Jan 20th, 2016 - Pop Sci, New Tools & Pre-Production Progress [ARCHIVE]

Hey Everyone! As expected we didn't have much to say at the start of the new year, so we decided to save some of the fun stuff and bundle it all with this update. In two sections:

- Despite our efforts to focus on production, we did have two opportunities to share the ReDeTec story we just couldn't turn down, via Autodesk and PopSci - more on that in a second.

- We've begun sample production for UL and have gotten some fun new tools to help us out. Yay! And, we're also still on track, with DFM review for the final version going well. More Yay!

Autodesk, Pop Sci

Depending on where you fall on the Maker / Designer / Consumer scale, you may have heard about us recently. In early December, Dennon went to give a talk at Autodesk University about how 3D printing, and sustainable design, can empower the next generation to innovate better than ever before. While Dave and Alex stayed home to get things lined up for production, it was an incredible experience as always. If you missed the talk or just want to be inspired, head over to the Autodesk University website - it's free to check out what some amazing companies are doing, watch the keynotes and talks, and even take classes!

In addition, some may remember that last year we won Autodesk's Product Design of the year award - based on that success, ReDeTec is actually up for Inventor of the year award. Check it out here and, if you can, give us a vote!

In addition to the Autodesk stuff, we've ended up with a bit of a "dream come true" moment. Back in October, we were approached by Popular Science to learn a little more about ReDeTec. We ended up flying down to NYC for a day to tell them our story and show off our Beta Prototype (the one you've all seen most recently) - and actually got selected to be featured in the current issue!!!

We're in the Jan / Feb issue of Pop Sci...awesome!!!

It's a real honour for us to be included in one of the most well known magazines on science and technology, and we couldn't have done it without all of your support in getting us to this point. A particularly strong thanks to Engineering Physics UBC, the MaRS Discovery District, Autodesk, and of course our Indiegogo Backers. You guys rock :)

New tools, Pre Production, DFM, etc

In keeping with our revised timeline (see our previous update) we've sent off the final design to our supply chain, have secured some more tools to begin production on the "slower" items like our auger, and have begun recieving final samples. We're still on track to get everything to UL by the start of February, and are hoping to hear back from our supply chain to confirm everything by the end of next week. We figured we'd explain a little bit more on this stage of the process, as it's still somewhat fascinating to us just how much work goes into finally producing something! For those who have asked to see the final version with a walk through, we're hoping to get that over next week - we aren't quite done assembling it yet but should have it ready to go by then, so we'll toss out a mini update mid/late next week that covers all of that as well.

First and foremost, our lathe! As you can tell, this is not a new machine - but it's been so well maintained that it performs just as well, especially for our tasks. ProtoCycler has a lot of turned pieces, like our custom auger and insert, and the lathe makes production of them much quicker and more effective than relying on just our 4 axis CNC.

Our new (old) lathe really helps with production 

As one example, the lathe helps us take down the raw metal bar stock we get (left in below photo), and turn it into "blanks" (middle in below photo), that our CNC then turns into the final auger (right in below photo)

Raw metal, auger blank, and finished auger.

Another big part of Design for Manufacturing or DFM is to finalize the specific components you'll use. For instance, specifying a 20x4 character LCD isn't enough - you need the specific part number, from the specific supplier, that meets specific specifications. We'd never been happy with our existing screen as it wasn't backlit, had a horrible viewing angle, and poor contrast - we'd originally sourced it because it was affordable and did the job, but had always wished we could get a better one. Thanks to the joys of the "parts sourcing" half of DFM, we've now found a suitable final product. It's got a gorgeous backlight that both matches our LEDs for the diameter sensors, and makes it much easier to read in the dark. In addition, it has a much better viewing angle and contrast than our previous LCD screen, which as you can see below almost disappeared when viewed from above!

Even with the old LCD at a more head-on angle, it's harder to read!

And when it gets darker...the back light really shines through.

Another big part of DFM is changing components slightly to lower costs and increase ease of manufacturing. For instance, ProtoCycler uses stepper motors in a number of areas. Originally, we'd suspected that tossing the associated drive circuitry onto our own circuit board would cut costs and assembly time - we could get one board from the supplier, instead of buying extras and assembling them. It turns out though, that using the RAMPS compatible Pololu drivers (we spec the DRV8825) is actually cheaper, faster, and - as an added user bonus - makes replacing or upgrading your drivers much easier! While these changes involve nothing but switching a single, functionally identical chip for another one, the changes they can have add up, so it's important to get everything right at this stage.

One area we've seen the most changes, albeit subtle ones, is in our sheet metal. "Replace your waterjet cut outs with standard punches" , "move all of the bends to one sheet to save costs", "switch this part to powder coated steel for strength", etc are all things we've been hearing lately. As a quick teaser to the next update on the final vs. original versions, here are just two of the sheet metal parts, and all the changes that DFM has brought:

First, our front panel. This panel holds all of the "post processing" stuff - the pulling wheels, fan, diameter measurement sensors, etc. Here's the old one - note the forward bends, larger hole cutouts on the left, and larger non standard hole sizes:


And here's the new version, with all standard hole sizes, all bends on the back, and a few new interesting features (the massive hole on the upper left, and the fact that one LED housing is removed - more on that in a second). The large hole top left is to allow access to our circuit - while this will void your safety certification for obvious reasons, it makes it much easier for you to replace those stepper drivers, reprogram the MCU with your own firmware, and a number of other things. And it actually makes assembly easier, as we can now do all of those things more easily ourselves!


As mentioned, one of the LED housings is removed, and sharp eyes will also notice a new thumb-wheel just above the fan. These changes are both part of making assembly easier while increasing the user experiance. The LED housings now snap on magnetically, which prevents us having to screw them in from underneath, while allowing you to take them off should you need easier access to the filament before it hits the pulling wheels. And, the nozzle sensor is now adjustable so that any variance in nozzle location (be it from replacement nozzles, or even different polymers drawing down at different lengths), can be adjusted for simply and easily. This is more easily shown below:

The older design - difficult to guide the filament through everything in case something goes wrong, and the sensor is difficult if not impossible to adjust accurately.

The new design - everything except the fan is removable, and the fan itself is lower, making it very easy to guide the filament through this section just in case. And, a large thumbwheel makes precision adjustment of the first sensor much easier!

Perhaps most importantly, the front panel is now a structural part of the chassis, instead of being braced by the top and bottom. This allowed us to save some serious manufacturing headaches by placing most of the bends on this panel, instead of spreading them over multiple panels. Below, a side view of the old and new front panels:

Old vs. New panels - note the increased bending, all on the same side, to increase strength.

While this may not seem like a big deal, it allowed us to greatly simplify our top panel - it no longer needs any reinforcement bends along the sides, reducing costs and time, as shown below. In addition, we've added a vent above the extruder for those extended, high temperature runs, and made a few very minor changes to the grinder lid cutout (which is now indexed for interlocking) and hole patterns (which have undergone further cost reduction techniques). And, last but not least, changing the bending assignments allowed us to completely remove the rear panel, by integrating it into the top and bottom panels.The old panel, on the left, had bends on all sides - the new one replaces part of the rear panel, has extruder venting to lower the internal temps (and UL's concerns), and has a few other cost saving measures. It also looks much, much nicer than the one we cobbled together!

All in all, we're pretty excited about how close we're getting, and we hope you are too! As we mentioned we should have a more detailed walk-through, likely with a demo video, of the final pre-production version sometime next week.  Until then and as always, feel free to reach out with any feedback, and we'll do our best to get back to you in a remotely timely fashion.

Thanks everyone!

-The ReDeTec team