The past few months have been a whirlwind of activity for us on both the production and product development fronts. We've made some incredible progress on our backlog despite continued supplier delays, and are on track to have all of our existing orders delivered by early-mid fall. While the production team has been flying along to build sub assemblies and units, our development team has been busy incorporating user feedback with in house R&D to make some major improvements to ProtoCycler across every level - from the extruder, to the grinder and control systems, all the way to the software.
In our spring update, we mentioned that we'd had updates with our pressure sensor, and had also experienced recurring delays with our grinder wheels. Unfortunately, the delays didn't stop there - we had two shipments show up with the correct wheels, but damaged from shipping, which set back our grinder production another month. Thankfully the production team was able to nearly eliminate this delay by working ahead on all of our other sub assemblies, like UI panels, spreaders, chassis, and extruders. We have had to temporarily dedicate our boardroom to mid-level storage, as we have literally hundreds of sub assemblies built up, but the end result is that the nearly 4 month delay in getting grinder wheels from our supplier only ended up as a 2 month delay in terms of shipment dates.
In the meantime, we've been continuing to refine our assembly and QC process, and have dropped nearly 40% of our assembly time since we first started this run of units. We've also put a number of checks in place to ensure that every grinder wheel shows up correctly and un-damaged, and have a new system in place to mitigate any future supplier issues as quickly as possible.
All of this means that we're back in full swing as far as production is concerned, and are scheduled to ship over one hundred units a month until our backlog is fully cleared. It's taken far too long to get production fully ramped up - we started shipping this run in November! - but we're glad to finally have resolved all of our issues, and be back at full capacity.
The biggest news in this update by far is the announcement of ProtoCycler+, and we're extremely excited to share this with everyone!
As some ProtoCyclers have been producing filament for over a year now, we've learned quite a bit in terms of what could be improved with the original design, and how to ensure the user experience is as good as possible. This has led us to improve a number of aspects of ProtoCycler, all detailed below.
The best news is that, if your unit hasn't shipped yet, it will be upgraded to the new specs for free! This is our way of saying "thank you!" for what we know has been a long wait. Without further ado, here's everything that's been upgraded on ProtoCycler+:
All new ceramic insulator
This is the first big change. ProtoCycler thermally insulates the drive section from the melt section, as this significantly improves melt consistency, throughput, and ease of use. The insulator tasked with doing this has a tough job - it has to withstand the high temperatures of the all metal hot end, without letting any heat conduct back to the drive section. It also has to do all of this while being constantly abraded by pellets, ground plastic, and additives - so it's under significant mechanical stress as well as thermal.
The original ProtoCycler uses a gasket and stainless "insulator stack", which works great in most applications. However, we've gotten increasing requests from people to experiment with different feedstock, and were worried about the exposed gasket surface. The new insulator is therefore a precision machined ceramic block, with a stainless steel liner. Between the two, we've both lowered the thermal conductivity slightly over the original design, as well as drastically increasing the abrasion resistance - the feedstock only ever sees a metal extruder barrel now.
New Torque Sensor
Those who have been following for a while already know about this, but we've changed the torque sensor to use a custom bearing with a smaller outer race. This improves consistency and reliability across the entire operating range of the extruder.
New, Optional Nitride Hardened Grinder Wheels and Clearing Inserts.
This is the second big one. Also covered in the last update, our grinder wheels are now nitride hardened after production. Similar the the above change with the torque sensor, this ensures that the teeth will remain sharp over time, and that the grinder will handle waste plastic with more abrasive additives without fail. These are combined with a new clearing insert design, that has been proven to last much longer in our long term tests.
In addition to these grinder improvements, the grinder is now optional. While recycling is near and dear to our hearts, we've had a *ton* of requests for a system without a grinder, at a lower price point. For those that have been waiting, consider your wish granted - we now offer a grinderless ProtoCycler+ for under $1000!
New Diameter Feedback Sensors with Adjustable Guides
A new sensor algorithm works in conjunction with tuneable light guides to optimize the diameter sensors for maximum performance. Variances in manufacturing and LED output are fully compensated for, making it easier to calibrate the system if required, and more resistance to variances in lighting, filament type, and other factors.
New Software with Automatic Profiles and Firmware Updates
Last but not least, our entire firmware and software stack has been upgraded. While it might not look very different, keen users will notice a few major improvements with the device itself in terms of navigation (button responsiveness, menu layout), and ProtoCycler Command Center has been significantly upgraded with two major features. The first is the ability to view and modify the settings for the various automatic profiles, as well as create new profiles quickly and easily. The second is that the software, firmware, and profiles are now all fully self updating, meaning you'll always have the latest and greatest. These software changes are available for all existing ProtoCyclers as well, and will be featured more thoroughly next week as we update our instructional content.
To reflect all of these changes, we've also changed our website slightly to make it easier to navigate. ProtoCycler+ now has a dedicated page to learn about what it can do, as well as purchase a unit. We also have a second page dedicated to our pellets - still the lowest price in the industry, with the best packaging, despite new tarrifs - as well as an expanded range of colours and supply packs available. The "learn" section and "software" section are temporarily hidden as we add more educational content to both - but they should be back up within a week (and we'll post a mini follow up when they are).
It's been a long few months for us as we worked through our supplier delays to get back on track, and improved ProtoCycler across so many levels. We're very excited to be shipping out ProtoCycler+ to all of our existing and new customers, and can't wait to see how you find the new improvements!
- The ReDeTec team