Hi everyone, and welcome to 2017! It's already shaping up to be a big year for us at ReDeTec - we're about to start shipping out units, we've got two new awesome pieces of news to share, and things are generally looking pretty good for the next few months!
First though, some news on shipping - we were supposed to have shipped out our First Run units by now and be well on our way to Indiegogo...but that hasn't happened yet due to 2 QC tests that are/were failing far too often :(
Both of these tests are performed based on initial user feedback to ensure each ProtoCycler performs to the same level. While almost everything is self calibrated and taken care of in software, there are a few areas that are causing too much variance for our liking and can't just be changed in code - the spooler clutch, and the grinder interlock. Both of these perform a very similar purpose, engaging when they need to and disengaging or slipping when they shouldn't. For the spooler, this ensures you can spool your filament tightly without affecting the diameter feedback control, and for the grinder it ensures that you don't overload your grinder and break something...but that you otherwise have as much torque as possible available to crush some plastic!
We've gotten down to the root cause of each issue and once we modify all of the first run units to spec, will be able to ship them out - we should be able to request the changes direct from our suppliers from all the other units going forward, though our Indiegogo units might also come with a tell tale sign that they were ordered early (more on that in a second - see the section on spoolers). Here's what was going wrong with each, and how we fixed it:
In addition to disabling the grinder whenever the lid or drawer aren't closed, the interlock pulls double duty as a torque limiter...and that's where the problem comes in. We initially designed and tested the grinder to be used with a "perfectly" flat mating surface between the electromagnet and interlock plate, and spec'd everything accordingly in all of the important dimensions, i.e. interlock plate and mounting holes. The electromagnets vary considerably in strength, but we'd already accounted for that with an adjustable lever length (longer lever = more torque).
Sadly, two issues arose that mean all of our previous efforts to negate variation didn't quite cut it - largely due to the height of the electromagnet and the resulting angle it would contact the interlock at. The first issue is that between the variation in electromagnet height and in sheet metal bends, our electromagnet to interlock distance could vary considerably from unit to unit. And, it turns out that the angle the electromagnet contacts the plate at actually has a *massive* effect on it's strength...far more than we could adjust for.
In our first 20 samples, largely due to variances in eletro-magnet height and sheet metal bending (which have traditionally much worse tolerances than machined parts), the spread of height offsets was significant - see above pictures. So, to fix things, we've designed and are machining a built in plate mount that directly links the electromagnet to the interlock plate, so that we can exactly tune things for a flat mating surface. This should fix the problem and we'll be able to confirm it's function in a day or two, and resume production and assembly by the end of the week at latest.
Our solution - a precision machined component to mount the electromagnet at exactly the right height for each grinder, instead of relying on the sheet metal chassis. We can machine each one to exactly the right height for each magnet, it only takes a few minutes to make, and it's all in house so there's no supplier delays! Yay!
The spooler also has an important job - it has to pull the filament tightly, but not pull so firmly that it over-pulls the filament relative to the diameter control wheels. So the clutch has to be able to provide reliable and consistent torque to the spool. The issue we were seeing is that our spoolers would have wildly inconsistent "max torques", and perhaps more importantly, it would get better or worse simply by trying to examine the problem. After a few days of focused problem solving, we finally found the issue. Because the spooler can be taken apart for transport and put back together again, the timing belt has to come on and off. A long story about tolerances and specific applications made short: Despite spec'ing our timing belt exactly, that ended up being a tiny bit too tight for our specific application, and the repeated "put on / take off" would slightly bend the motor shaft. Taking it back off to inspect a unit would either re straighten the motor shaft, or make it even worse, depending on the angle of the motor at the time! And of course, a bent motor shaft would mean inconsistent torques across the angle of spool.
The simple solution, of course, is to give the timing belt slightly more play so that it doesn't risk damaging the motor. We're endurance testing the solution right now to ensure this looser fit won't start slipping over time, but so far everything seems promising.
The "new" spooler on the left. It's identical in almost every way, but we've laser cut some new uprights with slightly more wiggle room for the belt (hard to see, but the timing belt on the right is taught, not so on the left). To avoid further delay, we'll be shipping out first run and (potentially) Indiegogo units with these new, black laser cut uprights - a subtle reminder that you got the very first ones, and the quickest way we can fix the issue without compromising on quality.
Similar to the previous delays, this affects first run and Indiegogo units the most - the later you ordered, the less affected you'll be, as we're able to keep moving forward in a lot of areas and avoid these issues with any later units. So, we should have the first run units out within 5-10 days depending on how testing goes with these issues, with all of the other dates getting pushed back less and less based on the original date.
We definitely understand this is a little frustrating, especially after getting so close right before the new year. However, we'd much rather send a top quality product that will live up to your expectations, than rush it out the door in these last critical stage of quality control - it just wouldn't be worth getting it a few weeks earlier if it didn't last or perform the way it should, especially after waiting so long to get it!
Now onto some fun news concerning the overall business here at ReDeTec - we've had the incredible fortune of getting not one, but two amazing opportunities going forward! The first is winning top 3 at the Extreme Tech Challange, and the second is receiving a government grant to scale up our recycling technology for high volume use across all types of plastic. Some details on both:
XTC Top 3
This is still a bit surreal, but we've been selected as one of the top 3 tech startups in the world by the Extreme Tech Challange (XTC). Over 1000 companies entered, an external selection process managed to place us in the top ten - and then we had to pitch live at CES in Las Vegas to a panel of industry experts and VCs. And, despite putting in almost no time to prep (we're far too busy with production for that)...we won a spot in the top 3! This is a huge opportunity for us to grow our reach, increase our knowledge and talent, and hopefully start building relationships to really expand our technology. We've always wanted to encourage as much sustainable creation as possible, and the more muscle we have behind that belief, the better - so thank you XTC for believing in what we do!!!
IRAP Grant for "Big Cycler"
Since we first came out with ProtoCycler, we've had more and more requests for units that could handle production level demands, and recycle a lot of waste. Similarly, a lot of people want to recycle many different types of plastic beyond the standard 3D printing types that ProtoCycler currently supports. So we're extremely excited to announce that we've just secured some funding from the government of Canada to scale up our technology both in scope and scale! This will allow us to expand our resources so that we're able to start these projects now, instead of down the road when our lead time and business have both settled into a more regular rhythm - which is very awesome news. Specifically, we're going to be researching exactly how well ProtoCycler's technology can scale up, and creating far more complex algorithms to automatically detect and recycle as many types of plastic as possible - all with minimum human intervention. This will ultimately allow a whole new range of users to recycle whatever they want, at a scale that's much more suited to their demands where ProtoCycler just isn't big enough. And, with any luck, we'll be able to take some if not all of those advancements and bring them back down to ProtoCycler scale so that everyone can benefit! We are of course exclusively focused on production and fulfillment of ProtoCycler right now, but once that's under way and we're shipping out orders regularly without trouble, we'll start sharing this story as well - it's a key piece of where we want ReDeTec to end up.
That's it for now - another update later in the week to confirm QC issues have been solved, then on to shipping!
Here's to a great 2017 - The ReDeTec team