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.

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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

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.

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

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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

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!

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.  

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.

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

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

Documentation, documentation, documentation.

Hello all!

Terence here, with another update on the Kossel Pro project.

Administrative:

In our mad rush to get units shipped out, we managed to corrupt the shared Google Spreadsheet that we've been using to track units going out and delivery.  Things have finally gotten to the point where I am no longer fighting fires left and right to allow me to take a half day of searching through all the email records, matching up tracking numbers, etc, to fix that hot mess.  After the audit, we found that we still owe about 18 printer kits.  We will be reaching out shortly to these 18 people to update them. 

After these last sets of printers, we still owe pre-assembled machines and we still owe plastic parts only pledges from Kickstarter.  Fortunately, we have plenty of extra parts.  I expect that I'll be getting to the plastic-only pledges in the next week or two (survey still needs to be sent).  With regards to the pre-assembled machine, our tech is in the process of moving after accepting a new job.  We are obviously waiting for these machines' assembly process to be completed, and we are also waiting for the new all-metal hot end.  We'll update in a week or two with the delivery status of both of these items.  

Manufacturing Update:

To make the project viable in the long term, it was imperative that we move as much of the kitting and handling to our overseas contract manufacturer.  (We simply do not have the space and human resources available to kit parts in the US, and at this stage of the business, entering into a long term commercial lease for a shop space seems a bit risky).  We were also able to get much better service from packaging vendors overseas:  We paid for cutting dies for all new packaging boxes, custom cut foam inserts, and the MOQ (up to a thousand piece for the foam inserts) and all that together, along with the NREs for the cutting dies, were still cheaper than buying and compromising with boxes from Uline.  

An example of our new kitting document, bilingual in Chinese and English.  My father's been helping with the translations, and in the few instances when I have to do the translation myself, I use Google Translate and Notepad to translate, copy and paste together my sentences.  My handwriting is still too poor for most handwriting recognition software to recognize (and learning Cangjie seems like an impossibly high bar to reach).  I do double check all the translations before they go out to our vendors.

An example of our new kitting document, bilingual in Chinese and English.  My father's been helping with the translations, and in the few instances when I have to do the translation myself, I use Google Translate and Notepad to translate, copy and paste together my sentences.  My handwriting is still too poor for most handwriting recognition software to recognize (and learning Cangjie seems like an impossibly high bar to reach).  I do double check all the translations before they go out to our vendors.

For the past few weeks, Mike and I have been rushing to update the kitting instructions to support our overseas vendor.  My Dad is also in Hong Kong right now, which really helps with the transfer; he's been handling the first article inspection of all the goods received, and also helping with communicating with our vendors.   We now have reached the point where our CM can start assembling the printer kits for us, which was a lot of hard work - but we expect work to go fairly quickly at this point on, and - more importantly - we can expect a relatively uninterrupted supply of kits, as long as we do our forecasting right.  This is a far cry from having to count screws, seal bags, and package and label parts, and will soon free us up to do engineering again, or at least maintain the flow of goods when Mike and I are bogged down by day job projects.

Customer Facing Documentation:

Studio OpenBeam... one day.  Photo gear does take up a LOT of room, especially if you are shooting large objects.

Studio OpenBeam... one day.  Photo gear does take up a LOT of room, especially if you are shooting large objects.

My wife have been threatening to evict me from my photo studio for the last month (I temporarily took over our guest bed room, after we got rid of the guest bed, before she could paint it and turn it into our nursery).  Now that ZT-KID-00101 is well on his way (in about 2 months), in between working on the kitting documentation (above) we've been banging away at the documentation pretty hard.  Tonight I'm happy to say that Rev 1 of the assembly documentation, covering mechanical assembly of the printer, is complete.  We'll be updating the links from KosselPro.com shortly.  We will update this with instructions covering systems power up test, firmware update, and best practices on the printer in the next month.

For those asking for more pictures, esp of the new hot end, please see below:

For those curious, these were shot with a Strobist setup.  On my last trip to Hong Kong, I picked up a bunch of YongNuo 560 IIs.  For less than the cost of a single 430 EX II from Canon, I bought 5 YongNuo speed lights, which are optically slaved, and had enough money left over for the collapsible background and the photo box.

Other Technical Updates:

Some days, it feels like our mad engineering rushes occur  between major Chinese holidays.  While our overseas partners are celebrating Qing Ming (or tomb sweeping) festival, we'll be writing and releasing the final build instructions for our printer kits.  Here are a few things that we've worked on in this period.

All Metal Hot End

We had one report of one of our early all-metal hot end jamming on ABS printing.  (Because of my pregnant wife, we are only using PLA for our testing until a better fume extraction system is setup, to minimize VOC exposure).  At first we though it was a thermal issue; turns out it was a roll of bad filament.  

And this is what happens when you read your print wrong, and do the calculations wrong for where to turn the dial to.

And this is what happens when you read your print wrong, and do the calculations wrong for where to turn the dial to.

The lathe we use does not have any sort of digital readout, so all our prototypes are machined by counting wheel rotation on the dial - much like how someone in Victorian era England would have made these parts. (Incidentally, when I started my machine shop training in college in 2002, I was the last class to be taught on fully manual machines.  Digital readouts and later on CNC were introduced by the time I graduated).   I started the project as an "OK" machinist and after a few frustrating setbacks, have gotten pretty proficient at making our prototype heat sinks.  I can now cut one in about 45 minutes.  

A not quite final all metal end effector prototype.  The one that's built to spec is currently being tested at MatterHackers - they've successfully printed Nylon and ABS on it, as well as quite a bit of PLA.

A not quite final all metal end effector prototype.  The one that's built to spec is currently being tested at MatterHackers - they've successfully printed Nylon and ABS on it, as well as quite a bit of PLA.

We now have the geometry of the heat sink finalized.  We were going to award the work to the shop I found in the LA area, but they quoted me 2 week lead time for my heat breaks when we awarded them the work 3.5 weeks ago - and not only have they been now pretty late, they've also been pretty uncommunicative.  Having been the small business owner trying to make it, I can certainly sympathize with what they may be going through, but we also have customers to take care of, and I'll be searching for an alternate supplier in parallel.

The good news is we've found a good supplier for heater blocks and nozzles, and we've also found a supplier for the fiberglass tubing used for insulating the thermistor.  We were really hoping to have a picture of our heat break to show, but unfortunately, we don't have an ETA on this part at the current time. 

New Heater Cartridges, power supplies and other small details:

For the next batch of Kossel Pros, we have commissioned custom heater cartridges with 22AWG wires pre-crimped, instead of the normal stuff with the high temperature insulation wires.  This will allow the crimp at the heater cartridge power terminal to meet pull test specs, as the current insulation is to wide to be properly crimped to the Molex SL crimp pins.  (Long term, we are going to switch to using ring terminals that anyone can crimp at home, but that requires retooling the plastic and the PCB and if we are going to do that, we might as well release the multi-material end effector that's been rattling inside my head for the last  year plus...).

Of course, leave it to the vendor to screw up on the cables from our first batch.  So my Dad is currently using it for a dummy load to test our power supplies.  Speaking of power supplies, we've found that the old vendor have been over driving the fan inside the PSU:  It was a 12V fan and they were running it on 24VDC. We commissioned a new batch of PSUs with 24V fans and they should run a lot quieter and last a lot longer.  

Finally, we've been making small improvements to the kit.   We've found a vendor that does good pre-printed labels (for cable labelling).  We also found laser cutting vendors and a new cable vendor overseas.  So far, pretty happy with the quality.

That's about it for this update.  We are pretty anxious to get the new kits in.  We'll be back in about two weeks with another update on the work we're doing to evaluate the auto-levelling routine.