4 months ago •
There's been a lot of cool stuff going on in our project, even though I haven't updated this Hackaday.io page a much in the last six months or so. Here' s a quick summary:
DEC. 2014 - COMPANY LAUNCHED
Established in December 2014, I started Tin Whiskers Technology, LLC in order to provide a platform to sell kits and finished units to various people around the world. I realized early on that my business skills were lacking, so I brought on Felix Banuchi as a co-founder. Between his MBA and startup experience, and my technical leadership, we're hoping that we can avoid the common pitfalls that open-source companies have made recently (some bad for the community, like Makerbot going closed source, and some bad for the companies like Arduino LLC vs. Arduino SRL)
The name Tin Whiskers is sort of a dual-meaning. Most veteran electrical engineers and other folks in the world of electronics manufacturing know about tin whisker growth all too well. It's the metallurgical phenomenon where little metallic tendrils seem to grow out of a flat metallic surface. This problem has worsened since the switch to lead-free solders and other repercussions of RoHS. On the other hand, tin whiskers also means something to the lay person, it brings up images of cats, hipster beards, and robots... Which seems very fitting for such a cool company.
MARCH 2015 - PRE-ORDER KITS GO ON SALE
This week, we've begun selling pre-orders to our initial group of beta testers. We're doing 50 units for the first run, followed by possibly more after that. The idea is to get hardware in the hands of as many developers as we can, so that we can get immediate feedback on a common hardware platform. This is much better than a DIY approach where everyone ends up with different machines. Obviously, hardware incompatibilities, lighting conditions, feeder types, machine accuracy and precision, differences between DIY machines vary greatly... And that added complexity makes software development a real nightmare.. that is, unless we can get identical kits in the hands of our testers. We set out to do that in late December, and now in March, a few months later, we're to that point, albeit a few months behind where we wanted to be.
PRICING ISN'T $300, BUT IT'S STILL CHEAP COMPARED TO EVERYTHING ELSE
In order to make this happen, we've had to do a lot of parts sourcing, cost estimation, BOM analysis, design-for-manufacturing changes, etc. I quickly realized that my original estimate of $300 was off by quite a bit. Those that have been following this project for a while, remember that this project was initially titled "the $300 Pick and Place / 3D printer". I REALLY did want to make a machine this cheap, and that number was based on what I wanted the final price to be.. Our BOM cost has hovered from $300-700 depending on options... I figured that assuming I got some wholesale accounts, and get some sourcing lined up, that I could get the price down to 1/2 of that, sell for a bit of a markup, and still meet the $300 goal. Well, after Felix joined the team, I quickly realized that's not the way things work. Once our company was formed and we actually tried to secure these wholesale and vendor accounts, we've not gotten a single 50% price break. That simply won't happen unless we're selling 5000+ units. That might actually happen someday, if I get my wish. We also have to make enough markup as to not go out of business quickly. We're not getting rich by any means -- We'd get better markups manufacturing women's perfume or costume jewelry... Or social media web-apps, e.g. the next AirBnb or Instagram.. Hardware companies are very capital intensive, ours is no different. We've got a lot of money tied up in this, with not much to show for it at this point, other than a lot of hope, and some excited and eager beta testers.
In the meantime, FirePick Delta will not cost $300. I take full responsibility for anyone that's disappointed in the price difference, by the way. We're even still hesitant to...
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4 months ago •
9 months ago •
In this project log entry, I'm going to answer some questions and misconceptions about this project. This entry just happened to coincide with our departure from the Hackaday Prize, which is just coincidental, I had already planned on putting it up this week. Now that our schedule has freed up a bit, I'm not in a panicky-mode to get stuff done, and I can actually spend some time communicating what I've not been able to thus far.
3D Printing has Jumped the Shark! Does it cheapen the machine?
I got this question at NY Maker Faire 2014, and it wasn't in the form of a question. I was being told that by a very prominent power couple in the Hacker/Maker clique. Their advice to me was to get rid of the 3D printer functionality in the machine, because it cheapens the machine. Distancing myself from the Printrbots RepRaps, they said, would be the only way people would ever take me seriously.
Apparently in 2014, 3D printing isn't in fashion any more, like bell bottoms or platform shoes. My retort was pretty much as follows:
The unique thing about this machine is the ability to print out SMT component feeders out of ESD-safe conductive ABS plastic. When considering that the average feeder for a Manncorp FVX is $500, ours are two orders of magnitude cheaper. When you consider that there probably dozens, if not hundreds of different styles of tape, tube, and tray styles out there, it makes sense to just print these yourself, rather than to order them and then wait days or weeks.
Furthermore, this IS a cheap machine. That's pretty much the whole point. Our innovations have been in getting the price point so low. If you have a makerspace around with a 3D printer, you can print almost everything in the entire machine. In the last few weeks, people in our Google groups dev mailing list have pushed 3D printed springs and other brackets that were originally purchased. (And those springs replaced expensive magnets or bearings). Now they're looking to print the delta rods (previously carbon fiber) in either one or several pieces. Not everyone has an Amazon Prime and lots of distributors catering to them.
The original goal of the RepRap project was to replicate an entire machine. Our project may be the closest to that original idea. We are not only able to replicate almost all of the plastic pieces, but we are also able to replicate the electronic circuit board assemblies via pick and place, and solder paste application (and maybe in the not-to-distant future, replication of the circuit boards as well).
Jack of all trades? Master of None?
This is another question that I've gotten before, from HaD contest judge Dave Jones, back in late July:
To me, those are words from someone that just doesn't understand open source philosophy. That's very much akin to criticizing the Linux operating system for doing more than word processing. Or saying that a mobile phone that plays Angry Birds AND checks your email is destined for failure.
Why is it OK that a mobile phone or an operating system is allowed to do more than one thing? Well for one, because they're intended to be used as a platform. From an engineering and software perspective, a platform is the foundation in which great things are built upon. To put it another way: a technology that enables the creation of products and processes that support present or future development
FirePick Delta was intended from the start to be a platform for the personal manufacturing movement. In that way, it's very similar to what Linux and BSD did for computing. We didn't just retrofit an existing 3D printing system and write a Ruby script to do simple functionality. Collectively, we've spent the last year doing things like computer vision, motion control, and a modular tooling system, in a way that can be used for lots of different things.
Here's a few different scenarios to think about:
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- Solder paste dispense, with closed-loop vision to ensure that each dot was placed at the correct position, and has the correct size. Any air bubbles...