September Update - New Tech, The Scroll Wheel, and Fulfillment Testing
The past month has been one of the best our team has had, we’re through our setup period and have been digging back into the final steps before moving into full-fledged production. We have a ton of new tech to walk you through, and are now faced with a few interesting challenges that we’ll lay out for you as well. We’re really excited to give you a view into what’s been going on recently.
Our new prototype parts are coming in, we’re running a series of calibration tests to check performance, reliability and testing some aspects of our fulfillment process to make sure everything shows up on time, for the most reasonable cost.
So lets dive right in - first…. THE TECH.
We’ve made quite a few changes over the past month. We received our new casing, new machined parts, new internal structure, new I/Os and have gone through a full scroll wheel iteration.
Something you’ll probably notice in the picture below is the slightly increased height of The Palette. We made the decision to increase the size of two of the 7 stepper motors used inside the Palette. To accommodate these changes, the casing needed to become a bit taller. One of the motors we chose to upgrade controls the cutting system. This extra torque will be useful in future proofing The Palette to work with new materials that might be harder to cut. Now all seven steppers inside The Palette are the same type – something that will help us better manage our BOM and assembly operation.
We thought The Palette could do with a bit of a face lift, after all, who doesn’t like sleek looking lines and vents. So we decided to update the external aesthetics, and make a few design changes while we were at it.
You’ll notice the updated lines on the side of the new Palette (right) that separate the top and bottom portions of the casing, as well as new venting. Not only do these improvements clean up the visual design, they also close off the fan systems inside The Palette to remove the chance of broken blades from external interference (such as fingers or filament, two of the things we know from experience can get in the way).
We made additional changes to the vent layouts to optimize the airflow on the inside of The Palette. After monitoring the electronics area of The Palette we learned that it can get considerably warm. Because of this we decided to add additional venting. This is the new vent on the bottom right.
We made the move to a sheet metal internal structure (covered in detail later in this update). The new sheet metal internals make the entire structure inside the Palette act as a heat sink. This update lets heat diffuse much more efficiently, and (best of all) works passively without any additional modifications.
We’re in the final steps of putting together this new version, we’re waiting on our production laser cutter to arrive (should happen early next week). Once this is in, we’ll cut all of our new drive modules, and start to test the new system in its entirety. We may need to make one or two small revisions to better accommodate airflow, but the casing you see above is very close to what will be shipped to your door.
We updated both the power and Scroll Wheel connectors to make the plug-in points more robust, and ready for mass production. Our pre-production version had the scroll wheel plugged into the board via a few exposed wires (seen in the picture below). This method did not make for quick and easy detachment for travel, and even though we never had any reliability issues, it was susceptible to damage due to strain on the wires and connection.
To make this connection more reliable we decided to add an external connection port for The Scroll Wheel. This new connector will let you detach your scroll wheel for storage and travel much easier, and is a more heavy duty design. Check out the new approach below:
Another design update (a bit less obvious to anyone lacking the eyes of a hawk) - the screen is now mounted to the sheet metal frame on the inside of The Palette. You can see the new mounting location below:
The screen was previously mounted directly to the casing from the inside, meaning the screen would need to be disconnected to take off the top section of the case. We made the decision to move the screen mount because the frame-mounting approach will allow for easier maintenance, and quicker assembly. The internal sheet metal structure is a more robust mounting point than the casing, and keeps bolts from coming out of the front of The Palette.
Now we’d like to tour you through the internal updates we’ve made….
In our campaign we mentioned that one of our final steps was to optimize the materials inside The Palette. The pre-production Palette has its internal structure made of PMMA (acrylic) that was laser cut, and jigged together. This worked well, but “well” has never been good enough for our team. We received the first iteration of our sheet metal internals about a month ago. They were a great test, and it was really helpful to have a version in our hands, but that design wasn’t ready to be built into The Palette.
Working with our favourite metal shop, we made modifications to the design, and added a few new features.
WE GOT THE NEW VERSION LAST WEEK. It works beautifully…. here it is in all its glory:
So why do sheet metal internals matter?
Think of the sheet metal internals like The Palette’s skeleton. The sheet metal internals are the bones of The Palette, they are what everything is mounted to, what lets The Palette hold its form. By replacing PMMA with sheet metal we’re able to make the entire system stronger/more rigid, easier to access/maintain, reduce the part count, and make it quicker to assemble (although admittedly this last one is more for us).
The pre-production Palette relied on the external casing to give it extra rigidity – the new version doesn’t use the casing as a crutch. We’re really excited about this, as it’s something we’ve been iterating on for awhile.
And like we mentioned before, this entire structure now works as a heat sink, which will help reduce the requirements of our active ventilation system.
Oh yeah – one more thing. As much as we wish they were perfect, we know from years of experience with printers that sometimes the electronics need maintenance. In order to make maintaining, checking, and double-checking as easy as possible we made the electronics tray removable to allow for easy access. Check out this GIF of how it works:
The Scroll Wheel
We promised everyone a look into the progress of The Scroll Wheel in our last update, now’s the time. We’ll start off with some not so great news - we have yet to finalize the production version of The Scroll Wheel.
We’re going to walk you through some of the progress we’ve made, and write about some of the discoveries and lessons we’ve had in the past month.
The Scroll Wheel’s importance cannot be understated, it is what keeps The Palette in the loop with your printer. Its accuracy and repeatability need to be flawless when measuring hundreds of meters of filament.
We’ve been investigating the best ways to construct The Scroll Wheel reliably, as any variance in how it’s put together will have a huge impact on its accuracy.
Here’s a walk through of the different scroll wheel iterations we’ve been working through:
If you’ve seen us run a demo, this is The Scroll Wheel we were using. It is built with a 3D printed casing, a rotary encoder, and a rubber wheel from a computer mouse (among a few other things). This version of the scroll wheel had issues when first feeding filament through, as the filament would sometimes get jammed on the outgoing Teflon tube. It was also printed, which is not the most scalable manufacturing method. We also knew we could make it more accurate if we didn’t use rubber from a computer mouse…. so we took our knowledge of The Scroll Wheel and moved on to our next iteration, pictured below.
This version of The Scroll Wheel is made out of laser cut acrylic. It represents a big leap over our pre-production version, but still had a few issues we want to solve before the design is deemed ready for production. This version of The Scroll Wheel has two machined rubber rollers that contact the filament. The groove that was machined into them was too wide, which allowed the filament to move up and down as it got pulled through. This movement meant that we didn’t achieve as high an accuracy level as we were striving for.
Our machine shop had a number of failed attempts at machining the soft rubber wheels. These failures were a huge red-flag, so before we even got this version in our lab we knew we needed to find another method for creating the roller wheels.
There are a few really good takeaways from this version – first, we validated a new method for mounting Teflon tubing to the structure. Second, we learned that we needed to make the filament groove deeper to allow for better constraint. Third, assembling this many pieces of laser cut acrylic takes a lot of time, and is not repeatable enough. Finally, the roller wheels are too large, we could further increase the precision of The Scroll Wheel by reducing their size.
So we took these lessons and applied them to our latest version of The Scroll Wheel, pictured below:
So what’s new with this version?
First, it was designed to be CNC machined, instead of crafted from laser cut acrylic. We’re not sold that CNC machining is the most efficient way to manufacture the casing, but it’s something we feel the need to investigate.
Our team has started testing out a new method for producing the roller wheels – casting. We’ve seen some really promising results with this method, as it produces high quality parts, and is scalable, repeatable, and cost effective.
This new iteration is on its way to being constructed, we will be sure to let you know the progress in our next update.
Ensuring the Palette and your printer stay in perfect calibration over long prints is critical. In the perfect world this would be an easy problem to solve but in the real world we know that printers mess up and don’t always print consistently. In order to design and optimize our calibration algorithms, we have done extensive testing on different printer models, filament types, and on the accuracy and repeatability of The Palette’s filament production. Below you can see some test print blocks where you can tell they vary in size, filament type, and complexity.
This data has proven to be extremely valuable as we have used it to design better solutions to some ongoing calibration challenges.
There’s a few more things we wish we could share with everyone here – mainly our new machined internals. We’ve done some really cool things with the internal layout, new machined parts, and wire management – but we don’t want to spoil the surprise when you get your Palette ;)
Finally, we have (what we think) is a nice little surprise for everyone who purchased one of the Palette reward tiers. We’d like to send you a small gift to make your 3D printing experience better.
We made the decision to do this for two reasons. First, to thank you for your continued support - we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for our team of backers, we want to take time to show our appreciation.
BUT, we also thought this would be a great opportunity to test our fulfillment partner before we ship them hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of your products.
In case you’re unfamiliar, a fulfillment company receives products from a manufacturer, and ships them out to the end user. We ship our partner a large numbers of units (a pallet of Palettes, if you will), they break these shipments down and send individual products to you. Fulfillment companies get much cheaper shipping rates (due to large volumes), and are able to allow a company like ourselves not to have the upfront overhead cost of renting/operating a warehouse.
We’ve put together some “Print More” kits for you, and will be shipping them out in the coming weeks. We work with a series of suppliers from overseas, and as a result we get really good prices on items when we order in bulk. So we used these connections to piece together some useful tools for 3D printing. Tools we use in our office everyday, that we thought might be able to help make your 3D printing experience better.
We’ve placed enough orders to ship one of these kits to every backer who purchased a Palette, and are currently waiting for them to arrive at our door. When they do, Heather will be in touch with each of you individually to let you know that a kit was shipped to your address that we have on file.
ATTENTION: This means that if you have recently moved, or haven’t filled in your survey, please update your information with us so the kit goes to the correct address.
We’d also really like to know how long these packages take from the time they leave our office, until the time they reach your door. When you get your kit, please drop us a quick email to let us know. There will be further instructions in the kit.
We’ve heard horror stories of Kickstarter companies using fulfillment services that totally drop the ball – by doing this exercise we’re looking to remove this risk to the highest extent we can. Get ready to hear more about this initiative in your inbox.
So what’s next for us?
The detailed list would take forever to write on paper, our to-do lists are longer than ever. But here are some highlights:
- Testing, testing, testing
- Finalize the scroll wheel design and manufacturing method
- Order off the shelf components for a run of 50 Palettes
- Software features, continue developing our stand-alone application
- Certification and testing
- Firmware updates
- Production optimization
In other news - we’re making a new site, and are setting up an online community for everyone to talk to each other. At the beginning, we’ll keep it exclusive to our backers, but will open it to the public a little after we launch.
We’re in the midst of outfitting our production space in Toronto. If you happen to be in the area drop us a line, we’d love to bring you in and show you around.
If you ever have any questions, or want anymore information drop us a comment below!