Last month we reported that we were tackling the jamming problem. A lot has happened since then, and we’d like to bring you up to speed. :)
Throughout September we concentrated on the ceramic heater – the heart of Tiko’s liquefier. Our tests indicated that the temperature variations between Tikos were the underlying cause of jamming.
Upon further examination, we discovered over a dozen non-negligible sources of error in our calibration process and control system. Basically, we royally screwed up our original calibrations, and didn’t realize it at the time. Knowing this, we decided to re-do all heater-related calibration/control work from scratch. We called this Operation: Heatwave.
We dived all the way in, this time armed with laboratory-grade equipment, advice from industry experts, and the use of professional calibration services.
Along the way we discovered that accurately measuring elevated temperatures is hard as hell and we’re not the first to struggle with it. There’s an entire field devoted to precision measurement/calibration techniques, and it’s called Metrology. Check it out; it’s a fascinating, rich, and humbling topic. It sure made us feel small.
So. Much. Data.
Over the course of the month, we collected a great deal of data. We studied every possible aspect of the heaters and the temperature measurement/control system. We looked for any information that could help improve our calibrations and take Tiko to a new level of accuracy. Here’s some of the data we gathered:
Each of these graphs represents a test we ran since the last update. The numbers have been obscured, but make no mistake, these are actual tests we ran and visualizations we used to make sense of them. Each of these helped improve our hardware, firmware, and assembly/QC processes.
In the end, we brought temperature control to within a ±1.2% system tolerance, easily rivaling off-the-shelf 3D printer thermistors. We did all this while keeping the benefits of a self-measuring heater.
Since then we've been running print tests. Lot’s and lots of print tests. We routinely discard them (they take up a LOT of space) but here are a few we’ve held on to:
It’s a painstaking process. Prints can take several hours. Factor in the time for analysis, adjustment, re-printing, etc and even a straightforward test can take days. Many prints failed along the way, and many lessons were learned. As the weeks rolled on, we kept improving and refining, and now we’re here.
We can now consistently print the standardized test prints, and we’re now moving onto complex tests (overhangs, retraction, etc.). It’s a strange combination of excitement and tediousness. Now we press forth!. :)
Hardware has seen its fair share of improvement, too...
You may recall that we have an entire team in China. Well, despite pausing production, they’ve been busier than ever. While Team Canada worked on heaters, Team China tested Tiko’s hardware to identify areas of improvement. In the end, we implemented a few upgrades:
- Upgraded 2x3mm Bowden tube to 2x3.5mm. This improves long-term ruggedness.
- Redeveloped extruder filament channel. Filament loading is now effortless.
- Redesigned filament drive gear. Permits increased extrusion force without filament grinding.
- Improved base rigidity/consistency. Helps with auto-leveling.
Team China has also developed a number of innovative QC and management processes that improve quality, streamline operations, and reduce waste.
Beneath the Surface
It has certainly been a productive month, but it’s hard to capture the sheer scale of development that goes into Tiko. There’s so much more that happens behind the scenes.
We know that many of you are chomping at the bit for up-to-the-minute details. We know exactly how you feel. But the truth is, not every aspect of R&D is exciting. Sometimes it’s a grind. It can feel slow. This month was like that. But this kind of steady persistence is what it takes to reach greatness. Rome wasn't built in a day.
We started our campaign by biting off more than we could chew. We didn’t have to reinvent the wheel, but we did. Perhaps it was ambitious, perhaps it was foolish, but what matters is that we finish what we started.
Realizing this project has taken countless late nights. Missed weekends. Hundreds of prints. Thousands of man-hours. Hundreds of thousands of lines of code. Millions of data points. It’s been a monumental effort, and we’re happy to say… it’s finally coming together.
Given the positive test results, we are now green-lighting production of the upgraded components. That means we’re just a few weeks away from shipping. The reasons for this are threefold.
1) It will take some 2-3 weeks to build up component inventory and assemble the first batch.
2) It’s been a while since we made any improvements to our slicer. We’d like to put the final touches on it before we ship, making for a great out-of-box experience.
3) We substantially modified Tiko’s firmware to streamline heater testing. We now have to merge all of these features back into the production code and test for stability/consistency.
With the parts arrived and software cleaned up, it’s simply a matter of boxing up the printers and shipping them out. So, let’s talk shipping...
The first point above is the most important, because it is the only one outside of our control. We know all about surprises leading up to mass-manufacturing, and thus we are not comfortable announcing an exact ship date. We are, however, aiming for the first week of November.
A lot has happened over the past 6 months. No doubt, many of you have moved since then (congrats!). If that includes you, then we kindly ask that you send us a Private Message through Kickstarter. We’d like to ensure your shipping information is up to date before we start the next shipment.
At this time, we’d also like to remind everyone that due to the nature of hub-and-spoke shipping, units will not be sent by batch/backer number as originally expected, but by geographic region. Due to streamlined import regulations, we will begin with North America. Additional regions will ship shortly thereafter.
Once shipping commences, we will post another update with some cool things we’ve built for you, including a streamlined order tracking system.
It’s been a long month, but the progress we’ve made is real and measurable. We’re excited to jump back into production, and we have many more exciting things to tell you about… but for now, let’s take this one step at a time. :)