Hack Chat Transcript, Part 1

A event log for On-Demand Manufacturing Hack Chat

Here a factory, there a factory

dan-maloneyDan Maloney 03/05/2020 at 00:470 Comments

OK, everyone, let's kick it off. I think I saw our guest Dan Emery log in. He joins us today from Ponoko to talk about on-demand manufacturing.

Welcome, Dan! Can you tell us a little about your background and Ponoko?

Dan Emery12:01 PM
Hi there! Excited to chat with you all about digital manufacturing!

Dan Emery12:01 PM
I have an industrial design background and have been leading the Ponoko fabrication facilities for over 10 years.

Dan Emery12:03 PM
I'm originally from New Zealand but moved to the bay area in 2010 to set up the Ponoko laser cutting shop.

So, a nuts and bolts question to start off - does Ponoko have a "laser farm" similar to the 3D printing companies with their printer farms?
lspencergottlieb joined the room.12:04 PM

Dan Emery12:05 PM
Yes! We have 4 industrial lasers in our Oakland warehouse that run 8-12 hours a day, 7 days a week.

alvern12:06 PM
Dan, does Ponoko cater to mainly makers and hobbyist customers? Is there a significant amount of interest from industrial customers?

morgan12:06 PM
Huh, didn't realize Ponoko was here in Oakland

My guess would be that you grew into those lasers, so you probably started with lower-end cutters? Maybe something better than a 40-w import laser?

Dan Emery12:07 PM
@alvern A lot of makers and hobbyists use our services. We see a lot of growth from businesses too.

Dan Emery12:08 PM
@Dan Maloney We started with a 60 watt Universal laser. It has proven to be a real workhorse. Our newest laser is 120 watt

Dan Emery12:09 PM
@morgan Yes, been in Oakland since 2010

morgan12:09 PM
cool, i'm also in Oakland

re: businesses using Ponoko, is it for one-off and prototype stuff, or do you see businesses integrating your services into their manufacturing processes?

Dan Emery12:12 PM
@Dan Maloney we see the full range. Businesses take advantage of our speed for prototyping, and then once they're further along in the development process we'll see orders of 1000's units.

alvern12:12 PM
@Dan Emery what is the fastest you have ever made an order

Prof. Fartsparkle12:12 PM
how do you scale? Do you just buy more machines or switch to a different process/machine?

Dan Emery12:13 PM
@alvern yesterday we made and delivered a part to SF in 2-3 hours

Impressive if that includes drive time

alvern12:14 PM
@Dan Emery that's a quick turn around, what's the average turn time for an order? 1-3 days?

Paul Stoffregen12:14 PM
what sort of materials are possible in the short time frame?  Anything stronger than plastic like acrylic?

Dan Emery12:15 PM
@Prof. Fartsparkle great question. More machines does allow us to produce more parts. Switching to a different process really depends on the part. Lasers are great at cutting stuff from flat sheet material. If that fits the part then stick with laser makes sense.

Dan Emery12:15 PM
@Dan Maloney that included drive time :)

Dan Emery12:17 PM
@Paul Stoffregen We have over 200 materials in our catalog. The non-metals are available with same-day turnaround right now. We're hoping to add same-day turnaround for the metal parts soon too.
marek joined the room.12:17 PM

Dan Emery12:18 PM
@Paul Stoffregen if you want a plastic that is stronger than acrylic, we offer delrin which is probably the best option at this point

itproducties.nl12:18 PM
is there anyway ro use glass as a material?

Kevin12:19 PM
That may explain why I have been seeing Delrin being used for picks for musical instruments.

Dan Emery12:20 PM you can laser etch glass but I dont think it can be laser cut. You can cut glass using a waterjet I believe

Dan Emery12:21 PM
@Kevin we've see folks laser cut custom guitar picks. I'm always inspired to see what folks will make

Kevin12:21 PM
Are you considering adding a waterjet cutter to complement the laser cutters for materials difficult to cut by laser?

Prof. Fartsparkle12:22 PM
yea waterjets are great for stone and glass

Dan Emery12:23 PM
@Kevin if there was enough demand we'd look into it. Right now we see demand for metal so our focus is to expand the options available there

Kevin12:24 PM
ok. I have seen companies using waterjet cutters when working with metal.

Kevin12:26 PM
Do you use off the shelf software to control the lasers or have you needed to roll your own programs to handle the workflow and keep the cutters busy?

Dan Emery12:27 PM
@Kevin yes, metal can be cut with waterjet. We use a fiber laser for our metal cutting right now.

Dan Emery12:28 PM
We've built software to manage orders and get production files ready for the lasers. The laser control software is supplied by the laser manufacturer

So your strategy is to focus on laser cutting, or at least it has been so far. Other on-demand manufacturers concentrate on 3D-printing, etc. Do you think specializing in technologies like that is the way it'll go in the future, or will on-demand companies diversify and offer multiple modalities?

marek12:32 PM
Have you ever considered custom laser-cut gasket materials?

Dan Emery12:36 PM
For now we're focusing on laser because we're the experts at it. If it makes sense to diversify in the future we will. We've looked at combining digital printing & laser so we can make full-color parts. There's a lot of potential there. Another area wer'e exploring is partnerships with PCB makers to make it super easy to make custom IoT products. One example is a partnership with Royal Circuits that's running through March -

Hey cool - Royal is here next week to talk about PCB finishes.

Dan Emery12:37 PM
@marek that's come up before. What material are gaskets made from?

Kevin12:38 PM
Ooh... laser cut project cases. Very nice idea.

marek12:38 PM
buna, teflon, epdm, nitrile... lots of different materials depending on the application.

FWIW, I think that's the "right" answer - on-demand manufacturers are probably better off specializing in one or two modalities instead of trying to be a general-purpose job shop. Just curious where you see the industry heading.

Dan Emery12:44 PM
certainly, you see folks like 3dhubs adding new services all the time. I think the industry, including us, want to make it as easy as possible to make anything you can imagine. So that might mean access to multiple modes of fabrication in one place or going with different services depending on who delivers the best result

Dan Emery12:46 PM
@marek right. We're cut some of those materials in the past so it can be done. We just have to be a little careful of the byproducts when they are combusted

So do you see customers who use your service and ship the parts you create to another vendor for the next step - finishing or final assembly? And do you see cases where they customers are shipping you partially-finished material/parts for further processing?

Looks like we might have lost Dan - I know we're near the end of the hour, so maybe he had to get back to work. I want to thank Dan for his time today. Please feel free to keep the chat going - the room is always available. I'll post a transcript for this Hack Chat soon.

Dan Emery12:57 PM
We do have customers that ship parts to contract manufacturers for assembly into larger products. Often the "finishing" required is removing the manufacturer's paper from the parts. This is something we're looking to offer in the next few months so parts will arrive to customers ready to go. We typically make parts from the materials we stock, so we dont see a lot of the latter

Thanks all - don;t forget next week's chat:


PCB Finishes Hack Chat

Mark Hughes and Elijah Gracia will host the Hack Chat on Wednesday, March 11, 2020 at noon Pacific Time. Time zones got you down? Here's a handy time converter! Once those traces are formed, however, there's more work to be done.

Read this on Hackaday

Dan Emery12:58 PM
Thanks for having me here! It was great chatting with y'all. If you have any further questions you can hit us up anytime