January came and went and we still didn't deliver your grinders. I'm really sorry.
Here's the scene:
1. We received a shipment of 20 fully packaged, backer-ready production grinders in December, but there was a problem. We unboxed a few (and then all of them) to spot-check quality, and discovered that on almost every unit the hard outer casing was coming loose; the grinders still worked, but the outer shell was obviously under some sort of tension that was pushing the snaps apart and leaving an unwanted gap between the top and bottom.
Our first thought was that it was simply a packaging issue, since we hadn't seen this problem before and it came as a bit of a surprise. So we underwent extensive packaging tests (using grinders that didn't exhibit the snap issue) and concluded that the packaging is... awesome. Good news for the boxes, but also not helpful in determining why the snaps were all of a sudden having trouble engaging on the units we received.
2. We put an immediate stop on production so we could resolve the issue.
3. In early January we took delivery on a much larger shipment of grinders, which had been assembled in the first run and sent to our freight forwarder before we could stop them. We spot checked those as well, and we aren't comfortable shipping those units out to backers since they have the same issue as the first 20.
4. We resolved the snap tension issue. In a nutshell: the motor is .6mm taller in the final assembly than in the motor supplier's CAD. As part of the internal stackup of motor, motor cushions, and motor stand (which holds it all in place), there's not a lot of wiggle room because of that difference between what was delivered and what we'd anticipated. But it all fits.
During a pilot run we identified the need to move the motor a fraction of a millimeter lower in the assembly. To achieve the move, we made a material substitution on the top motor cushion, swapping squishy silicone for a hard polycarbonate and thereby forcing the motor slightly downward (or put differently, not allowing it to move upward as far). The material swap was an easy, straightforward option to achieve our objective, but it had an unintended consequence: the .6mm stackup height difference that could be overridden by compressing a silicone motor cushion became a problem when we were using a harder, non-compressible material. We'd thought there was enough room for our solution to be a viable one, but the material swap was the straw that broke the camel's back. We're talking about fractions of fractions of a millimeter, but it was enough to prevent full engagement of the housing snaps and make it look like we had a much more serious issue on our hands.
The solution is to rework our motor stands to provide a little more room for the full stackup; we're basically shaving a bit of material off the area indicated in green on the image below.
For future builds, we'll modify the mold accordingly; but for now, CNC machining this green area will provide the extra room needed in a consistent, repeatable fashion on the parts we've already produced.
5. We've built 20 grinders featuring this modification, and are waiting for the factory to send them to us for inspection. We're hopeful that it's the last technical problem left to solve on this build, as annoying as it was to have it be a last-minute surprise. The factory has just reopened this week after a 3-week holiday in observance of Chinese New Year.
6. The factory would like us to commit to the rest of the production run in a single shot, before allowing us to review the 20 modified grinders. They're trying to minimize their production line costs, which we can understand, but we don't want to waste good parts on a potentially bad build - we'd like to review the modification and make sure that no other issues remain. We are at a bit of an impasse here at the moment. I'm sure we'll resolve and come to an agreement soon, but again it's another unexpected hurdle for us to manage. It's more of an engineering and process argument than a financial one, since we're clearly committed to delivering this product to backers.
7. Once we review the 20 modified grinders and restart production, I assume 45 days or so of assembly and transit. I was hoping for that assembly and transit block to have started already (most recently, in December before we paused production upon discovering the snap issue), but since it hasn't I want to be (as always) transparent with you all about the dependencies from which a real "countdown" to deliver can restart. Right now, since we haven't restarted production, I can't put a confident delivery estimate on the calendar. Best case scenario is that we restart the line this week and that approximate 45 day countdown begins. Bad case scenario is that it takes a while longer to agree about the terms of that restart (see #6) and our 45 day clock doesn't start for a few more weeks. I do know that it can't go on forever, and that there's never been a factory or business challenge we haven't been able to navigate toward resolution.
I know updates haven't been as frequent as many of you would like. The situation is constantly evolving and often I've had updates drafted that instantly become obsolete when I receive new information on any given day. I can't ask for much more than your patience and understanding of the complexity of this project and of the numerous layers of information and synthesis that go into running it, sharing updates, and keeping the product itself progressing toward delivery.
As always, I'm committed to being transparent and posting comprehensive updates as often as I can... but sometimes that means every month or two by the time I have information that's clear, actionable, and worth jumping into your inboxes to share. There's no such thing as a "little update" for Voltaire, at least so far! But if there is, I'll put it here.
I'll be back with more as soon as I have it. Thanks to everyone for your support and patience. The ride continues.