April Mega Update
Today marks a very special day for us! Exactly one year ago, we launched our campaign. Thanks to you, we massively surpassed our funding goals in minutes and became one of the most funded Kickstarter projects in history. We are privileged to have so many backers like you pledge their support and belief in The Micro 3D Printer, and we are very pleased that we have successfully made this project a reality together. In turn, we reaffirm our commitment to you: We will not rest until we address all of your requests and make sure everyone is fully satisfied with The Micro 3D Printer.
This may just take a little bit longer, as our current priority is getting your rewards to you, followed by pre-order backers whom many of you referred. To optimize our time, we are focusing on the problems that have quick and easy fixes, such as any printers arriving in an unexpected condition, which is increasingly rare now. Next, we will focus on improving printers with quality issues. After that, we will focus on resolving more specific technical concerns, software issues, and increasing support overall.
Looking back on the last month, we have dramatically matured as a production facility by rewiring the flow-path that makes printers come off the assembly line. In doing so, we are about to realize another big boost in production output and continuous quality improvements. We hit the usual number of snags, and with so many orders of different types going through simultaneously, we had to come up with ways to deal with numerous exceptions. International fulfillment was much more challenging than we planned, so we re-evaluated our strategy for shipping country by country, in many ways matching backer requests for things such as carrier preference or customs strategies. Meanwhile, we had the inventory to ship almost 2,000 printers, which were largely sent to the United States. We also worked out a new method for handling manual exceptions, including cases of people who were not able to find their Amazon Transaction ID. A mass of filament orders also just arrived in stock, and extra filament orders are being delivered within days.
By the end of April, we will have delivered the majority of your rewards. When that happens, we will shift our focus towards any remaining issues as we want to get back to our roots and move forward in our mission. All of you backed us because you think that 3D printers are either cool, useful, or will become an integral part of our future, and you wanted to be a part of that history. Help us discover, innovate, and nurture the field of consumer 3D printing. For those of you who already have your printers and are happy, we would love to hear from you!
Surveys and Payment Checkout
By now, every backer should have received their backer survey, which can be found in the backer portal. On this first survey, you can update your current shipping address as well as choose your Micro printer color and filaments (please note that the payment feature is still separate from the survey). If the survey is NOT available when you sign into the portal, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, and our team will enable it for you. You must complete the survey in order to receive your printer, so please make sure to fill it out.
After we finalize fulfillment plans for each country, we will invite backers to submit payment one-by-one, and several thousand have already been sent out. This is an additional step after filling out the initial survey. We’ve also added two options that can be selected after you’ve paid, but only if your order hasn’t shipped. If you would like to change your printer color or shipping address, you can now do so on our new “Edit Order” page. On this page, Mac users can also choose to hold their orders until Mac software becomes available.
What to Expect for April Production
As mentioned in our last update, we've been sharing very detailed internal data with you on the forums about our production, usually within 24 hours. As you've been watching the numbers go up (on average), we've been working in the background to improve the line every single day. We're happy to report a few things:
We have a full crew of 40 people covering day and evening shifts.
Our rate of shipping today is approaching 3,000 units/month.
We expect significant improvements in efficiency to continue through this month, allowing us to ship between 4,000-6,000 units and produce your Kickstarter rewards faster than you are filling out surveys. This will give us excess inventory for fulfilling pre-orders, but repair exchanges and backers who fill out their payment requests are still top priority when they enter the queue the first time.
By the end of April, any delays in shipping will be due to the lack of a specific color being in stock, backers changing their emails, and exceptions in shipping, rather than a lack of production capacity.
There will always be outliers and exceptions, such as those with an overly-aggressive spam filter, those who changed their email and can’t be reached, or those who think 3D printers should be a certain way because they prefer a specific style. Nevertheless, we aim to make everybody happy and would appreciate your help reaching everyone.
A Reflection on Production
We would like to take a moment to reflect on what we've learned as a company; one of those things is production efficiency. When we started, we thought we were pretty good at predicting things, and in most areas, we were. When it came to production, however, we were always falling short of our expectations, and this was a frustrating mystery for the longest time.
After studying the problem, we've identified several key causes for our projections being off. We've started to approach these issues head on, and we are using them to quickly close the gap for our predictions:
Gaussian accumulation: This is the idea that if you build 10 parts, we are likely to see 10 normal assemblies with a good average completion time. However, as time goes on, more exceptions occur and expand further out on the bell curve. The further out they go, the more they reduce the average completion time. On average, the time to build something in a time trial is much faster than over the course of a day by a factor of two.
Human performance: People vary in performance from their best day to slow days and by getting fatigued over the course of a shift.
Team performance: The average time of the team is slowed due to differences in peoples’ performance averages.
Exception outliers: Every day can have a reason for being abnormal, such as tools breaking or having a change in procedure, but exceptions are actually continuous and need to be accounted for.
Training losses: This is the loss from having people working on a station where they do not have a good performance number.
Rework losses: This is the loss from having to rebuild a printer because an issue wasn't caught at the earliest possible step.
Thus, at every step in production there is additional time lost, unexpectedly compounding to give slower rates. With newer strategies, such as working on one printer instead of a batch of sub-assemblies, we eliminate poor training, confusion, fatigue, and team losses. We’re also better able to find errors before they move down the line since multiple trained people handle the same part to catch mistakes.
We've recently tried boosting the front-end production (base station) with a new production line, which improved our production output by nearly 40%. We are nearly finished doing the same with every station. By switching the production floor from a batch process into a line, we feel a sense of calm and order, mistakes and poor training are caught early, rework doesn't have to be done in batches, and line issues can be visualized immediately.
Finally, our suppliers were able to give us blue box tops, and we are expecting the first shipment later this week. So let’s recap and find out: Why was this so hard?
Well, it turns out that pigment for colors like orange, red, green, and black are very easy to produce, so there are many options to choose from. On the other hand, blue only has a few pigment options, so when something goes wrong, a lot of tweaking needs to be done. In our case, the extreme pressure and temperature of the mold creates an environment that stresses the blue pigment and breaks down the color. As a result, blue degrades into a very light blue as it fills the mold and causes blemishes. The blemishes you see in the picture below are where the mold flow lines meet and cause more obvious color separation, but through a new formulation and extensive mold optimization, we were able to reduce these blemishes to the point that you’d have to look under intense light to notice them.
The news on silver tops isn't as good because our original supplier of silver paint did not honor their contract and couldn’t produce a high quality silver that resists scratching.This turn of events is upsetting as the supplier is located just down the road from us. Fortunately, we've been working with two other companies in Maryland, and we’re aiming to finalize another supplier soon, but the timelines are not clear and are expected to be slow. To help reduce the chance of delays, we are separating the painting contract from the painting specification. This is so we can lock down key features, including the paint formulation from the actual painting company, which increases our chances of quickly moving forward with alternates.
In the meantime, we have two remedies if you backed a silver printer: one immediate and one medium term. We have an excess of 4,000 black printer sets in stock and 2,000 sets each of green and orange. A few hundred blue cases will also arrive soon, and if they succeed, we will have more blue cases by the end of April. If you have been waiting and want your printer as soon as possible, you can change your pledge color in the backer portal to get a printer sooner. The second remedy is to accept a pre-release of two new colors, gloss white or clear, which we made specifically in response to the lack of silver tops. We can't promise that the white tops won't have similar issues as the blue, and we need some time for optimization, but it should work with much more ease. Clear tops, which feature a classic look, have already been tested and look promising. We'd like to hear if there is any interest in the clear tops, so please let us know by posting in the comments. We haven't finalized the specification for either color yet, but we hope to do so within one to two weeks. If you are interested in putting your order on hold to wait for one of these new colors, please enter a note in the "comments/instructions" section of the backer portal.
Lastly, we are also looking to paint some boxes in purple, but we would have to charge extra for them because of the low volume of requests expected, which would put that paint well into double digit cost increases for us. Based on your responses in the comments, we’ll see if there is enough support for this option, which could be painted onto the clear version of the box.
Many of you may have noticed that we've already shipped thousands of printers, mostly in the United States. While there are several ongoing challenges to shipping internationally, we've finally started to sort them out.
The short answer for why this has been the case is to protect us and our international backers from unnecessary delays in customs screening and expensive return shipping costs should something go wrong. Luckily in the past month, we've learned from repeated experimentation that our shipping process has matured and can survive shipping in the United States with less than a 1% failure rate. Now that we know what to expect, we are starting to expand our international shipping program.
In the case of international shipments to most of the European Union, our original promise was to take away your risk of unknown and unexpected VAT by collecting the VAT from you and assigning ourselves as the importer of record. This is commonly known as “Duties and taxes paid” or "EU friendly" shipping because once it clears through customs, it ships to you as if it originated in the EU, can be tracked, and should eliminate most hassles of international purchases.
We've had a long standing contract, in which a major shipping and fiscal representation company agreed to be the importer of record in the UK, allowing us to bulk ship the package there and then break the shipment into smaller shipments once it cleared EU customs. This process helped us all save on the costs and consistency of international fulfillment. Unfortunately, we had to craft a whole new deal, which should be finalized within one to two weeks. If your request is urgent, we can ship to you right now in the EU, but because this is a different carrier and shipment method, we would have to charge about $10 extra or more and let your country’s customs charge you for VAT instead of collecting it ourselves. The good news is that the fees are fairly predictable as no one in our EU trials seems to be encountering unexpected fees beyond VAT or normal country-specific import fees. We hope that most of you can wait just a little longer so we can provide EU-friendly shipping, and in the meantime, we are putting your rewards in boxes on reserve for the moment we can launch.
Again, if you want a shipment in the EU and are okay with accepting the VAT on your side, please let us know and we will process your order this week. We are so sorry that this is the case and did not see it coming.
In addition to the above issues, it's been a big concern if a printer was mispackaged by us enroute to you. The cost to us would be extreme at over $35 to ship even the smallest component and over $100 to return. That's why the recent bulk shipments were helpful in informing us of where we have to improve accuracy in processing shipments before they go international.
We've been receiving many reports from all countries that our country-specific power supplies are working and that customs isn't giving anyone too hard of a time, if any. We know that some carriers may use a “hop,” where products crossing the border ship by air instead of ground, resulting in fewer to no customs duties. Duties are separate from VAT and cannot be avoided in some countries but are generally free in most areas. We’ve been methodically evaluating each country separately to give you the best experience.
Finally, there is an increased risk of exceptions when shipping internationally. Two issues that have come up are incorrect addresses and phone numbers. Please note that the address you provide is exactly how it will be stored into our shipping system, so be sure to confirm all information. It is also crucial to provide a correct phone number in case you need to be contacted. If you do not answer the phone from customs or have a package returned or destroyed, we cannot be responsible for associated costs.
Filaments and Additional Parts
We’re happy to report that our filament supplier has caught up, and filament-only orders will ship within a few days. We've made the shipping cost much lower for filament-only orders: a flat rate of $5.95 in the United States for two filaments and slightly higher rates for more. For international filament orders, we can ship at a lower cost than the printer because it uses less volume. However, the cost is still over $25 to ship internationally, so we're working on getting a local distributor in 22 different areas, and they will be able to stock parts and possibly service returns.
To order additional filaments, please visit: http://tinyurl.com/pbcbget.
To order additional parts, such as BuildTak sheets, please email us. We will add them to our website ordering page soon.
Payments for Pre-Orders
If you are a pre-order backer who paid for their order from May through November 2014, your transaction was completed using a system called “Celery.” Your data will be converted into a survey to use on our backer portal site within the next few days. That data will then be imported and you will be asked to confirm your selections via email. We are still in the process of enabling the payment feature for international backers, which will become available as your printer is ready to ship. Please be on the lookout for these emails.
Customer Service and Support
Many of the people who handle your technical support requests are the same people working on the line to produce printers. Currently, we are focused on getting our rewards fulfilled during April, but we will start to migrate many of our team members to improve customer support afterwards.
In the meantime, we would like to provide the following estimations for addressing requests. We ask that you try to work with others in the forums for general information and to look over the FAQ for medium and low priority requests.
General Requests at email@example.com: 1-2 days
Technical Requests at firstname.lastname@example.org: 2-5 days
Requests for Repair Service at email@example.com: 3-7 days
Kickstarter Page: We are monitoring this page rarely. Many of you found the streaming comments and our responses hard to follow, as we did, so we aren't supporting this feature for much longer.
Kickstarter Private Messaging: These messages are answered by the same team that responds to firstname.lastname@example.org requests, but we would prefer that you use the email address.
Social Media: We love a lot of your comments and video links and acknowledge these when we have the time. However, we cannot help you with tech support because of the restricted nature of conversations on these platforms, so we ask that you direct your questions to helpdesk, info, or the new live support.
*NEW* Live Support: The creators and other members of the team are logging in daily to try to get a feel for what kind of help is directly needed. You can access live support on our pre-order page at http://store.printm3d.com/. If someone is available, a live support popup will be at the bottom of the screen.
Tech Support: Pictures GREATLY aid us in analyzing any problem you may be having. We ask that you include photos in your initial email requests to help us assess your situation more quickly and effectively.
Repair Requests: Please contact us before attempting to repair your printer or to send it back to us for repair. If you repair your printer without instruction from us, then we cannot identify any pre-existing faults. If you send us a printer without a return authorization number, it may get lost.
Why do you confirm Amazon Transaction IDs?
In short, because of manual entry: For our factory to ship 200+ printers a day, a team of five people must effectively QC, pack, and box a printer every five minutes. That gives us about thirty seconds to pull an invoice, print it, and run with it. A single exception can throw off this process by as much as 10-30 minutes.
With a normal Kickstarter campaign, consisting of a few hundred people, it isn't hard to find someone who is unique. With The Micro campaign, there are over several hundred people with the same first name. In addition, Kickstarter allowed people to make unique usernames that do not have to match the payer’s name, which creates massive possibilities for error or even fraud.
If you contact us using an email other than your original Kickstarter email, we need a way to verify that it’s really you. We appreciate the nearly 90% of you that were able to find this number to help verify your identity. In the case that your email has changed and you cannot access your original one, the verification process is much more time consuming. We are not abandoning your pledge, but rather, we have to prioritize the orders that we can process quickly. We’ve recently caught up with the exceptions, approving over 98% of the orders.
There have also been many cases where the person who pledged is different from the person who paid for the pledge. In these cases, we had to choose a standard and must respect the wishes of the person who paid for the pledge. If you do not use the same email as your Kickstarter account and do not have an Amazon Transaction ID, we cannot verify your identity, so we are working to come up with additional ways to identify you. In the meantime, an Amazon representative has stated: “In this case, I'd suggest you to ask your backers to contact us using the link below, so that we can assist them in accessing their account and help track the details of the Kickstarter transaction.”
*Special Note*: Please contact us if you changed your Kickstarter email during the campaign as we have no other way to reach you.
Why the user agreement?
All we've done here is put together a list of typical concerns, and while some of these concerns may seem mundane, it is our moral and legal responsibility to let you know about them. Some of these concerns are as simple as “the nozzle is hot,” but others are necessary due to the unique aspects of owning a 3D printer.
How about the warranty?
It is our duty to make sure backers have the same benefits as someone who would buy an established consumer/retail product. There may be an implied warranty that provides protections for you as a consumer, but they vary greatly by location and often only provide a basic level of consumer protection. Therefore, claiming the benefits of such a warranty would be vague, varied, and difficult at best. That is why we provided an express warranty, meaning that in addition to any implied warranties, we make specific promises in an effort to standardize and simplify warranty claims.
Although we were under no obligation to offer an express warranty, we gave all of our backers the free 3 month warranty and options to extend to 12 months. Many well established companies are not offering the option of extending a warranty on a 3D printer anywhere near our price point, showing you just how much we are willing to stand by your rewards. Your extended warranty options are also 33% discounted compared to what they are likely to retail at. Through future additions to your backer portal, you will be able to extend your warranty if you didn't choose extended coverage as long as coverage is current (coverage starts the day tracking says your package delivered).
Also, it is worth mentioning that The Micro is one of the most mechanically complex consumer products ever made because it has so many moving parts and has to be incredibly accurate. With other consumer electronics products such as computer monitors or phones, there have been many decades to establish the technology, and products made with solid state parts have a longer accepted standard warranty term. There is virtually no marketplace history of the technologies used in The Micro, but nevertheless, we will go to great lengths to support you once everyone has their printers in hand.
Inside 3D Printing
Come see the M3D team and The Micro at the Inside 3D Printing Conference and Expo, the largest professional 3D printing event worldwide, in New York City, April 15-17. The event will include a full day of workshops, as well as two days of conference sessions led by industry experts and demonstrations of the latest 3D printers and services.
We would love to reward backers who contribute to the community by creating value through posts, popular videos, tutorials, etc. Rewards will be determined on an ongoing basis and will include t-shirts, filaments, and other items.
This week, we'd like to thank Mark Wheadon from the UK. Since receiving his printer, Mark has been blowing us away every day by sharing awesome photos of his prints. Here are some of the images he’s shared with the community (all photos were taken, shared, and are owned by Mark Wheadon):
As always, we thank you so much for being a part of our journey. The finish line is in sight, and we appreciate your support and understanding throughout this entire process.
The M3D Team