This week's update has a few things of note, so we've grouped them into a few different buckets. In no particular order, we'll be reviewing: 1) New office space 2) Production update / scheduling 3) New communication system / support videos 4) New software features (this one is pretty big!)
No, we're not talking about red swingline staplers - we've found a new office! It's a little bit smaller than our current space, and a little more affordable, but given we're outsourcing our CNC work to Multiplex going forward we no longer need our machines and therefore can free up some space.
We just dropped off the deposit today and should start moving at the start of next week. The space is currently being used as the building's storage room, so we're just waiting for them to clear out all of the construction supplies they have stored, and paint the floors / clean it up a bit. That being said, we've been promised it will be ready for us at the start of next week! We're hoping moving won't take too long, and we'll be splitting into three teams during the move to keep everything - no pun intended - moving along smoothly. Team 1 will handle production and shipments to get the last few units out the door in this space, team 2 will move us into the new office and get it fully ready for part to arrive and keep production moving, and team 3 will continue handling customer service and support in our never ending attempt to be somewhat responsive to everyone. There will be about 3 weeks of overlap where we have both spaces, and with any luck we should be able to coordinate everything so that production and shipments continue relatively seamlessly through the move - FedEx will just start picking up shipments from a different address in about a month.
Here's what the space looks like - keep in mind that all the stuff in it should be fully moved out before we start moving all of our stuff in, and we'll post some pictures as everything happens.
Mike and Dave looking around to plan out the production line
A view from the windows showing the whole space - there's a bit of work to do before it's ready for us and ready for production, but we've still got 3 weeks to prep everything!
Everything is pretty much on schedule. We've got the end of this batch on track to get shipped from our current office before we move, and have built up stock for as many sub assemblies as possible for the next batch - otherwise we're just waiting for our sheet metal and CNC components to start arriving to the new office, at which point we'll start shipping more units out.
We also decided to change how we ship units, to avoid the long gaps between bulk shipments. Instead of doing batches of 100 that are shipped every ~6 weeks, we'll be shifting to trying to do 20 units per week. This would have been very hard to do with our current space, especially when we're CNCing our own parts, but with the opportunity to improve our assembly process in our new office and offload the CNC work to Multiplex, we're able to significantly reduce our batch size without increasing our cost. In theory, this all means that units will start to flow out the door in a more continuous fashion - but as with everything, there will be a bit of a transition curve as we shift from one methodology to the other, and work to improve our process as much as possible.
In terms of the schedule itself, there will unfortunately be a bit of a slowdown over the next few weeks as we move. We're doing everything we can to keep production running smoothly throughout this time, but we have to reduce throughput or we wouldn't have any staff available to actually move us into the new space and ensure it's properly set up - which is of course quite important!
It's taken a little longer than we'd hoped, but we finally have a proper customer service system in place, which means that e-mails, Facebook inquiries and messages, and phone calls are all starting to get answered more frequently and quickly. We've already started on most of these and will be working hard to improve on this front more and more as we go forward - we're keenly aware that we haven't been doing a very good job on this despite our best efforts, and that bringing on new team members to help us out has taken longer than hoped to start having a real affect. As always, please be patient as we work through our backlog, but do hold our feet to the fire until we've made a measurable difference - after all, the whole point of improving our communication is to make it much easier for you all to contact us! In the meantime, if you're having trouble reaching us through e-mail, please use our new customer service e-mail - firstname.lastname@example.org - as it's now our main point of contact, and other inboxes have suffered a bit in the attention they get because of it. Dedicated support e-mails should still go to email@example.com but all other inquiries should head to the new e-mail for the quickest response times.
Last but not least, as you've probably already seen, our support / how-to videos are up! They are not going to win any Oscars - but they should help you understand exactly how to set up your ProtoCycler, and ensure it's performing at its best. We've also gotten some good feedback on our other documentation and will continue to update / refine it as we go along. If you've got any feedback on any of the support documentation, just e-mail the support team (link above) an we'll be sure to take it into account.
New Software Features
Ok, this one is a bit of a teaser - it's not fully released yet as we're still polishing the UI, and getting feedback from our beta testers. We still need to: add input verification to ensure you don't enter invalid parameters; improve the look and feel for clarity; expand the potential of the new system to cover more profiles, and add new profiles; and be able to modify more parameters within each profile. But we're very very close to releasing the first major software update since we launched - profile creation and editing for automatic mode!
This will allow you to fully view, modify, and create new automatic profiles - so you can expand the number of plastics your ProtoCycler can do automatically. It's also the first step in letting us send out new automatic profile updates that we've verified ourselves, which is the ultimate goal. But for now, you'll be able to tweak the included profiles to improve performance, modify them to handle different grades, or create brand new ones for totally new types of plastic. Best of all, you'll be able to save them and share them with other users - so that new plastics can be automated by everyone in the community.
This will require downloading the latest software when it's released, which will then automatically upgrade the firmware on your unit the next time it's plugged in. Given the scope of the change, we are of course testing this "in the field" before it gets fully released - and that's what's happening right now. We've tested the limited intial build ourselves and everything works (taking into account the limitations listed above, at least) - and we're now releasing it to a few people to beta test it for us. Once we've gotten all of their feedback and added in the rest of the tweaks we need, we'll release it to everyone to start using - hopefully within a month.
The actual installation process will be completely painless, and nothing that's already part of the software will change - we'll just be adding in new functionality. In other words, you won't have to re-learn anything...and if you don't ever want to change the automatic profiles, you won't even notice that anything's changed (and, of course, you don't even have to download the new software if you don't want). But, for those that have been trying to extrude 3D850, tweak their fan / temp settings for their environment, or are tired of constantly entering the same settings through manual mode...this will make your lives *way* easier!
Here's a little sneak peak of what the beta version looks like:
On the bottom left, there's a new "status" indicator, and just below that is the button to modify automatic settings, or switch to manual control (the sliders). When you select "modify automatic settings", the settings window replaces the sliders on the right. There you can select any of the saved profiles (or add a new one) using the drop down menu, and then view all of the different parameters for that profile. Any time you change a setting, you can do a "live test" of that change if you're extruding, or save the change to ProtoCycler's memory permanently...or at least until you want to modify it again. As mentioned, there's still quite a bit of "behind the scenes" work to do - nothing would stop you from entering 1000 degrees for melt temperature right now, or "flowers" for your Auger PID - and we're going to stress test the entire system before it's finalized. So there might be some significant changes between what you see now, and what you see when it's released. But we were so excited to get this update into beta that we couldn't wait to share the news any longer!
That's it for now - we'll continue to update on our move, the new software, and our production progress over the next few weeks. Otherwise, keep an eye out for some other exciting updates in the near future, as well as some much improved communication on our part!
-The ReDeTec team