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.
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.
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: