The good, the bad, and the beautiful
March is already here, and I'm a little late with my monthly update (so I intend to make up for it with length :). We've been waiting for some important "arrivals" so I could report on them. As the title of this update suggests, not every aspect of this amazingly multi-dimensional process has gone smoothly. Not unexpectedly, we've run into some snags. So without further delay, the bad:
FAIL - stave construction strategy for hardwood table hoops (but we have a beautiful solution):
When we first contemplated launching a Kickstarter campaign and were focused on getting the prototypes working well for the mechanism at the heart of our tables, Micah and I were also itching to show a glimpse of what we envisioned for larger, more customized Sisyphus furniture. Naturally, we turned to the tools we love - CNC machines. We designed a way to fabricate a 4-foot diameter hoop out of solid hardwood pieces, glued together into a 32-sided polygon, and then machined into a perfect circle, complete with ledges to hold the glass, LED-shield ring, and sand pan - the goal being to show off a bit of what we could do. And it worked. It was gorgeous, and I think the star of our video. We took it with us to the NY Maker Faire, and it wowed the crowd. When we got back, we noticed a small crack. "Must have been the 2400 mile round trip and bouncing around the trailer," I remember saying to Micah. This was October - in Minnesota. Over the following weeks the crack got bigger, and others started. As the weather got colder and inevitably drier, things got worse - to the point where we had to remove our beloved "4-footer" from our show room. Turns out that wood is a sponge (we knew that), and it doesn't expand equally in all directions (we knew that too). But we didn't realize just how much using "stave construction" for the hoop would expand / contract with wide variations of humidity - up to 10% - (think 3" tall section of a wine barrel, without the metal hoop outside it).
We altered our design to allow this amount of expansion, making sure not to "capture" the glass, LED-ring, or base. And then set off to prove the new design by remaking a 4' hoop in padauk and a 3' one in maple. We were extremely careful, making sure their 32 pieces fit together perfectly before using fresh epoxy to join them. Within a week, the maple hoop cracked.
We were actually lucky to be in in Minnesota, where seasonal changes in temperature and humidity are drastic, and quickly revealed this flaw in our design. It was hard for me to give up on this; I truly loved everything about it - the fun of fabricating it, the look of the finished hoop, and the fact that it was SOLID wood. But both Micah (immediately) and I (begrudgingly later) knew we could never feel confident shipping hoops made this way around the world, much less Minneapolis. Driven by my desire to stay with "solid" wood, we teamed up with Jason Holtz, a local expert furniture maker, and had him try a "laminated" strategy - using thin strips of solid wood bent and glued together. After his first attempt, we all agreed it would be too laborious and costly:
The remaining alternative - suggested by several wood workers from the start - was using veneer. I had stubbornly fought this, but we had Jason give it a go. Micah and I machined a 3' hoop from MDF and dropped it off at Jason's shop. He used some maple veneer he had laying around, and we got this back:
It looked so good, we went ahead and had him try a 4' hoop with padauk veneer:
I was waiting for this to be ready to show on the update. No, it's not solid wood, as we had planned and promised. But it is beautiful, and we are confident it will stay that way! Plus, using veneer opens up a tremendous number of wood species to choose from. (You can find more shots of the new 3' and 4' wood tables on our Instagram site).
OK, now for some of the good:
Injection molded parts:
In the last update I mentioned that we were just about to pull the trigger on having expensive tooling made for injection molding by a local company. Based on good results testing 3D printed versions of our models in working Sisbots, we gave Proto Labs the go ahead. Our first molded parts arrived a couple weeks later. They looked great -
But would they perform as hoped?
We've had them under power for over a week. They work beautifully!
Loads of stuff are starting to arrive:
Triple Edge Fab came by last week with what we thought was a load of 20 end tables. Instead, they brought 50!
They came back a few days later, to weld an extension structure to our new space's loading dock, making it easier for large trucks to on- and off-load:
A thousand power supplies arrived. Counts and random samples check out perfectly:
Our new production space:
We began subletting our new space on March 1st. The prior tenants (a cabinet shop) weren't quite moved out, but logistical planning started immediately:
The space is nearly empty (a day or two more of moving). Since it was used for wood work, all the rafters, lights, and ceiling pipes had healthy mounds of sawdust on them. We don't want that falling into the Sisbots as they are assembled, and figured now was clearly the best time to bite the bullet and clean that sh*t out:
March will be a very busy and exciting month at Sisyphus Industries. We've hired two new part time employees (one is a member of our makerspace, and the other is a glass artist whose studio is just down the all). Along with Micah, Bev, and I, they will help us set up our new production space and figure out the optimal "flow" through the space - from 100's of empty tables coming in, Sisbots being assembled and tested, Sisbots installed into the tables, final testing, completed tables and glass tops into shipping boxes - to 100's of Sisyphi out the door on their way to you! We hope that will be underway some time in April. There are still a number of links in the chain that we are waiting for - circuit boards, motors, glass are on their way - some due in mid April - so we probably won't ship large numbers that month. But so far, we're basically on schedule. Please know that we haven't forgotten that you are anxious to receive your tables (we are just as anxious to get them to you!). We'll keep you informed if delays come up. Once we start shipping, we should have a much more defined schedule for your table's arrival.