Project update - what we're doing to increase fulfillment speed
I wanted to take some time to give a more in depth explanation of our current shipping delays, outline our plan of action to address this, and provide some additional background information on the project.
As a quick summary of this full update, I am bringing on an outside manufacturer to speed up production and dramatically increase delivery speed. If you'd like more specifics, please keep reading.
Why is this taking so long?
When I originally started this project, I was hoping to make 100 units with the help of friends and family. After doing the math and determining we could make 20-25 units a week, we could have fulfilled our backer pledges in just 4 weeks. At that quantity, production and assembly could be completed without any outside manufacturing, helping to keep costs down and allow us to add a lot of great features (for example, we upgraded the print head from 2.5" to 3.5").
As it became clear the project would do well over the original 100 units, I thought that with refinements in our process we could decrease assembly speed per unit to a reasonable time, and keep all assembly in-house. Ultimately, with over 700 units, that same assembly speed that we originally calculated would result in a total production time of nearly 28 weeks. Despite my best efforts (and many 16-18 hour work days), it's clearly evident that we need to make some immediate revisions to our manufacturing.
In addition to the slow assembly, as outlined in other updates, there were a number of delays in the design and parts procurement process. Most notably, getting the injection molds made took significantly longer than we were told by our vendor. The import process for the cases and other parts from China also took much longer than we had allocated in our production timeline, delaying many other steps of the process.
As previously noted in updates, the good news is that we have all the parts, cases, etc. and the last remaining hurdle is simply one of time.
Increasing shipments in the immediate future
Each unit is assembled and tested in-house, by hand. In the past several months of assembly, we have streamlined portions of this process which has increased assembly speed, but we are still limited by the number of circuit boards we can produce each week. Quite simply, we're unable to reach the internal goals we've set for production speed.
To immediately increase production speed, I am putting additional funds of my own into the project and we are contracting with a manufacturer to have all circuit boards assembled and delivered to us ready to drop into cases. This will allow us to dramatically increase our shipping speed and complete fulfillment more quickly. The timeline for the third-party assembly house to complete all board production is 4 weeks. Once we have received the completed circuit boards, we will be able to provide an updated shipping timeline.
In the interim, we will continue shipping as many units per week as we can produce in house and prepare what we can to expedite larger shipments once we receive the full circuit board order.
To give some insight into some of the hurdles we've experienced and as one example of optimizing the assembly process, I'll refer to one of the components in each printer: a wiring harness that connects the button board to the primary control board. We were making this custom cable assembly by hand. After further exploration, we found a company that could make the wiring harnesses for us at a cost only slightly more than we were spending on just the raw materials alone. Despite my wife becoming an expert at crimping connectors and stripping wires, considering time investment, it was an obvious decision to simply have the wiring harnesses made. As another example, we are moving the LED light ring to a process which uses surface mount parts that can be assembled by a machine, instead of traditional through-hole LEDs which each have to be soldered by hand.
What has the money been spent on?
Early on, I made a decision to spend more than we raised in order to create a product that could be sold beyond just Kickstarter. As you can see in the amounts below, even with the amount raised, I have not personally profited at all, and am fully invested in mPrinter from both a time and monetary perspective.
Below is a quick breakdown of just some of the major costs. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and doesn't include dozens of smaller line items.
Total pledged: $88,018
Actual amount received after fees/non-billable backers: Approximately $74,000
Case design and manufacturing
3D-printed prototype units: $2,800
Case mold design: $5,200
Injection mold manufacturing: $16,000
Components and parts
Circuit boards: $1,400
WiFi radios: $7,500
Print heads: $12,410
Other component parts (micro controllers, LEDs, etc.): $13,870
Shipping and packaging
Boxes and packing materials: $1,460
Tools and testing
Assembly tools: $450
Test and programming jigs: $300
Pick and place machine: $4,400
Web hosting and servers: $2,790
Corporate registration and fees: $400
Import, customs bonds, and logistics fees: $3,000
I understand your frustrations with our fulfillment problems, and I am confident that our changes will allow us to successfully deliver all remaining backer pledges quickly and efficiently.
I apologize for the lack of recent updates - I've had my head down trying to find a balance of working full time to push all units out the door while maintaining some level of sanity, and supporting my family. If you have any direct concerns or questions, I setup a mailbox specifically for backers. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'd be happy to discuss any questions or concerns you might have directly and individually with you.
I will keep all backers up to date on the delivery timeline for the parts that we are having manufactured, along with more detailed estimates of shipping volume as that date approaches. I'm working very hard to get everyones mPrinter unit in hand as soon as possible, so you can see what your pledge and patience have created.