THE INFINITY CLOCK: is an All-Digital Analog Clock, with no moving parts. Born of one of those epiphanies that come from everyday life -specifically, my wife -somewhat angrily - asking me if I knew what time it was.
As a high-tech, electronic counterpart of something that has been around for 100's of years, keeping with some of the standards that analog clocks have followed was paramount in the project. You set the time with a knob, not buttons. There are "light chimes" on the hour, and every quarter-hour. They're round...
From there, I deviate from the norm. I eliminated moving parts, any sounds, and those pesky solid hands. And I made them DEEP. With The Infinity Clocks, and infinity mirrors in general, the "effect" of seeing dozens of times deeper than the thickness of the piece itself is no effect.
Creating these clocks has been a long and trying adventure. I think about the programming and design constantly. Designs come to me from all directions, and everywhere I look, I see something that inspires me to ponder "how does this fit into my plan?"
It's long been a dream to create one of the ideas that I've come up with, and this campaign will help me to realize that dream, and hopefully many others as well.
This is my journey:
Climbing the learning curve(s):
First, I needed to see if I could just buy such a thing. After an exhaustive web-search for such a clock, I found that I was on my own to build one.
Aside from the obvious - mirrors, LEDs, something to hold them in position, and a case to make them look nice, I first needed something to control them. Being that it was to be a stand-alone piece, I needed some kind of microprocessor chip and some programming. I spent another week of research and:
I found The Arduino.
As an open-hardware, open-software microprocessor prototyping circuit board, the Arduino would be an ideal solution. Now to learn how to use it...
Working part-time on this project, I learned how to make single LEDs blink and then multiples at different rates. But using the 13 output ports on the Arduino, I was only able to control 13 LEDs. Or so I thought... After turning to the amazing Arduino fanbase:
I found CHARLIEPLEXING!
Charlieplexing is a way to control many LEDs, using very few output pins. While it would work for some early prototypes and proof-of-concepts, it wasn't -by any measure- a final solution. But it was a starting point. I needed to create my own Charlieplexing network, as all the existing set-ups were aimed at LED Matrixes or LED Cubes.
Now that I was able to control 60 LEDs (actually 72, but I only needed 60 for my clocks) it was time to take the next step.
I started making stuff:
I took my Arduino, 60 LEDs, my Charplieplexing diagram and some Matte-board (the stuff that photos get masked with when properly framed) and made my first proof-of-concept... It didn't keep accurate time, but it did start to look like what I wanted it to.
This is my first functional proof-of-concept. It showed me that my wiring and programming worked. The 3 solidly-lit group of three LEDs at the ten-o'clock position is the "hours hand", the single solidly-lit LED just above the three o'clock position is showing 12 minutes as the "minutes hand", the faster-moving LED is seconds, and the 4 flashing LEDs shows 12,3,6,9 o'clock positions.
Make it INFINITE
I bought a wall clock at a garage sale, and proceeded it take it apart. Using some mirrored window tint, and a 12" round mirror from the local arts & crafts chain, I made my first actual Proof-of-Concept Infinity Clock.
I concluded that it would be nice to be able to set the time on the clocks. Thinking about how one sets the time on an analog clock, I determined that I needed to use a rotary encoder... So I needed to learn HOW to interface a rotary encoder. Below is my first successful rotary encoder test. It is also the first time I gained accurate control of the LEDs I was going to use for the Color Infinity Clocks.
Class is over (or so I think),let's put it all together:
So I have the ability to address LEDs, to interface with a Human-Interface-Device, and to communicate with external circuit boards. Let's make something that looks nice now...
This is my first prototype - fully functional on the inside, and similar to what I would like to eventually produce.
This clock is in a high-speed test mode
Make it faster... better.
I knew I needed to make parts that were perfectly round, structurally sound, and had lots of holes. Cardboard and a hole puncher wasn't quite the solution, so I started researching 3-D Printers. While I could build one for about $800, I really didn't want to get too distracted with a machine that would need dozens of hours of assembly and tweaking. That's when I found Solidoodle, and their "plug-n-play" Solidoodle2 3D-Printer. I bought their SD2 Pro model:
With a 8 week + lead time on all orders, I found myself having some time to learn some new tricks...
Class is back in session:
Adventures in 3D Modeling
Over the following months, rather than spin my wheels working on the physical aspects of my Infinity Clocks - only to have to change it all up again with whatever differences the 3D printing would cause, I decided to dive deeper into the programming as well as learning how to design 3-D models that I'd eventually be able to use with my upcoming 3D Printer. I went to town...
I learned how to use Google's Sketchup and realizing it's shortcomings for complicated internal parts, I also took on OpenSCAD - which is a scripting-based 3D modelling package.
I continued to learn better programming methods and refine my digital designs for another 2 months while I awaited delivery of my SD2 3D printer. Again, school was out... (and again, so I thought)
3-D Printing is VERY COOL:
And one fine August afternoon, my new Solidoodle printer arrived! In less than an hour after cracking open the box, I was printing some calibration parts. After about a hour of tweaking and testing, I started my first useful print.
And scale models:
Followed by full size pieces:
Finding new ways to make them look different:
For the following few months, I went on making different designs, refining my 3D modeling and printing skills... I also started making tools to help me work on my project:
I started working on some final designs, how to make things efficiently repeatable, and how to improve the overall results. This led to the creation of a custom circuit board, designed specifically for my application.
ClocKore Circuit Board
Our ClocKore circuit board features an ATMega328 Microprocessor running at 16MHz, FOUR Texas Instruments TLC-5940 Sixteen-channel Pulse Width Modulation LED driver chips, SIXTY 3mm. LEDs, and multiple interfaces - ICSP (for low-level programming), FTDI (for Arduino IDE-based programming), THREE analog inputs, FOUR digital outputs, I2C port (for interfacing with the Real-Time Clock module), ONE RGB LED output, and a dedicated TLC-5940 extender output, for interfacing with our upcoming Infinity Pendulum board and other future enhancements. All Sixty-Four output lines from the TLC-5940 chips are also broken out to headers, for connection to clock faces larger than 80 mm. - which is the diameter of the circle of LEDs
ClocKore in action
Who is going to do all this assembly?
The 3D models are complete, as are the Laser Cutter files. The clocks core programming is 98% complete, with just a few tweaks required based on the final construction dimensions. I will be doing the bulk of the high-tech work; soldering, microprocessor programming and running the Laser Cutter and 3D Printers. My middle son, Zac will be also be doing some soldering as well as running the 3-d Printers and eventually, the Laser Cutter. My oldest son, Alex will be our shipping, receiving and stock manager. My great friend Joe will be doing any wood work, additional cutting, and most of the final assembly. Aside from my son Zac, I have 6 other kids in my house ages 20 to 5 (plus my 10-month-old grandaughter, but she'll just drool on everything, so she stays home), and all of them will be helping out with polishing, packaging, kitting, labeling, shipping, clean-up, and so on.
How we're going to do it.
With newly-designed custom circuit boards, and 3-D printed & Laser-cut parts, LiTime Clocks is on the bleeding-edge of micro-manufacturing technologies. Turning to these emerging manufacturing technologies, we can keep our costs and thus our prices low, while retaining a high level of control and flexibility of the final product. Accountability is key in the growth of a small company.
There are few things as valuable as a PLAN...
Day One: Let's get moving!
Starting at the moment of success with our Kickstarter Campaign, we will mobilize our resources to get into production. We currently have 3 available and appropriate workspaces, and all are perfectly suited to our production needs. After signing our lease on one of the spaces and going about the business of securing electricity, and other utilities, we'll start preparing to move all our existing manufacturing equipment (3D printers, soldering stations, wood shop tools, and testing stations) into the factory immediately. We will pull the trigger on orders with Solidoodle, our plastics suppliers, and our laser cutter supplier.
Day Two - Six: Moving day
Over the following few days, all our existing equipment will find it's way to our new factory site. We have loads of friends with trucks and free time to help the relocation efforts. During this time, we will also be handling additional required tasks, such as running electrical and data lines, installing air-exhaust systems for sawdust and fumes, setting up our computer networks and servers, building shelves and workstations, and, perhaps the most important of all, cleaning the bathrooms.
We'll also start going about the business of setting up our "showroom" which will also double as our conference room AND our video studio.
Day Seven: THE conferences
With 4 main production leaders (plastics, woodworks, electronics, and shipping) and our other staff, a production planning meeting will be critical to starting up our production efforts. Product and process training, methodology, and implementation will all be key topics. A second meeting will be held later that day for our Customer Service team. We will put into place reactive and success-driven Customer Support processes, to include technical support, order processing, and social media operations.
Day Eight: Break time
Teams are built, not born. It's time to cement our teams together, over some nice summertime comfort foods and company-picnic-style games. We will also start our staff-recognition efforts with a contest for the 3 best recipies: appetizer/finger foods, main course foods, and desert/drink. Of course we will post our favorites to our website, so you can not only enjoy what else we do, but also taste what we do...
Day Nine - Twelve: Make it your own by making your own.
With the processes planned, roles defined, and equipment in place, we will hold some mock-up workdays. These workdays will not only ensure a smooth transition in operation for our staff, but also help build a sense of ownership in everyone's roles. To do that, we will all be making some clocks for the entire staff to bring home. Using the wealth of materials we already have on hand and the newly set-up equipment, everyone will have a chance to try their hands at their roles AND the roles handled by others. Staffers will follow the process, starting from ordering on-line and then proceed to assist in building their clock through all phases of assembly. In a slightly different twist, rather than taking their clocks home with them at the end of the day, their clocks will be shipped to them - just like any other order would be - so they can share the excitement of getting a new toy and have a personal unveiling with their family and friends at home, just like our customers soon will.
Holding pattern: Until Kickstarter Funds arrive
Up to now, all steps taken have been funded with existing LiTime funds. Armed with steadfast planning and determination, our factory should be complete and our staff should be ready. With our Solidoodle 3D printers, we will get a jump on the 3D printing, as our core parts take over an hour each to print. By this time, we should have received most of our materials and any additional manufacturing equipment that we recently purchased should be up and running. We'll start up the processes, and begin manufacturing with the materials available to us at that time.
The first 25 units, reserved for those special Kickstarter contributors, will be assembled in this phase... This will give us the opportunity to add the touches that makes these limited editions unique. Then we have a few inspirational people that I wish to deliver some of our clocks to, and then we do have a few units that we plan to deliver to a few charities - it's always good to give something back.
Money in = money out : purchasing day
Upon availability of our Kickstarter funding, we will spring to action on purchasing all the required materials: Plastics, wood, circuit boards, electronic components, shipping boxes, and more... there is a lot of "stuff" that goes into producing these clocks, and the major portion of this stuff is to be acquired locally and the balance of the requirements come from companies that have stellar reputations for shipping quickly.
At this time, we will also start up a Kickstarter-only contest. We will post a photo of some of our materials or something else in our operations, and ask our contributors to fathom a guess about the picture; how much it weighed, how long it took us to stock it into our stockroom, or some other random fact. The best/closest answer will win a currently undetermined prize - possibly an upgrade to a deluxe Color Infinity Clock or maybe their order will just arrive as TWINS!
Day TWENTY and on... Let's get REAL!
By this time, we will have received all our materials and supplies. We will have soft-started our manufacturing operations. We will have built our teams and helped them fall madly in love with each other.
Now it's D-Day. Laser cutters will be lasing and cutting. 3D printers will be printing in 3D. Circuit boards will be baking. Screws will be turned and LEDs will be lit. Bugs (in the system, not actual insects) will be debugged. Most importantly, CLOCKS will be born! Over the next week, we will be carefully monitoring our operations to ensure a smooth start-up as well as to enhance and streamline our operations.
By day twenty-seven, we should have produced and shipped a few dozen of our first orders. Being that each clock will need to be registered on-line for warranty purposes, we will seize the chance to ask for customer feedback on everything: Product quality, fit and finish, shipping expediency and other aspects will be posed as questions for our clientele. Criticism is constructive.
That's our production plan. While parts of the plan may be somewhat unconventional for a manufacturing environment, I have seen the positive effects of team-building and mock operations in my work with hundreds of new and updating businesses, and I know that the benefits far outweigh the efforts. I feel with our thought-out production plan, our key players, and a 55-gallon drum of determination, we'll have clocks flying out the door within 30 days of our Kickstarter Campaign meeting our goal. Of course, we are open to feedback, and welcome any ideas that can help us in our mission. Speak up, Kickstarters, we'll listen!
Risks and challenges
Space - light industrial space is readily available in our area.
Materials - Using commonly available LED's, microprocessors, plastics, and mirrors, supply lines are numerous.
Laser cutters are readily available, with a 2-4 week delivery time. While Laser Cutting Services are also available locally, such services to have longer lead times than cutting what we need, when we need it.
3D Printers - I already have a very tight relationship with Solidoodle, and they are ready and able to supply me with as many printers as I need, without the standard waiting period.
Reflow Ovens (for baking the circuit boards) are readily available.
Custom circuit boards - 1 week lead time for quantities over 100.
As indicated, all of the tools and materials I need to start production are readily available. Should there be any delays with any one component or material, there are many alternate suppliers, and should a material or component become unavailable or discontinued (highly unlikely, as all the chips and parts are current versions of very common) direct-replacement parts can be used, with no further modification to the hardware design or programming.
As with any plan, there are potential issues.
Staff: not everyone you hire will be a star employee. Having run my own company for 15 years, with dozens of employees throughout that time, I know what to look for and how to correct problems... Of course there is the final decision to eliminate problem staff, if need be.
Suppliers: As a Metro-NY based company, we do have the luxury of being able to choose from a wide range of local suppliers for most of our material needs. Should we run into any issues with our suppliers, there is surely another one just around the corner. We have already either been a customer of many of these businesses, or have struck up an opening relationship with them, so should we need to change suppliers, we will have choice.
Breakdowns: As reliable as our Solidoodle printers and other gear tends to be, things do break sometimes. Most of our production tasks can be done in a variety of ways, but we have chosen the most efficient methods available. While we will have multiples of most of our production equipment, some of the bigger-ticket items are just too expensive to have more than one unit. Should there be any stoppages in the production line due to equipment failure, we will have spares of all wearing parts: Belts and extruders for the 3D printers, replacement laser tubes for the laser cutters, and other wearable parts will be stocked for immediate use in the case of any failures.
Shipping Delays: Though most of our materials will be acquired as locally as possible, some items will come from afar. The IC chips, LEDs and the bare circuit boards are not manufactured here in the U.S. so we are - to some extent - at the mercy of international shipping and customs. Such items are not usually under sharp scrutiny of customs, so we really do not expect to see any delays of that nature, and the past performance of our suppliers of such non-native items have repeatedly shown us that they will be able to deliver on time, on budget, and on specification. Again, sourcing alternate suppliers is a fairly simple feat, as there are dozens of large companies that can meet our needs.
Financial: Our Kickstarter Campaign goal is based on sound mathematics, ensuring that we are well-endowed to start-up the manufacturing process and meet our material and staffing needs through to delivering each and every reward due our donors. Most of the equipment we will need is already owned by us, and the balance is about 20% of our campaign's goal.
Time: Again, my years of business ownership experience comes into play. Our production plan will easily keep pace with rewards due on the Kickstarter Campaign, and the due dates for all our rewards are properly timed to include potential delays.
The ClokCore Special Sauce. This "ultra-bare-bones kit" includes only the items you can't get anywhere else; specifically, a custom 3-D printed ring, one bare circuit board, the source code for the clock's programming, and a bill of materials for all additional parts required.
** Completing this kit will require: An ATMega 328 chip and four TLC5940 chips as well as other SURFACE MOUNT and through-hole components, sixty LED's, a Real Time Clock board, a rotary encoder, and some wire. Skills required are: SMD (Surface Mount Device) Soldering, Arduino interfacing, cutting/shaping Plexiglass or other acrylics, and patience. It is not a kit for the light-at-heart.
Full Monochrome Infinity Clock Kit
This the full kit, and includes a custom 3-D printed ring to house 3mm. LED's, Sixty-two 3mm. LED's, an LED-ready ClokCore (all components except LEDs are soldered on, circuit board is tested), a DS1307 Real Time Clock module, a Rotary Encoder, one 4" square each of Acrylic mirror, and acrylic two-way mirror, an acrylic White Pearl Infinity Clock case kit, a power supply, some hook-up wire, and instructions.
Depending on your soldering skills, this kit will take between one and two hours to complete.
** Completing this kit will require: light Soldering, Arduino interfacing,experience working with Acrylics, and patience.
ONE of FIRST TWENTY-FIVE signed and serial numbered, fully-assembled, programmed and tested White Pearl Infinity Clock. This clock will include our ClocKore , a DS3231 Real Time Clock module, a rotary encoder, and a power supply. Ready to place on your desk or bookshelf, this fully operational Infinity Clock is fully equipped to keep you apprised of where (or should I say WHEN) you are in your day.
These LIMITED EDITION Infinity Clocks will not only be the first 25 units produced, but there will also be a special unique accent applied to each one, making each of these Limited Edition Infinity Clocks a one-of-a-kind item. Pictures of each unit in this limited edition will be posted to our website along with it's serial number, to forever document it's authenticity.
Full Color ClokCore Kit. This the full kit, and includes an 10" custom 3-D printed ring to house the 8mm. LED's, 60 x 8mm. RGB LED's with RGB LPD6803 PWM Driver chips, an Arduino clone loaded with the ColorClocKore software, a DS3231 Real Time Clock module, a Rotary Encoder, one 12" circle each of GLASS one-way and two-way mirrors, a power supply, and a system wiring diagram. ** Completing This kit will require Soldering, Arduino interfacing, and patience.
Also included are simple 3D-printed brackets to hold everything in it's place, and a basic stand, so you can use it as-is, or install into a housing of your creation.
Full Color CUSTOM Floor-standing Infinity Clock.
This would be akin to a Grandfather Clock in stature and value.
This will be our first commissioned Color Infinity Clock.
We will work with you directly on specifying a design - size, shape, color, patterns, materials, textures, you name it... (please keep in mind that certain materials may incur additional costs, for example: exotic woods, precious metals, gemstones, and other non-standard materials.)
This unit will also be the first Color Infinity Clock to feature the Infinity Pendulum module - which is basically an light-based pendulum, complete with ballistics programming to simulate the true natural motion of a physical pendulum.
This will truly be a one-of-a-kind, custom piece, that will appreciate in value as LiTime Clocks grows.
(Please note: Shipping costs are additional, and are based on the size, weight, and destination of this commssioned Infinity Clock)