Baseball. The Great American Pastime. A very traditional game in a rapidly changing world. Not a game one traditionally associates with technology.
Doylestown Sports Company (DSC) has designed the first in a series of fully automated self serve kiosks. The bat engraving kiosk is equipped with a laser that engraves bats on demand in a few minutes. The kiosk will be fully automated and accept payment via credit cards. Customers input the text in the machine that they wanted to have engraved on the bat and then the machine prints the selected text on the bat.
Scope of this project
Technically, DSC has the ability to fulfill all of the specified campaign rewards today using our prototype unit. However, the prototype is just that. A prototype. It was created as an engineering aid to test the concept, as a marketing aid to get early feedback from friends, relatives, and other interested parties. It's not suitable for deployment for a number of reasons:
First, it's not really robust enough from the standpoint of standing up to variations in temperature and weather that it may encounter where it is deployed. Not to mention potential rough handling by the public.
Second, the unit is stand alone, meaning it does not communicate back to us once deployed. The production units will communicate back all order information to us to automate the reordering of blank bats to be shipped to the venue hosting the kiosk. Software updates will also be handled using internet access we intend on having on future machines. Point of Service (POS) terminal (for credit card transactions) is yet to be interfaced as well. Also future machines will be remotely monitored to simplify servicing and provisioning.
Third, the unit does not engrave bats fast enough. We elected to use a relatively low power (cheap) laser for the prototype. In order to achieve our throughput goals a more powerful laser will be used.
Forth, the prototype, although visually interesting, does not hold enough bats in it's circular drum. We are currently redesigning the bat holding capacity to increase the number of bats to over 200.
Fifth, component selection was based on affordability and not on reliability. A good example of this would be the worm gear drives for some of the stepper motors. A high quality low backlash industrial grade worm gear drive can cost $400. For the prototype we used the worm gear drive assembly used on automotive windshield wiper motors which we got off of Ebay for $35.00!
Design – modifying existing drawings, and creating new ones. The great thing about making a prototype is that it teaches you what doesn't work. We are changing the design significantly for some of the reasons already mentioned (Storage capacity, speed) but we’re also simplifying the design. This simplification will eliminate 2 degrees of freedom related to the material handling (grabbing the bats, presenting them to the laser, and dropping them through the slot), and should make the unit more reliable and reduce the per-unit cost. Speaking of per unit cost, part of the design process will be designing for manufacture. This means designing for higher quantities in mind. These first two units will be significantly more expensive than follow up units which will be made, we are estimating, in batches of 10.
The design portion will also result in the creation of a complete bill of material for both purchased items and custom fabricated or machined items.
Time Frame week 1 to week 5
Procurement – Once the completed design has been nailed down, all material will be sourced. While we are waiting for delivery of all material we will be working on fulfilling the rewards defined in our project. The money raised for this project will be going towards material purchase for the two units. This will include both purchased standard components and custom manufactured parts. We have the capability to perform all of the design, programming, assembly and testing, and will not need any of the money to accomplish these steps.
Time Frame: Week 6 to week 8
Programming – While material is on order and we are waiting for its receipt, the programming work will take place. In many ways the program will be a simplification of the programming already completed for the prototype, although with the addition of some new features described previously.
Time Frame: Week 6 to week 12
Assembly – As material is received, assembly will commence.
Time frame: Week 10 to 15
Testing – On completion of assembly and programming, the testing will take place. This is arguably the most critical time period. The testing criteria will be quality of the final product and the repeat-ability of the process. Since these units will be unattended, the performance needs to be highly reliable.
Time frame: week 11 to week 18
At the completion of the testing, final documentation updates will be completed.
Time Frame: Week 18
We feel that this project strikes a nice balance between modern technology and the traditions of baseball. It is really something to watch a kid type in their name on the touch screen, watch the bat being engraved, and hold it in their hands a few minutes later.
Risks and challenges
In addition to the technical hurdles described above, another challenge will be negotiating with and choosing among the potential venues for eventual deployment. The best negotiation tool will be a highly reliable robust kiosk. We have generated a lot of interest and have discussions ongoing with several venues, but nothing is guaranteed.
We intend on overcoming these obstacles by drawing on years of experience selling, designing, building, and deploying automated equipment. This is our second startup, and certainly understand what it takes to create a new business, and we also understand how much work is involved in such an undertaking.
Also we feel our enthusiasm for this project goes a long way in helping us overcome the challenges. We are getting a tremendous amount of interest in this project from people that would not be interested in automation on a more mundane project.
- (30 days)