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April 13th, 2015 - Shows, Automatic Extrusion, Surveys! [ARCHIVE]


Hey everyone,

Our first official update since we've started the blog...and it's a big one! Stay tuned as we've done quite a bit in the past few weeks, covering quite a few different areas. Without further ado...

Green Living Show, We are Wearables, and Future Appearances

We've had an amazing time over the past few weeks showing off ProtoCycler to some of the general public. Whether it be at the Green Living Show, We are Wearables Toronto - now the largest wearables conference in the world - or even having some guests drop by the office ... we love showing you what ProtoCycler can do!

The GLS and WWTO were both great opportunities to see how the more general public would react to ProtoCycler. While 3D printing is certainly becoming more popular every day, the majority of people still haven't ever used one, or even seen one in action. It's very important to us that even the average consumer - and not just the maker mindset - are able to understand the benefits ProtoCycler can provide, as we want plastic recycling to become accessible to as many people as possible! And we're happy to say the feedback we got at both events, particularly from the educational space, was phenomenal. It was so inspirational to see an audience ranging from 5 to 55 years old and beyond, all equally excited about what sustainable and affordable 3D printing could mean. So if you managed to make it out and see us at our booth...thank you for your support!

If you haven't managed to see ProtoCycler in action yet, there are a few more dates coming up we'll be trying to exhibit...not all are confirmed, but cross your fingers!

We'll also be doing a few more informal demo's locally (Greater Toronto Area), which we'll announce when they pop up.

We also want to quickly address some concerns that we're off trying to publicize or raise more sales, without having fulfilled our campaign units yet. Two important points to note are that these appearances were factored into our plan from the start, and are crucial to our long term success. So we are not ignoring or foregoing our fulfillment efforts in attending these shows - we know how important it is to get the units out in a timely and professional manner. But we really do want to be able to show people, first hand, what ProtoCycler can do, and raising awareness of our efforts helps everyone in the long run. We'll never sacrifice the way we run our business just to "show off"...but we do want to share everything we're up to with our supporters and community, and hope you like seeing our progress first hand as much as we like sharing it!

Glow In The Dark filament + "Intelligent Extrusion"

Speaking of progress... we've got some very, very exciting news on the plastics processing front of things. This may in fact be the most exciting news we've ever had...seriously. Bear with us on some back ground...

During the campaign, and even more so after, we've received a number of questions on if ProtoCycler can extrude all plastics, or just 3D printing plastics like ABS and PLA. We've struggled with how to answer this because ProtoCycler is perfectly capable of extruding any thermoplastic, at the same level of difficulty as our competitors, right now...but ABS and PLA are automated. We didn't want to mislead people and say any plastic was possible with the same ease and worry-free nature of PLA or ABS, but we didn't want to sell ourselves short and say only ABS and PLA were supported. Ultimately, if you asked that question, you either got a long winded explanation or a metaphorical comparison to a microwave - it can cook anything, but has a few presets like the "popcorn" button which makes things even easier, just like ProtoCycler can extrude everything but has a few presets like the "PLA" button, which makes things much easier!

Our plan had always been to add automatic profiles for the more common plastics - Nylon, PET, HDPE, PS, PP, etc - as soon as we could verify them. Our community could experiment in full manual mode to further add to the "verified settings", and over time ProtoCycler would be able to extrude nearly any plastic automatically. We were really excited for this, but as we moved further along in fulfillment, two problems came up. The first is that different grades of plastic - even within the same polymer type - extrude slightly differently. Sure, our automatic profile for MG94 ABS works great...but what if you had a different grade of ABS? Similarly, our 4043D PLA setting worked really well...but started to misbehave slightly if we put in a little too much masterbatch of certain colours. The second main issue is the reason we only have PLA and ABS automated right now....it takes a long time to learn the perfect settings, and there's only a few of us! With fulfillment being priority number 1, experimenting with new plastics didn't get much of our time or focus. Ultimately we found ourselves thinking that more and more settings were going to have to be programmed, which would take longer and longer, and be less and less reliable as various grades, colors, etc were taken into account... we thought there must be a better way.

Wouldn't it be great if ProtoCycler could just teach itself? If it could learn what plastic it was currently extruding, and adjust itself accordingly and on the fly to ensure it was always the most consistent, or the most efficient, or the quickest extrusion possible for that plastic? Without further ado, I present:

Fully Intelligent extrusion of Glow in the Dark PLA - click to view

We're *extremely* proud to say that, as of our first ever live demo this past Thursday at We Are Wearables Toronto, we've accomplished this. We didn't tell ProtoCycler *anything* -  not a pressure, not a speed, not even a starting temperature - and in the video above you can see it extruding some filament nearly perfectly. Of note - the filament we extruded over that evening is not at the same tolerance we normally hit - it's closer to +/- 0.075mm, still within industry standards but certainly at the lower end of things. We're very confident that by tweaking the learning algorithm, we can hit tolerances better than +/- 0.05mm with any plastic, but as a very first proof of concept we're extremely excited to get printable filament...completely automatically.

This means ProtoCycler will soon be able to extrude nearly ANY thermoplastic, completely automatically, without ever being "taught how to".

And while we're not quite hitting the tolerances we'd like, that didn't stop us from getting some amazing first prints!  As always, we've done a cute-octo, to compare to all of the other stuff we've done and to a print that most have likely run at one point or another. However, to push the "awesome" factor a little higher, we've also extruded a Celtic Skull - a much harder print to pull off, as we've learned. Both came out fantastically - the octo is flawless, and the skull has only a few issues mostly due to lack of support (note the eyes, and the top of the skull). Both were printed without supports or rafts, with 2 shells, entirely hollow, with the octo at .2mm, and the skull at .3mm. Both took less than 30 minutes to print. Here are some pics to show them off:

 

We've also got a picture of them side by side with some filament for a size comparison:

 

And, last but not least, the required "glowing in the dark" photo...

 

How cool is that?! Glow in the dark filament, entirely automatically, at a cost of ~$5 / Kg...we're very excited to say the least! We're still trying to decide on a great name as "IntelliStrude" doesn't have quite the same ring as "MixFlow" - any suggestions? - but the plan is to spend a little more time tweaking the "learning" parameters and then try as many different plastics as possible - all automatically, while we do other fulfillment work.

Speaking of fulfillment...We're still mostly on track, though UL is as always taking a little longer than we'd hoped. This is mostly due to us continually under-estimating the lengths people will go to to hurt themselves...it's truly shocking to hear some of the doomsday scenario's they come up with. We're hoping our latest revision of the grinder controls - which now mean the wheels can't turn forward unless both the drawer and lid are inserted, AND a button is held down to ensure the user actively intends to grind - will be the last.

The only other major delay we foresee is in shipping logistics, and that's where we need your help! Only about 40% of our backers have filled out their surveys so far, and we can't move forward with our logistics planning until we know all of this info. PLEASE answer your backer survey, or contact us separately, as soon as possible! We need this info to move forward with our manufacturing as things like color choices, electrical compatibility, etc all depend on the responses. This is already starting to affect the first run units as we simply can't order enclosures, etc until we know what you guys want! So please, please please please, PLEASE fill out your surveys :)

That's it for now. We'll be back with another update in the next few weeks...until then thank you again all for your support, and keep spreading the word!
-The ReDeTec team