Funded! This project was successfully funded on August 2, 2012.

Update #41

Post Mk3, batch 1, part 1 review

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Hey guys,  

Really frustrating for us to hear that some of you are having a tightness issue (as well as obviously for you as well!!). With the help of Foxconn we have done a full investigation as to why this has happened and how it managed to slip past our current testing procedures. Here is what our investigations found:  

Due to the very small size of some of the parts involved in the MiniDrive assembly, the plastic can be quite delicate before and during the ultrasonic weld process.

The way an ultrasonic welder works is by bringing two metal plates together, either side of the two components that you want to be fused, and then vibrates at a very high frequency. This causes the plastic to melt at the point in which the two components touch. It is a very reliable way of joining two surfaces, but when a thin part is heated it can cause a small amount of dimensional instability.

Each time a new model is put onto the production line for assembly the ultrasonic weld heads must be swapped and re-calibrated. Unfortunately, this meant that if a new head is a fraction of a mm out of calibration it could cause a small amount of wall collapse at the front of the MiniDrive, leading to the tightness issues some of you are seeing.  

During our pre-production run testing no dimensional instability was detected, and the parts were all fully functional without issue. In addition, it was never a QA point of inspection as it was not something we expected. The problem occurred once we moved across to mass production.  

On the assembly line full testing is conducted at three points:  

- 100% testing of the bare circuit  

- 100% testing of the circuit once assembled (tester pictured below)  

- sample testing using a SD card reader and microSD card  

As you can see, the 100% MiniDrive circuit tester essentially mimics a microSD card (it tests for opens, shorts and faulty connections), with one critical difference - there is a lot more to hang on to than on a normal microSD card, which gets to the root of why the stiffness issue was not picked up on the assembly line despite 100% testing.  

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective) these issues were picked up early by you guys - as it was (and is) our number 1 priority to make sure you all have a fully functional MiniDrive, we shipped out to you guys first, even before we had started assembling the next part of the first batch. As soon as we heard preliminary reports we investigated, identified the cause of the issue and added supports within the ultrasonic welder to prevent any part of the weld from melting more than it should and causing the tightness issues.  

Further to this, we are bringing in house our remaining stock for a 100% "real life conditions" inspection. We expect to have this concluded in the next week. If you have a problem with your MiniDrive, please email us on support@niftydrives.com and we will send you an in-house verified MiniDrive - we currently have quite a high volume of incoming mail, so response time is about 1+ week long at the moment  

As far as improving our assembly process goes, aside from updating the ultrasonic welding machine, we are adding a maximum removal force QA condition to the microSD card portion of the MiniDrive, as well as supplying a model of MacBook for each model of MiniDrive so that "real life" use case conditions can be tested directly on the assembly line.  

Please keep us up to date with any further issues you encounter as it is massively helpful for us to iterate and update the MiniDrive. You guys are helping us pioneer this, and we can't do it without you.  

As always, we are 100% committed to getting the perfect MiniDrive to you.  

All the best,  

Piers & The Nifty Team


Update #40

General update & schedule for August

Hey guys,

As you can see, we have updated our brand, cool huh? 

So - everything is moving on according to schedule: the material preparation will be finished by the 5th of August, at which point full assembly will start (the process has already been verified). I'm sorry that we haven't been able to do photos inside the factories this time as Foxconn is pretty strict about what is brought into any of the production areas.

However, here are some of the FAI (first article inspection) items off the pre-production line. We have decided to drop the blue plastic, but aside from that, these are identical to our full production models :-)

As you can see, we have fundamentally changed the position of the microSD card slot, this is to fix the read/write error. We have also completely re-designed the aluminium-body interface, making full destruction of the MiniDrive the only way in which the aluminium and main body can separate. Also, as no gluing is involved, it is a highly reliable and repeatable process.

During strength testing, we found that the new design was so robust the metal would often have to deform before any failure occurred. 

(sorry for the fuzzy pictures, I only had have my iPhone in China)

Schedule

We will have the Kickstarter warranties and replacement batch off the line first, delivered into HK on the 13th of August, where it will be split into two air freight deliveries, one for the logistics centre in North American and one for dispatch from Europe.

Dispatch to those we still owe MiniDrives should start in w/b 19th of August. If you live in North American or Northern Europe you should get your MiniDrives before the end of August, the post for those living elsewhere may mean your MiniDrive will arrive by the second week of September.

We will be sending out individual emails to all those we owe MiniDrives in the next couple of weeks with instructions for how to choose your replacement model, verify you address etc.

Colors

Please note that for this first batch we are only able to offer either silver or red. We know a small number of you will really want one of the other colors, but due to volume requirements, we were unable to do any other color in the first run. Any color other than Red and Silver cannot be manufactured until our second batch run, currently planned for October. This will be clear at the point of model selection and address verification, but just wanted to give you guys a heads up here as well.

Long boot times

Bit of a strange one here - we have had some reported cases of empty MiniDrives causing longer than expected boot times. If you are experiencing unusually long boot times, just try putting a microSD card into your MiniDrive and the problem should clear right up.

That's all from me for now, will shoot you guys another update once we are underway.

All the best,

Piers, Steve & the Nifty Team

contact@niftydrives.com


Update #39

All on schedule & proceeding smoothly

Hey guys,

Just a quick update to say that almost all the hard tooling has now been signed off and Piers is travelling out to China at the end of this week to oversee production and assembly from start to finish at Foxconn.

Everything is still on schedule for the August delivery date.

Hope you are all having an awesome summer!

Best,

Piers, Steve & The Nifty Team

contact@niftydrives.com


Update #38

Piers' KickTips & other good stuff

Hey guys,

So, for the skimmers amongst us - here is what is in the update today:

- Free stuff: Awesome icon packs

- USA distributor: Dr Bott

- The Distributor Hunt: Open season

- Notes from Manufactureland: After the Choosing 

Free Stuff 

We'd like to give a shout out to a couple of backers who have made some awesome little icon packs for you to use with your MiniDrive. You can swap out the little SD card icon on your desktop for one of these bad boys: 

David Saunders: http://www.behance.net/gallery/Nifty-MiniDrive-Icon-Pack/7558759 

Jesus Badia: http://winfisdesignportfolio.tumblr.com/post/48798954731/an-icon-to-use-with-candybar-for-the-nifty 

Thank you very much guys! If you're not sure how to swap out the old icon for a new one, here is a great little tutorial for ya: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdZg74NrP_8 

Although neither me or Steve made the video, it was made by a guy called Dan Allen who really enjoyably uses the word "boom" at 1:10. Excellent. 

USA Distributor 

After some great brain storming sessions and conversations with the guys over at Dr Bott we are really happy to announce that Dr Bott has been appointed as a distributor of the Nifty MiniDrive for the USA & Canada. 

If you are interested in re-selling or retailing the Nifty MiniDrive in the USA or Canada, please drop them a line to: leads@drbott.net. 

Distributor hunt 

Choosing a distributor is a really involved process all on its own, and I will be doing a KickTips blog entry on that in a few weeks time. However, if you are a distributor, and you would be interested in distributing the MiniDrive, or know someone who might be, we would love to talk with you. Drop us an email to: distribution@niftydrives.com. 

Notes from Manufactureland: After the Choosing 

So you have chosen your manufacturers and got quotes for all the bits you need. You are now ready right? If only. Actually, there is quite a bit you still need to do before you can pull the trigger. While going through the quoting process, the manufacturer will have only look at your plans/drawings/technical specifications from a cost evaluation perspective. This is not the same as what is called "Design for Manufacturability" evaluation or DFM for short. 

Generally a manufacturer will only do a DFM if they are almost certain they have the order (or sometimes only when they have a PO in hand). Some manufacturers will even charge you for this service and then take the money you paid for it off what you owe them if/when they get the order. This is because a DFM is a much more in depth process than a quoting process, and thus expensive in terms of resource allocation. However, do not underestimate how long this process will take. 

Here is a quick example of what I mean, illustrated with the manufacture of an injection mould plastic part: 

Quoting: 

- How large is the part (volume) 

- How heavy is the part (mass) 

- How complex is the part (a factor of how many parts the tool used will need, and therefore how long it take per injection) 

= a price based on some basic factors of all three 

DFM 

- Are any of the walls too thin? 

- Does the ratio between the thickest and thinnest wall work (if it doesn't the part will non-uniform manner an warp after it comes out the tool)? 

- Is the wall thickness uniform? 

- Does the size, height and angle of the ultrasonic energy directors work if planning to ultrasonically weld a piece 

- How will the plastic flow through the mould and then cool? Should any corners be removed?

The quoted cost won't change, but often you will be told that a number of things need adjusting on your design before it is 100% ready to go to tooling. A lot of this can seem frustrating, especially as they can be very small points, but it is SO important: you really only have one shot to get it right with the tooling. Scrapping a tool can be PAINFULLY expensive and set your project back months and months. This process can be helped along by getting your design verified by an manufacturing engineer, but that won't necessarily get everything.

Also, make sure you factor in plenty of time. Getting feedback for the DFM can take forever, and your manufacturers won't necessarily feedback everything that needs changing at the same time. Never assume if you hear nothing that all is fine and the tooling is ready to start. This process alone set our project back around two months (in total) as feedback came in dribs and drabs and often took two or more rounds to reach something all parties were happy with. 

If you can, try to get all of this sorted, including DFM, for all parts, before your Kickstarter campaign starts - this means that, on successful completion of the campaign you just have to say "go" and the tooling manufacture commences. It sounds so obvious to me now, but when we were first starting out, it just felt like once we had a price for something, all they had to do was get started once we gave the green light! It's not. Don't let it bite you in the ass.

Twitter: @PiersRidyard @niftyminidrive 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheNiftyMiniDrive 

Email: Contact@niftydrives.com


Update #37

Piers' KickTips - Notes From Manufactureland (1) selecting a manufacturer

KickTips is a blog that Piers is writing every Friday to share some of the details of the lessons learnt on his Kickstarter journey so far.

So you have an awesome idea for Kickstarter campaign? You've made a kickass working prototype and have been working with some great local suppliers. All set to start rolling the video tapes!

Well, that is pretty much the position we took. We were expecting to do most of the assembly and postage ourselves - set up a little workshop, take a couple of weeks off, power through, easy. After all we were only aiming for $11k, and were not altogether sure we would get that.

One trap that is easy to fall into (and we certainly fell into it) is the idea that "I" am a physical resource - i.e. given the right materials and some time, I/we can do x,y,z internally (that might be anything from sending out packages, assembly or even in house manufacture of your product). This might work for small runs, depending on complexity, but even getting 100 done this way can be a LOT of work for one or two people, especially if you've never done one or more stages of the process before (like pick and pack logistics).

What our original plan lacked in a big way was scale.

This comes down to what your manufacturers are capable of producing, to what standard, and in what time-frame. Take yourself out the equation - it is really tempting to say "We can do this bit" without factoring the time needed to be managing all the other bits that are going on at the same time. The problem is, before you run your Kickstarter campaign you will have no idea of how many of your product you will be making, and the big manufacturers will generally have minimum order quantities. Depending on how hard certain components/parts are to make, this will often mean finding two manufacturers that can do the same thing - one for a low volume contingency and one for a high volume contingency.

First of all, write a list of all the things you will need, generally you can group like manufacturing techniques together, so for us it might look something like this:

- Plastic injection tools (can range massively, we have been quoted as high as £30,000 for a 4 cavity 2 part tool, and as low as $2,400)

- Plastic injection parts (does not have to be from the company that makes the tool, but usually is)

- Machined metal parts

- Metal finishing (anodisation, bead-blasting etc)

- Laser cut parts

- PCB Components

- PCB printing & assembly

- Packaging printing & assembly

- Full product assembly, boxing & labelling

This is where shopping around is really important. Don't just take the first company you find, even if they seem perfect. Try to find at least three different companies that can do the job you are looking to hire them for, ask for quotes, minimum order sizes, time scales and maximum daily volumes. ALWAYS try to get samples/see samples of their work.

Two important rules I have discovered while doing this:

1. Just because someone says they can do something, does not mean that they can do it

2. When someone says something can't be done, it usually means "they" can't do it, not that no one can do it

Crucially, ask the question: "what have you done before that is similar to what I am trying to do", and if someone says it can't be done, always get a second opinion.

As a rule, people will almost always underestimate how long it takes to do something. Make sure there is plenty of flex in your critical path and don't forget to factor in delivery time between factories and suppliers! Be honest with yourself - even if you would really REALLY like X to take 3 weeks, and your supplier say 4 weeks, but they "might" be able to do it in 3...it will take 4 weeks. If that is not OK, find someone who can definitely do it in your time-frame, or plan to 4 weeks.

Even if you ultimately decide to go for a full service manufacturer, it is still a good exercise to talk to the different manufacturing types individually, including getting quotes, as it will give you feel for the cost of each part of your product, how long it will take to make, and give a much better idea of what a full service manufacturer should be charging.

As with many things, knowledge is power. Also, presenting your designs to multiple companies will help you to build up a picture of how easy it is to manufacture. If something comes back as really expensive, always ask what could be done to make it cheaper to produce without compromising on fit, function, strength or visual appearance.

A great example of this was the aluminium for the MiniDrive which started out costing $50 PER MINIDRIVE! However, by working with the manufacturers we were able to significantly reduce this to a level which made the MiniDrive affordable without scrapping the use of machined aluminium, which we feel is absolutely essential to preserve the clean, precise aesthetic of the Mac.

Doing the above is time consuming, but picking the wrong manufacturer can be incredibly costly, a lesson that we ultimately learnt the hard way. Do the ground work early, do it thoroughly!

If you guys had any experience with picking manufacturers or would like me to write about anything in our Kickstarter journey so far, please share/ask in the comments!

Twitter: @PiersRidyard @niftyminidrive

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheNiftyMiniDrive

Email: Contact@niftydrives.com


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