First update of 2013
First of all, happy new year! Things are progressing well. If you haven't been following our blog, I recommend checking it out as I try to frequently post in depth and more technical updates there. You can see it at http://blog.themprinter.com.
If you spend any amount of time reading tech news, no doubt you've read or at least come across Mashable. Recently, I had a chance to be interviewed by them as part of their Leaders in Design series. You can read the interview here. It's quite humbling to be in such extraordinary company.
Circuit board prototypes
The first batch of prototype circuit boards arrived this week. While waiting on a new reflow oven, I hand assembled the first one. All of the passive components are surface mount, meaning they don't have lead wires and are soldered directly to the circuit board. Hand soldering 0402 components, the size on this board, is no small feat. Each part is about the size of a grain of kosher salt.
Despite a few little issues that need to be fixed, the circuit board functions as expected. In the photo above, you can see the primary PIC24F CPU, the ARM CPU that drives the print head, a 16 Mbit EEPROM, stepper motor driver, WiFi radio (the silver shiny part), audible buzzer, headers for USB, power, the RGB LEDs, and the button.
The second 3D-printed case will be arriving on Monday. After some testing, there were a few design flaws in the first one. The finger recesses to lift the lid looked nice and were a good idea, but in practice they had a major flaw. There is a roller that keeps the printer paper aligned and flowing smoothly that remains in the lid of the printer when opened. When you close the lid, it's the roller that clips back into the print head and keeps the lid shut. One side of the roller has a gear that turns it when printing. If you tried to open the lid with only one finger, and it was on the side opposite the gear, there was a real possibility you could apply too much force and prematurely break something.
To solve this issue, we moved to a cam system. There is now a smooth top without the large finger recesses and a single cam lever. When you lift the cam, it applies equal pressure to both sides of the lid and disengages the roller from the print head, opening the lid. While it did add a few weeks to the case prototyping, it will ultimately result in less failures and better performance.
Assuming the next case revision is good to go, it's off to the injection molders to make the production molds and start getting cases made.
Work continues on the website where you can generate mPrints. We were hoping to have a beta version ready around Christmas, but are running slightly behind schedule. We'll begin contacting those who committed to the developer package by the end of the week.
Gearing up for assembly
Parts are being ordered and have started to arrive for the first batch of printers. For example, we've started making wiring hardnesses for the LED light ring and button. We've got thousands of feet of wire and over 8000 connectors ready to assemble.
I hope the first few days of 2013 have gone well for everyone. We'll have more updates in the coming weeks.