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This project was successfully funded on September 14, 2012.
The world's first automated solette breaker, Pocket Pages, and a CONCERT
The sun is shining down on Hong Kong. Tomorrow, Shawn is heading up to Dongguan, in Southern China to meet with the owner of a microsolar factory and talk about our efforts to automate the production of microsolar, and what it means for the industry in Southern China. We've met with a lot of factories, and this particular made a great impression on us as one of the best-run factories in the business. They still use traditional processes, but they're serious about making good microsolar panels, and that show clearly on their assembly line, in the way they do business, and in the finished panels they make.
I was going to go on this trip, but the China visa agent took one look at my eight year-old passport, still valid, but creased and worn, and pushed it back across the counter with the kind of disapproving face you get after swallowing a gallon of vinegar, refusing to put a visa in a passport as beat-up as mine. So, I'm sitting this one out.
We've actually heard a lot from the microsolar factories we know. We sent out links to the campaign to all our microsolar contacts, figuring it was good for them to hear about our efforts directly from us. We've had a mixed bag of reactions. Some factories, who we've worked with on a couple products, have stopped talking to us completely, and won't return our emails or calls. Others are curious by skeptical, others are excited, and our feel is that everyone is watching to see if we can actually do something. One thing's for sure--word travels fast around the microsolar world. Nobody cares too much about what we're doing, now, because we're not actually making and selling panels with our machine. We've got lots of theories about how other people in the microsolar industry will respond once we flip the switch on the Solar Pocket Factory. We'll see what happens, soon enough.
In other news, Yowza! Based on our backing so far, we need to make 69,500 solettes to fulfill the backer rewards, and thousands more every month for testing out the Solar Pocket Factory. Currently, we order our (relatively expensive) solettes for testing from a solar supplier in Shenzhen, and they're scored by laser and broken up by hand. Scoring and breaking the solettes is the beginning of the process, and if we're going to automate this process, make cells cheaply, and not spend the next month snapping a solette every second, twenty-four days a day, we need to find a better way.
So, we popped open notebooks and whiteboards and CAD, and we kicked around a bunch of ideas. Alvin is a mechanical engineer who just started working in Shawn's lab a few weeks ago, and he had an idea for a very simple solette breaker that worked a lot like a paper cutter. So he talked it over with everyone, drew up a design, and yesterday, got all the parts in and put it together. To everyone's delight, it worked! We were all sitting around the world's first automated solette breaker, watching crisp, broken solettes rain down from the breaker.
It's not a perfect breaker--there's still a lot that needs to be adjusted by hand, it's prone to snapping solettes, especially if they're not scored reliably, and the solettes all come out in a pile, rather than in a way we can easily move to the next stage of the factory. Still--it's cranking out solettes at a record clip. Here's a video of it breaking a scored cell, snapping off a solette every half second. Flippin sweet!
Are you hungry for more updates and nitty-gritty details about what we're up to? Check out our project blog at SolarPocketPages.com for the latest stories and musings from the center of the sun. Some of our latest posts:
Finally, a wonderful artist, poet, singer and all-around kickass lady, Feanne Mauricio, is putting on a concert for us in Manila this Sunday. If you're in the area, check it out! We've never had anyone put on a concert for us before, and we keep staring at this poster and saying, "whoah. Awesome!"
DEFINITELY stay tuned for video. Now--I must run! There's code and emails and stories to be written and chunks of aluminum to be cut into smaller chunks. We've got eight days left in this campaign, so help spread the word--next stretch goal is at $100k, and if we hit that, we'll design and open-source the low-cost lasercutter we use in the Solar Pocket Factory. Tell your goldfish!