We've had a very frustrating past month, dealing with both UL and our manufacturers / suppliers. The two major issues are UL needing to review our "as produced" design before stamping it, based on changes to the interlock design (prompted by our solenoids continually failing). In addition, our supply chain has effectively taken off for the holidays until January...which isn't helping things. These are both combining to affect the timeline somewhat seriously, particularly for the first run units, which we suspect is starting to get unacceptable from a customer stand point. Thankfully, it's not entirely bad news, but we did want to take the time to address concerns and be fully up front about where we stand. Below, some updates on the milestones we've hit, details on the timeline going ahead, and some discussion on our continual delays.
We have, finally, managed to complete our preliminary review with UL. This ended up taking much longer than we expected as the solenoid interlock solution could not pass muster. Endurance tests are required in case the grinder remains on, and as noted in our previous update, our solenoids were getting *way* too hot. Their job is to block the interlock release when engaged, so that the grinder can actually grind when you want it to - when they're not engaged, the interlock release disengages, and the grinder ceases to function. Based on our initial heat issues, we decided to lower the current through the solenoids to reduce the power consumption, and therefore the heat generated. Unfortunately, doing so meant that the solenoid return spring strength also had to be lowered, or the solenoid would not be able to overcome the spring strength and engage. A weaker spring, however, means that the solenoid is unable to fight the friction force of a currently engaged interlock, and that it would remain "engaged" even after power was removed under certain conditions. This, of course, did not pass UL either.
Similar to our original delay from the stepper / DC gear motor issue, we ended up switching the technology slightly to ensure the issue didn't even have to be addressed. The "new technology" is an electromagnet that directly latches onto an (extended) interlock release. When the magnet is powered, it hangs on to the interlock, keeping it engaged. When power is removed, the interlock is no longer held against the magnet, and releases. This switches the strength of the solenoid/magnet from determining the safety level (solenoid), to determining the maximum force permissible on the grinder(electromagnet). In addition, electromagnets are designed for continual duty operation, unlike solenoids, and so we have no overheating issues (see below). We have now tested and verified this design, and are of course using an electromagnet strong enough that the grinder remains engaged under normal operation. As a very minor added bonus, if you accidentally try and grind, say, solid metal, the interlock will simply disengage instead of breaking the grinder.
After 12 hours of steady state engagement, our electromagnet is resting at a cool, comfy 51 degrees! Much better :)
This design is now complete, has passed UL preliminary inspection, and has been sent off to our MFGs for review. However, "preliminary inspection" sadly no longer means "final inspection"...see below for more info on that.
In addition to making it through he first round of UL, we've sent off all of our final designs to our manufactures. They are "locked in" or "frozen" at this point, meaning neither us nor UL will be changing anything, so no major design changes such as switching a solenoid to an electromagnet, or a DC motor to a stepper, or anything else, will occur. At this point our MFGs will review the final changes for manufacturability, re quote based on the alterations, and then begin the pre-production. We cannot express how happy we are to finally, *finally* have sent everything off to the professionals!
Delays, New Timeline
However, we have two issues. The first and easily explained one is that we are now dangerously close to the holiday season, and when we sent off our finalized, UL "approved" designs at the start of the week, the universal response was "we'll get back to you in January", as everyone is on their 2 week vacation starting next week. While American thanksgiving delayed the UL process slightly, the Christmas holidays are effectively creating a multi week dead-zone. Note that some of the production, largely the in house things like machined extruder components, is not affected by this. However, it no longer matters that those are on schedule, as the rest of the production is now on hold until the start of January at the very least. And there may be minor back-and-forth with respect to the final design changes we've made. Between that and our fear of missing yet another prediction, we're going to assume production will begin at the end of January.
This leads us to the second issue, which is much more of a problem. Until this point, we'd designed everything so that UL needed only to test our implementation of pre-certified components. In other words, they would not need to test and certify our overheating control system, because we're using a UL certified snap disc for that temperature control. As the snap disc is already certified, they just have to ensure we've implemented it properly. This testing is far quicker and less rigorous, as the bulk of the concern - will the snap disc fail after 50,000 cycles, will it short if it overheats, etc - has all been pre-verified. We were hoping to accomplish something similar with the solenoid and interlock - if the solenoid was UL approved for endurance, cycles, etc, they would only need to demonstrate that the solenoid did in fact function in engaging / releasing the interlock as intended...and not exhaustively test the solenoid itself. The issue is that, by switching to an electromagnet, the system itself must now be tested. Even if the electromagnet is certified, there are concerns that over time the mechanical system now implemented will cease to function as intended. To make a long, painful story short, this requires testing a production unit for up to 6 weeks before we can get the "stamp of approval"...which means that production of the certified units may begin as late as the start of March... :'(
Phrased another way in reference to the timeline posted in our October 28th update, we are "back at square one" with UL, and have to reset the clock if you will. This is reflected below, with the new dates marked "round 2":
Oct 20 – Final Design complete - Round 2, December 15th - sent off, End of Jan, confirmed by MFGs
Oct 21 – MFG begins - Round 2, End of January
Nov 4 – Initial Test units ready for assembly & Nov 9 – Initial Units Complete (For UL + Testing) - Round 2, Start of February
Dec 7 – UL Testing Complete - Round 2, mid March
Dec 18 – 1st Run Units Complete + Shipping - Round 2, mid April
Jan 8 – Campaign units Complete + Shipping - Round 2, early May
There is of course the chance that we will not have to do any back and forth with our MFGs on the recent changes, and that UL testing will only take 3-4 weeks (6 was quoted as our max). This would push everything up a month, but we're playing the broken record game at this point with further delays and so are trying to quote the worst possible, instead of a more optimistic timeline.
There is also, horrifyingly, the chance that we will fail UL testing round 2. If this occurs, we will individually approach backers and ask if they would like a "less-certified" unit. Some clarification on what this would mean:
-All units will, and must be by law, certified for basic safety. This includes things like shock hazards, electromagnetic interference, etc. These tests (which are completed by UL) give us FCC and CE designations, which are again legally required to ship our units. These are not, and have not been for a while, a concern.
-We are hoping and have promised that all units will be additionally certified as "actually safe", meaning that we've gone above and beyond to ensure that you are receiving a unit your children, students, employees, or friends can use without harming themselves no matter what. These tests are also completed by UL, and result in UL/CSA style designations - not legally required, but invaluable for most given the piece of mind they offer. This is where the interlock design, etc come in, and this is the area that, if we fail a third time, will be up to the end user to decide if they would like to have or not.
UL is aware of our circumstances and we will be working with them throughout the process* to minimize any chance of this occurring, as we would feel absolutely awful having to make a decision between further delays and not shipping the product we promised. But, if this does occur, it will push us into the "year late" territory even for normal units, and at that point we feel we should let our customers make the decision themselves. Again, this is quite unlikely, but we'd rather disclose it now.
*Effectively, this means building standalone grinder and interlock systems exactly as they'd be manufactured, ourselves, at the start of January and beginning that testing early. While this is not enough for the "as manufactured" certification required, it will bring the peace of mind that the physically identical system does not have any issues...or if nothing else, allow us to find out that we would fail a month earlier. We would of course not normally have time to do this, but as the production process is now waiting pretty heavily on external work, we'll be able to accomplish this "pre testing" while we wait.
"First Run" units, Timing concerns / Continual delays
It's no secret that we are getting quite far behind our original estimates, and that the schedule seems destined to continual delays. While we are certainly working our absolute hardest to try and not slip any further, we're aware that this is no longer a minor inconvenience for many. We've received almost universally positive support and patience from everyone despite this, and we cannot thank you enough!!! However, as one of our mentors has said, you can only repackage bad news so many times before people's patience run out, and we believe firmly that the satisfaction of our backers and early customers - like the quality of our final product - is paramount.
The current and hopefully final timeline will see standard units arrive between 8 and 9 months late, but the "first run" units will arrive roughly a year late. More importantly, while we will still be shipping out first run units ASAP and ahead of the standard units, they will not arrive the planned 3 months before standard units. This means that we are effectively removing some of the extra value from the first run units that people paid extra for. We're therefore planning to offer full or partial refunds of the extra costs of a first run unit (not the entire cost, JUST the extra relative to standard units), as follows:
-If you would still like the other "extras" included, such as laser engraving, dev / hacker instructions in addition to standard instructions, extra pellets to start with, etc, we will offer a $50 refund. This leads to a total cost of $749, as opposed to the $799 paid.
-If you would not like any of the other extras, we will refund the full $100 and ship you a standard unit, with a final cost of $699 as opposed to the $799 paid.
Regardless of choice, those who ordered a first run unit will still have their units shipped out first, even if the $100 refund is selected. We believe this is only fair as they had an honest desire to receive their units ahead of everyone else and paid extra for it, and it will not have any negative effect on the shipment of the "standard" units, which will not see their "place in line" change. Note that, based on shipping lead times, this order is not guaranteed for arrival - i.e. a first order shipped to south america may well arrive after a standard unit delivered locally - but first run units will maintain their position as "first out the door".
For those curious or worried about us under funding ourselves to try and appease the gods of customer satisfaction, rest assured that we're partially doing this because it also reflects in our cost model as well. The extra $50 above the laser cutting, etc, had been factored into our budget from the start to "rush order" the first few units. As we're now unable to ship anything until UL certifies the production units, this is no longer something we'll be able to do, and so we're passing that cancelled extra cost back to our backers. Thought of another way, without issuing said refund, we'd actually be earning an extra $50 per first run unit...which doesn't seem fair at all.
We'll be reaching out individually to every First Run backer via E-mail over the next week or so to confirm this choice, and will not need a firm answer until production is locked down post UL approval.
For everyone else / regardless, all we can offer at this point is our honest take on where we are in the process, and a truly heartfelt "thank you!" for your continual understanding and patience. When we first prepared for the campaign, we spent months of time checking and double checking our manufacturing estimates with everyone we could. And, when you backed or pre-ordered, you likely did so with the hope that we wouldn't be too late in our delivery. We talked with other startups in the field, read through the many horror stories of timelines suffering multi year delays, etc, and did everything we could to account for and protect against all of the delays we could think of. Nevertheless, Murphy's law seems to have picked our campaign as a personal favorite, and you've endured setback after setback as we struggle to fix unforeseen motor and solenoid issues, grapple with the true weight of manufacturing a completely new product, and attempt to take on the daunting world of safety certification.
We are not through it all yet, but we are getting close - there is starting to be a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. And, as always, we're happy to discuss things with you in more detail via e-mail, though we do ask for some patience in our replies given 99% of our time is occupied with fulfillment. There will likely not be much to report in our January 1st update, but we'll continue to try and get an update out every 2 weeks to keep everyone up to date with where we stand. And we really cannot say "Thank You!" enough...your patience, understanding, and support as we complete this journey together has been phenomenal. So to play the broken record game one more time...Thank You!!!
-The ReDeTec team