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Tiko is the 3D printer you’ve been waiting for. Simple, accessible, and dependable, all for a pledge of $179.
Tiko is the 3D printer you’ve been waiting for. Simple, accessible, and dependable, all for a pledge of $179.
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16,538 backers pledged $2,950,874 to help bring this project to life.

Crossing The Wall

Posted by Tiko 3D (Creator)
352 likes
Hi everyone!

Last month we told you about the two challenges holding us back: The bearing tolerances and the liquefier nozzle. So, let's cut to the chase and answer the big question… have we solved them?

Well, after a good deal of testing, we nailed the bearing tolerances and the whole sub-assembly has since been RTMed. Woohoo!

The nozzle, however, has proven more complicated and is not yet ready. Which sucks, because it’s holding up a half-dozen other components that are otherwise good-to-go. So, what are we going to do about it?

Before we tell you, let’s take a step back and discuss a problem us engineers commonly face. One of the quickest ways to run into trouble when designing a product is to have an “over the wall” design process. This happens when a team of design engineers create a component and/or assembly, then simply toss it “over the wall” to the manufacturing team, saying “go, make this.” Graphically, it looks like this:

Note: We don’t literally throw components over walls. Do not try this at home.
Note: We don’t literally throw components over walls. Do not try this at home.

We’re not a big company, and we’re certainly not big enough to have a manufacturing team of our own, but we are aware of this common problem. That’s why we've always worked closely with our suppliers, asking them for feedback every step of the way. Sounds good, right? Well, over the past six months we’ve learned a rather difficult lesson.

China is fiercely competitive, and when there’s a good opportunity, manufacturers will go to great lengths to secure your business. That’s great for prices and service, but there’s a serious side-effect from all this competition: manufacturers sometimes say they can make and do things that, in reality, they cannot. While we appreciate their ambition, it’s not helpful during the DFM (Design For Manufacture) process, as it leads us to design components that pose more challenges than they ought to.

Remember the chassis we started extruding in May? That was it, done, right? Ha, nope! It started life as a skin colored, striated, crooked and overall terribly inaccurate approximation of what we wanted, and it took almost six months of testing and adjustment to finally meet our design goals, and we only RTMed it quite recently.

From fleshy to flashy
From fleshy to flashy

The dimensional tolerances, material properties, color distribution, shade of white, surface finish, etc. are all interrelated, so it’s no surprise it took eight generations to perfect. If you take it to an extrusion company today, they will marvel at the immaculate surface finish and how precisely it’s made – but before the campaign, we were told it wouldn't be too big a challenge.

Numerous other components have followed this trajectory, but through hard work and perseverance, we’ve overcome these challenges and RTMed much of the BOM.

However, the nozzle still remains untamed. The tolerances we require are simply too challenging for mass production with our (previous) manufacturer – nobody warned us back when we designed and prototyped it.

Now, a redesign could be attempted, however it wouldn’t happen overnight. We’ve been working on it, but it takes a week to make a prototype, plus another week to (express) ship it to Canada. At that rate we can barely crank out two iterations per month – assuming we cram all our tests into a weekend. It just isn’t fast enough.

Worse yet, we can’t easily collaborate with the manufacturer when they’re halfway around the world, and not many companies put their engineers directly in contact with ours. Most communication travels through salespeople. Argh!

Throughout Tiko’s development we worked so hard to avoid “the wall” and yet there it was - a rift between us and our manufacturers. Back in May this was an (underestimated) inconvenience, but being November, this was downright unacceptable. We had to do something. Something drastic. Something bold. And we had to do it fast. So we crossed the biggest wall there is. The Great Wall of China.

The Other Side

We would go to the ends of the earth to make Tiko happen, so we did just that. Matt and Sharon, the other two founders of Tiko, booked a last minute flight to join Mike in China.

After six months of alone in China, away from his friends and family, Mike finally had company. Indeed, the cavalry had arrived.
After six months of alone in China, away from his friends and family, Mike finally had company. Indeed, the cavalry had arrived.

This selfie was taken in Beijing, in the ShiChaHai district (by HouHai Lake) the morning after we landed. We’re Canadians, and even this was too cold for our taste.

You should definitely come here at least once. And if you do, try the hot-yogurt place by the bridge! Yumm!
You should definitely come here at least once. And if you do, try the hot-yogurt place by the bridge! Yumm!

What followed was an incredibly busy, hectic, and downright amazing week of travelling across China and meeting our suppliers.

Down To Business

You can guess which manufacturer we visited first. Naturally, our (new) CNC machining manufacturer – the people producing our challenging yet revolutionary liquefier nozzle.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is how business is done in China. In just about every company we went to, the president’s office contained a tea set and stovetop. All business talk happens over a nice, warm cup of tea.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is how business is done in China. In just about every company we went to, the president’s office contained a tea set and stovetop. All business talk happens over a nice, warm cup of tea.

Above we see Matt and Mike explaining the design goals (with CAD drawings on the phone) to the company president, head technician, and vice president (left to right). During this meeting we collaborated on improving manufacturability while keeping the performance criteria we need.

It was pretty amazing to see their facility and meet their team. The conversations we had here (and at the lunch that followed) will likely prove instrumental in bringing Tiko to market quickly and without compromise. 

These gentlemen regularly do contract work for medical equipment companies and the Chinese military, so they know a thing or two about small parts, Titanium, and generally pushing performance envelopes.  

Including some company named after a fruit. Forgot their name. Oh, look, a phone case!
Including some company named after a fruit. Forgot their name. Oh, look, a phone case!

In fact, they even sourced a more exotic and better performing alloy of Titanium than before, one which many suppliers simply cannot get their hands on.

Now, bear in mind that all of this happened a little over a week ago, so the results of this collaboration are only starting to show. Thankfully however, we are now physically in China and next-day shipping is commonplace, so our R&D cycle time has essentially been cut in half. Booyah!

So Much More

But this was only the beginning. From there we toured the country, meeting many more of our suppliers. Beijing, Nanjing, Shenzhen, Xiamen, Shanghai, etc. You name it. We visited every place we could.  Here are some favorites: 

All Wired Up

Ever wondered how wires are made? Well, it all happens in places like these, full of mind-bogglingly complicated spooling equipment and hard working, dedicated people. 

And you’re probably imagining that this is some kind of wide, flat factory like the kind cars come out of, right? Wrong!

Many of these factories have multiple floors and are located inside the city districts. Like, right next to the apartments where the workers live, in neighborhoods just like these. It’s fascinating!

Crown of Molding

That was exciting and all, but after eating some spicy frog legs and catching the red-eye flight, we visited the factory where our parts are injection molded. Here’s a photo of the mold used to make Tiko’s filament tray. 

This thing is huge! It’s so big, and so heavy that it must be moved around with an overhead crane!
This thing is huge! It’s so big, and so heavy that it must be moved around with an overhead crane!

In fact, pictured below is the absolutely gargantuan machine used to injection mold our larger components. This thing is so colossal that in person it feels like standing next to a train. It’s just nuts, this thing.

We didn’t have any bananas for scale, so you’ll just have to take our word for it.
We didn’t have any bananas for scale, so you’ll just have to take our word for it.
Not only is it as complicated as a warp drive, the thing requires a freakin’ LADDER to operate! Madness!
Not only is it as complicated as a warp drive, the thing requires a freakin’ LADDER to operate! Madness!
Some Tiko print chambers made with this beast prior to our arrival.
Some Tiko print chambers made with this beast prior to our arrival.

Matter of fact, everything in this machine is so big that it can take several hours to evenly heat both the machine and mold to operating temperatures (else the parts come out warped). And if you need to test a mold, remove and adjust it, then re-test it… then oh boy, you’re looking at an entire day. So refining the molds can easily take a week or more. Don’t even get us started on texturing.

Ultimately, Mike spent so much time there, he got his very own cubicle:

My precious!
My precious!

Seeing the factory was very cool, but by meeting the people who run it, we discovered the many subtle difficulties involved in making parts as big yet precise as ours. No wonder it took so long to perfect them, but hey, we wouldn't accept any less.

We saw so much else that week, but at this point, you get the idea. It’s been a pretty mind blowing trip.

Bringing It Home

So what can we learn from this? Well, it’s that, you guessed it… manufacturing is hard. We’re embarrassed to admit it, but it was all too easy to shout “Make it better! Improve the color! Tighten the tolerances! Do it faster!” from the comfort of our office chairs and snazzy café’s back in Canada.

However, coming here and seeing how it’s done, well, let’s just say it’s a humbling experience. Many of our suppliers are self-sufficient, meaning they mix/pelletize the plastics themselves, design the tools, CNC the mold cavities, operate the machines, package the parts, etc. and yet we demand things be done in days not weeks.

You saw the filament tray mold, look at that crazy-complicated thing, it was made completely in-house. It’s hard to blame them for needing over a month to make it, and many weeks to refine it.

Here is where molds are made. In house, just across from the injection molding machines themselves.
Here is where molds are made. In house, just across from the injection molding machines themselves.

In fact, in the case of our chassis, the extrusion company had to design and build their own saw (below) just to cut our chassis to the right tolerance, because there weren’t any suitable off-the-shelf solutions. Now that’s dedication.

In all honestly, after having seen all of this, we’re rather embarrassed about all the pressure we put on our manufacturers to make these parts. Instead, we should have come here sooner and collaborated with them. We could have done it efficiently, rather than through brute force.

But hey, water under the Xihoumen bridge, right. Most of these tools and parts have been finished - and to an exceptionally high standard at that. So, with all of these done, we can focus on the few remaining challenges.

So, What's Next?

Mike has since returned to Canada because of personal commitments, but that’s to be expected after being abroad for half a year. Meanwhile, Matt and Sharon have taken the torch here in China, and are now overseeing manufacturing until every Tiko has shipped.

Aside from being the company’s CEO, Matt is the original inventor of Tiko and our lead engineer, so he will be here to:

A) Receive and test  (mostly liquefier) parts almost a week ahead of headquarters, and physically go to manufacturers to tie up any loose ends before mass production. Full testing will still happen at HQ, but having validation several days ahead of time will no doubt help us get back on track.

B) Oversee assembly and QC. Nobody knows Tiko better than Matt, so he will be at the assembly facility standing over shoulders and making sure every Tiko leaves the factory up to his standard.

Meanwhile, Sharon is our CFO, and boy has it been a challenging job. International banking can be tricky, and numerous parts have been delayed due to banking problems. Sending wires is tedious enough. Sending them to China is a pain in the you-know-what. However, now that she’s here, the accessibility to and communication with our suppliers has greatly improved, and we are now able to process these transactions in hours instead of days.

What's Happening Back at HQ?

Mike is now in Canada and overseeing operations at HQ. Much of his work still revolves around organizing the supply chain, however he’s also guiding the ongoing R&D work that we do day in and day out. And hey, sometimes we actually print some stuff too :)

(Unfortunately, not in PLA, though)

Aside from the sheer fun of it, we use running Tiko's to confirm tolerances, optimize/debug software and firmware, improve the slicing engines parameters, etc.

Ultimately, things are busy on both sides of the Pacific, and every new day we're that much closer to the big one!

What Does All of This Mean for Ship Dates?

Technically speaking, from the day we RTM the last liquefier-related component, it should take 40-60 days until we start shipping out Tiko’s. So we need to get moving quick, or we’ll run into Chinese New Year come mid-February. If you don’t already know, pretty much everything in China shuts down for the majority of February.

It’s hard to say for sure how quickly we can resolve the liquefier problem. It could be a week or a month, or more. We can’t predict the future on this one, however, with the way things have been going, we’re cautiously optimistic that we’ll be shipping before the Chinese New Year.

Some of you have asked us if we’re increasing our production rate to compensate for the delay, and the short answer is yes. We’ve been doing some pretty clever things to work around the liquefier. However, we’ll cover these in detail in the next update, because you’re going to want to see pictures of this stuff and we just don’t have them yet.

In the meantime, Matt and Sharon will be working closely with suppliers to move everything along as quickly as possible, while doing it at the quality level that you’ve come to expect of us.

Back to Work

That’s all for this update. Although the majority of Tiko’s components have been RTMed, there’s still plenty of work left to do on the liquefier, assembly process, and QC program – all necessary for these Tiko’s to end up in your homes. Sure, we don’t have a 100% locked in date for when they’ll ship, but we just want you to know that we’re here doing everything in our power, and we’re on top of our game.

That said, we used to throw designs and demands over the wall to our suppliers, but we’re a little wiser now. Likewise, we hope that you can join us (in spirit) on this side of the wall, and that we can move forward as one big team. The challenges are immense, but together, we can accomplish anything. We love you guys!

Yi qie shun li! (All the best!)

Team Tiko

P.S. We're...

Part of a poster we saw at a local restaurant - we have no idea what that last part means. Mike wants to tell us, but where’s the fun in that! :)
Part of a poster we saw at a local restaurant - we have no idea what that last part means. Mike wants to tell us, but where’s the fun in that! :)

P.P.S.  While in China, we’ve seen some pretty amazing things. Not tourist attractions, but the real China from the local perspective. Much of it doesn’t pertain to production, but it’s awesome in its own right. We think everyone should come see China/Asia at some point - it’s just so different here! If you like, we can do a post about it somewhere to give you a taste. What do you think?

JEL, Andrew Grant, and 350 more people like this update.

Comments

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    1. Missing avatar

      Adamo on

      Hi all,
      I made a pledge for a Tiko which was supposed to arrive in January 2016. It is now almost September (8 Months after estimated delivery time), and my Tiko has not come yet. Every update says that Tiko is improving here and there, which is something I think should have happened earlier, before January. I would like to know whether it is possible for me to get my money back, and cancel my order, which was made for Jan 2016.
      Thank You very much,
      - Adamo

    2. Rolts on

      @Untulis; comments being posted by the creator team were said not to be significant enough to warrant a full update. The TIKO team clearly didn't want to appear to ignore their backer base or drop into the dreaded radio silence, so they commented on what has been happening regarding components and testing and responded to backer queries in the comments section. A formal update is scheduled for this first week in February.
      @ Gregory Kornblum: if you are anxious about the pledge $,you can always go to the TIKO forum. Others are looking to buy pledges if you are looking to leave the project. I think you will be surprised at how quickly your pledge will be picked up by another.

    3. Gregory Kornblum on

      Isn't it time to just give up, and send back the little money that is still not spent?

    4. Untulis on

      I have to agree with Nico. I had not heard anything since their post on 12/7. I don't remember being told that communication was switched to the comments from the update letters that came in the past.

    5. Lincoln Thurber on

      Just a 'hello' to the Tiko team and the backers. I was drawn back here like many people it seems just to check up. Getting very exited.

    6. Felix G. on

      No sudden silence at all : last Tiko comment was posted just a few hours ago:
      https://www.kickstarter.com/profile/tiko3d/comments

    7. Nico Wiedemann on

      It's been quiet around here. Just give us a short update, even if it says nothing new, but the sudden silence reminds me of many Kickstarter experiences which started off quite well and then went through crowdfunding hell…

    8. fmotta on

      I look forward to see how ABS works...
      Lack of ABS killed the usefulness of 3 printers I own...

    9. fmotta on

      Sad, but true... production using a 3rd party is difficult when they are nearby. Doing so on the other side of the world adds geographic challenges (timezone and time to move things), adding language differences increases the difficulty.

      Hey! That looks like one of my designs (but it is not) http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:832634

    10. Rolts on

      @ Jonathon Miller; delay has many parents. Inadequate planning, language and cultural differences, and distance between the creators and the producers. To sheet home the blame for delay purely on origin would mean well know corporations such as Apple embark on hige financial and economic risk, using your logic. I think you have over simplified.

    11. Jonathan Miller on

      Unfortunately, I have yet to support a project who chose Chinese manufacturing that wasn't months and months, if not years late in delivery. I appreciate the updates. Here's to hoping some other countries can get competitive. I'd rather pay more for a well-produced on time product.

    12. RoyT on

      As has been stated before, frequent mini-updates from the creator are being posted in the main comments section.

    13. Missing avatar

      oliver ho on

      Any updates please?

    14. Blake on

      Looking forward to the January update!

    15. Missing avatar

      rob plester on

      Hi guys,
      Cheers for the detailed updates. I work in oil and gas maintenance so appreciate the front end efforts your putting in.
      Keep it up guys, can't wait for my Tiko!
      Cheers,
      Rob
      AUS

    16. Rolts on

      @ Jeff Gross: no new update, but quite a few comments posted by the creators in the comments section. A short cut to see these is to select the Tiko icon, on the pop-up that appears, select the icon again. This takes you to the Tiko profile page. Select comments and you are able to see all non update postings.

    17. Jeff Gross on

      Is there any update? I respectfully am disappointed in the lack of recent communication.

    18. Rolts on

      @ alejandro: for clarity, reposting
      @ alejandro: to keep up with all information from the creators,
      1. Click on the TIKO icon at the top of the page
      2. On the pop up summary, click on their icon again. This takes you to the creators' profile page.
      3. On the profile page, click on the comments link. This will show all comments posted outside of the official updates.

    19. Rolts on

      * apologies for fat finger typing, using phone.

    20. Rolts on

      @ alejandro: to keep up with all information from the creators,
      1. Click k on their icon at the top of the page
      2. On the pop up summary, click on their icon again. This takes you go the creators profile page.
      3. On the profile page, ick on the comments link. This will show all comments posted outside of the official updates.

    21. Rolts on

      @ alejandro: you're joking surely. There are regular monthly updates and the creators have been very active in the comments section. Have you followed the comments? There are regular posts from the Tiko team providing information and answering backers' questions. The information flow to supporters has been outstanding. If this does not satisfy you, then you are being totally unreasonable.

    22. Missing avatar

      alejandro pequeño boter on

      I think the delay is normal in a project like this, but the number of updates is ridiculous for a 3 million dollar project.
      More information please.
      Thanks

    23. Rolts on

      @ Ivan Vela Moreno; I'm just a backer, and have just repeated info from the creators' update and posts in the comments section.
      For more recent information, there are posts in the comment section from the TIKO team.

    24. Missing avatar

      Ivan Vela Moreno on

      @ Rolts: So, basically, from the last update you've been trying nozzle iterations with no luck?
      The new manufacturer looked promising.
      We'd love to have some news from you, as the last update arrived more than a month ago.
      Thanks!

    25. Rolts on

      @ Lee Graham: the nozzle has not been RTMed yet, so as we have a major component yet to be manufactured and 16 000 are required to be manufactured in titanium, it would be a miracle to have the printers ready to assemble by the CNY. So short answer, no the printer will not be ready for shipping before the Chinese New Year. Please read the first section of the update above.

    26. Lee Graham on

      Is everything on track for shipping before the Chinese New Year? It's right around the corner.

    27. Valentina Brauer on

      Hi! I push the shipping to February. I know that is a delay, but i need to know a estimate when i will receive the Tiko???

    28. Missing avatar

      Ivan Vela Moreno on

      The tiko forum is down. It says account suspended

    29. RoyT on

      I stand by my prediction. Happy to be wrong, but my gut is talking....or am I just hungry?

    30. Rolts on

      @ Roy T; check the main comments section, there have been a series of mini updates there regarding issues and resolutions.

    31. RoyT on

      Starting to look like April for delivery of first batch. Kind of odd that is when originally the last batch was to be delivered.

    32. Missing avatar

      James Lamb on

      What Edson said.
      I have a bunch of projects to prototype. Need to consider whether I go bureau or for an in-house system or hold tight for my Tiko...
      Something on my desk would certainly be quicker and more cost effective

    33. Missing avatar

      Edson Rojas on

      So any idea or rough estimate when the printer will start shipping? I support the project no matter what but I have some need of a 3D printer, would like to know if I should look for something else mean while. No rush, just want to get an idea. Thanks for all the great job guys, must be exciting to be part of such a venture!

    34. Robert Olson on

      Redesign the nozzle and print it !!
      Jet parts are being printed and used on jets. A nozzle is much simpler to design and print.

    35. Missing avatar

      Ovidius Naso on

      Perhaps it could be useful to have less prose but more hard facts.. still running a project, keeping some pm standards could be helpful. Pls keep in mind: it´s not about some 170 $ we´re talking about, it´s about 3 million already spent

    36. Missing avatar

      bram dijkema on

      please do give us a taste

    37. N on

      Its worth to wait if you give us update like this all the time!
      Merry Christmas!

    38. James Dickson on

      Great update guys, stick with it !

    39. Missing avatar

      Lewis on

      Great update!

      The communication from this team is top notch.

    40. Rolts on

      @ Evan Winegardner: PLA was always going to be supported, but it has been posted a number of times that ninjaflex will not work with this printer. Go to the TIKO forums for more information.

    41. Evan Winegardner on

      Hopefully tiko will be able to print PLA and ninjaflex, i was looking forward to possibly printing with with these materials. Take your time. Work out the kinks. and Merry Christmas.

    42. Lincoln Thurber on

      Its has been a long road, but all along the way you have been very upfront. You certainly took on a big challenge and went the extra mile to being you conception to reality. I look forward to other products you will go on to make.

    43. Rolts on

      @ Jordan Derby; from the last comment posted by the creators on the comments, not updates;
      "The other hot topic has been the quality of the prints. Sorry about those, there are two reasons why they came out so poorly.
      1)They warped. We're not able to print in PLA, so we have to use other materials that warp. While Tiko's print chamber does improve success rates (ie prints detaching from base), it doesn't completely eliminate warp, especially for large-cross-section parts. When parts do warp, the layers bunch up and start to look like, well, that.
      2) The slicer settings used are all out of whack, as we've been trying various ideas to get PLA working, some that have been a little... unorthodox. And they've had less than great effects on prints. Those settings won't be in the production printers."

    44. Jordan Derby on

      I noticed from the video the resolution of the print wasnt that great, is that what we are to expect from 1.0?

    45. Lothar on

      @TIKO,
      maybe you could make it a short-story. About some pages with pictures, as a pdf or even printed, sent with the printer?
      This is a very interesting story.

    46. Sarah T on

      I'd love to hear more about China and your time there! This update was so interesting! Thank for all the detail you included!

    47. Missing avatar

      Adam Jones on

      Thanks for the in depth update. The are always great. Love hearing about the Tiki manufacturing updates along with your travels. Creating something from scratch is never easy and you all are doing a GREAT job! Happy Holidays!!