as the end effector plastic requires a rework in this current batch.  Meanwhile, our cable vendor also ran a little bit late and will be delivering the first batch of end stop cables and stepper motor cables towards the end of this week.


In the meantime, we are inspecting and checking into inventory what we *do* have, and starting the process of kitting the sub-kits for delivery to our early backers.   We are now aiming to start shipping early backer mechanical kits mid to end of next week - assuming that we don't incur additional customs issues.  (We are starting to see more customs issues because of the nature of the product -  3D Printers are still quite new, and it seems like every time something moves, we have to explain to a bunch of clerks what it is exactly we are trying to import).

One of the things that I have not touched on, is the amount of engineering that actually goes into preparing for shipping.  There are various minor "value add" tasks that are performed - for instance, trimming the fan leads on the end effector to the right length, stripping the right amount of insulation, etc.  We do this to ensure that across the board, builders will have a consistent experience building the printer (and it makes troubleshooting a lot easier - when everyone is starting from the same spot).  Well, just about every tubing, wire, insulation sleeve that we have to cut, we have to design, test and validate a fixture for:

Fan wire cutting and stripping fixture.  3D Printed and built from OpenBeam, naturally. :-P

Fan wire cutting and stripping fixture.  3D Printed and built from OpenBeam, naturally. :-P

That's about it for this update!  I'll be back in a few days with a more in depth look at the auto levelling probe and what we are doing to quantify the probe.  Here's a sneak peek. :-P
 


-=- Terence



Reminder - On Vacation

Just a quick heads up - pretty much the entire Kossel Pro engineering team is out on their annual downhill mountain biking trip in beautiful Whistler, British Columbia.  We have marching orders from all our vendors to not break anything major until Kossels are shipping. 

Left to right:  Dave Mathiesen (web guy), Chris Martin (manufacturing engineering), Mike Ziomkowski (electrical engineer) and Terence Tam (Project Lead and Mech Engineer). Picture from our 2012 trip, taken at the start of the day before those smiles turn into looks of disbelief and terror.

Left to right:  Dave Mathiesen (web guy), Chris Martin (manufacturing engineering), Mike Ziomkowski (electrical engineer) and Terence Tam (Project Lead and Mech Engineer). Picture from our 2012 trip, taken at the start of the day before those smiles turn into looks of disbelief and terror.

It's highly unusual for me, but I didn't even pack my laptop this time around. We will return after Labor Day refreshed and ready to take the project past the finishing line. 

See the video above?  I think they are making fun of me, starting at 1:55....

-=- Terence

The OpenBeam Kossel Family, Part III - The OpenBeam Kossel Reprap

Hello Deltabot community!

At long last, Johann and I are proud to announce that we are design releasing the OpenBeam Kossel Reprap.  This branch of the Kossel features 100% sub assembly level compatibility with the upcoming OpenBeam Kossel Pro.  

We started with the already very good Mini Kossel release by Johann Rocholl and changed the following:

1)  Ball bearing idlers.  A common complaint about the Kossel's top bearings and the make-shift flanged bearing solution is that it is very easy to slip the belt off the ball bearings.  For the Kossel Pro, we sourced 8mm bore GT2 timing belt pulleys and MF83 flanged ball bearings to create this new ball bearing pulley subassembly.  Terence then back-ported the ball bearing assembly into the Mini Kossel's upper vertex to properly center this new pulley, locating the flanges the correct distance away from the vertical support beams.  Johann will be back porting this new geometry back into OpenSCAD for others that would like to experiment with this design.

2)  Support for open looped belts.  Most GT2 belts sold on the market are of the open loop variety - and for longer and shorter lengths, that is the only option.  Terence ported the design geometry of the Kossel Pro's integrated belt loop clamp for terminating an open loop belt back into a Reprap version of the mounting block.  No more zip ties!  

3)  New and improved auto-leveling probe.  We spent a significant amount of engineering time to come up with a repeatable design, tuning the spring force of the switch against the spring force of the compression spring.  Then, Johann released FSR levelling, and we decided to follow suit. :-P

4)  Improved bed clamping.  The Auto Leveling routine relies on the glass plate centered in the printer's space frame rather accurately, in order to execute the retract move.  Unfortunately, this is rather difficult to do consistently under the old design; it is not intuitive to center a circle inside a triangle for most people.  Failure to put the glass back in the right spot can destroy the old auto-leveling probe in a probe / bed crash.

Back ported from the Kossel Pro is an interchangeable, quick-release bed mounting system.  We designed the new bed clamps with a V-block geometry to center the glass plate, every time.  We've added a clamping feature to allow the glass bed to be easily removable.  Normally, when we run print test, we have a second glass surface prepped with tape so that we can quickly swap beds after a print and perform the print removal offline.  That's how the big boys do it on the professional 3D printers - it's a real time saver.

5)  Different cold end extruder options.  By default, the OpenBeam Kossel family will ship with SeeMeCNC's EZStruder, with OpenBeam mounting brackets.   SeeMeCNC was the first to bring a Deltabot kit to market (the RostockMax) and the first to  move to injection molding for critical printer parts.  We applaud their efforts in using mass production techniques to build common 3D printer parts and as a way of supporting them, we qualified their cold end extruder kit and found that it performs wonderfully for our printers as well.

Developers often suffer from "Not Invented Here" syndrome; while I (Terence) can easily design an injection molded extruder, I feel that instead of reinventing the wheel, it's better to support an existing solution that does the job just fine.

The side benefit of using the EZStruder with OpenBeam mounting brackets?  The brackets are stamped out of 5052H32 Aluminum alloy.  It happens to be a really good heat conductor.  We noticed on our thermal camera images that the frame of the printer actually acts as a heat sink and the extruder motor runs cooler as a result.  Pretty cool, huh?

6)  We are extremely proud of the engineering that went into the OpenBeam Kossel Pro's new end effector.  To maintain compatibility for an upgrade path, we have design released a 3D Printable end effector for the OpenBeam Kossel Reprap's end effector as well.  Both of these end effectors allows for interchangeability of the connectivity PCB / ring light assembly and the new Auto Levelling probe (both reprap and injection molded versions).  

Where to Buy:

I (Terence) refuse to play the "race to the bottom" game and I believe in building a sustainable business and giving back to the community.  Over the past year, I have been refining the efficiency in our material handling and supply chain and quietly building out our Amazon Fulfillment infrastructure, and today I am happy to announce that all the Kossel components can be sourced from Amazon.com with Prime benefits for Prime households and free shipping on all orders over $30.00.  Once you factor in the shipping cost, you'll find that my prices are very competitive.  

Amazon.com offers many advantages to the consumer.  Fast shipping and ease of returns aside, the Amazon Affiliates program allows up to 8% referral on products being sold on Amazon.  This percentage is taken out of the 12% commission that Amazon charges me.  Johann had signed up for Amazon Affiliates, and if you were to buy Kossel components in the future by clicking through any of the links (that are currently not up yet) on the OpenBeamUSA.com page, Johann will earn 5-8% of the purchase price.  This is a great way for people to give back to original developers!  It makes no difference to my bottom line whether you clicked through my site or searched for it on Amazon.com, but we've made it easier for you by linking to them here to get the components you need, and everyone wins.  (For the rest of the OpenBeam products, clicking through the links under "Where to buy" on OpenBeamUSA earns 8% commission into a fund that gets donated to folks like Seattle Hacker Scouts, our local Maker Faire, and folks doing OSHW related software such as Slic3r).  The Amazon Affiliates program is by no means exclusive; you too are welcome to sign up for an affiliate ID, write good documentation, and link to ANY items in question on Amazon.com.  By offering a monetary incentive for people to write good documentation, we are hoping to raise the bar for how Open Source Hardware is documented.  

As for the CAD files, we have released both the STL and the Solidworks source for the files onto my GitHub.  (I'm new to GitHub, so please bear with me!)  Johann will be back porting the new parts back into OpenSCAD so that the general Reprap community can benefit from these files as well.

It's been a lot of hard work to get here, and we are all very excited for what the future holds.  We have in place a development road map to keep pushing improvements onto the Kossel / Deltabot platform, and we look forward to sharing these improvements with you in the near future.

Thank you,

-=- Terence and Johann