Lessons From The Fablab Masters

I spent some time recently at the Fab11 conference, a gathering of the people behind the Fab Labs that are springing up all over the world, where entrepreneurs, hackers and the curious can learn about making things. So, it was no surprise that this was a great place to pick up some tips on designing, building and hacking things. Here are a few of the lessons I picked up at this fascinating gathering of the fabbers.

Build Quickly

If you can make something in an hour, you’ll make it better in a day

said [Joris Van Tubergen]. He knows something about making unusual things because he 3D printed a full-sized Elephant. To do this, he worked out how to hack the Ultimaker 2 3D printer to print to an unlimited Z height by flipping the printer upside down and moving the Z motor to lift the printer rather than the print head. With a few tweaks to the software, he could then print full-height elephant slices to speed up the process. He is absolutely right: while it is tempting to endlessly fiddle with a concept on paper, you learn more by building a prototype, even if it doesn’t work.

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The Factory of the World – Hackaday Documentary on the Shenzhen Ecosystem

When it comes to manufacturing, no place in the world has the same kind of allure as the Pearl River Delta region of China. Within just an hour-long train ride, two vastly different cultures co-exist, each with its unique appeal that keeps attracting engineers, entrepreneurs, and hustlers alike. On the mainland side, cities like Shenzhen and Guangzhou bring the promise of cheap components, low-cost contract work, and the street cred of “having done the Shenzhen thing.” And on the island, the capitalist utopia called Hong Kong glows with all of its high finance and stories of lavish expat lifestyles.

As the “new” China evolves, it seems like it’s exactly the convergence of these two cultures that will bring the biggest change—and not just to the area but to the whole world. Still, understanding what exactly is going on and what the place is really all about remains a mystery to many. So, this June, we jumped on the bandwagon and headed east, trying to get our own feel for the whole thing.

Here’s what we came back with…

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Tindie, the Etsy and Yelp for Electronics

For one reason or another, Tindie has become known as the Etsy for DIY electronics, tinkering, and all things that are regularly featured on Hackaday. Now [Emile] over at Tindie is tackling another problem faced by homebrew electronic wizards: finding good middlemen, board houses, places that do assembly, and machinists. The answer to that is Tindie Biz, something that [Emile] is calling the ‘Yelp for electronics.’

[Emile], the owner and creator of Tindie used to work for Yelp, something that got him more than a few “boo”s at last week’s Hackaday Omnibus Launch Party. Despite the community’s inexplicable hatred of Yelp, [Emile] actually learned a lot; verification is the ultimate problem of user-submitted reviews, and his solution to that problem is to put proof of a transaction in with the review, lest Tindie Biz fall into a disarray of spam and astroturfing.

Already there are over 1,400 manufacturers on Tindie Biz, but [Emile] said right now, his new manufacturer review site needs input from DIYers; the real value is in getting people who have done business with manufacturers around the globe to submit reviews. It needs reviewers, and that’s where you come in. It’s all free, and like most good ideas, something that makes you say, ‘I should have thought of that first.’

Retrotechtacular: The 10-year anniversary of plastic

retrotechtacular-plastic-ten-year-anniversary

This footage called Industry on Parade is a unique look back at the golden age of plastics. We also value the footage as a look at America’s manufacturing sector at its height.

We remember a middle-school teacher recalling his father — who was a research scientist working at Dow — bringing home a pair of discs for him to play with. His first ever encounter with plastic. Here we see a snapshot ten years after plastic manufacturing went mainstream. It starts off with a tour of an injection-molding factory. The screenshot seen above is from the second vignette which tours a production line for naval ship models which will be used to train Navy personnel and as props for strategic planning maps. The film wraps up with the production of plastic fabrics starting with raw materials and ending with synthetic bug screen.

Just to prove it’s an authentic blast from the past, hang in there for the last two minutes when you get an anti-communism PSA. Classic.

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Getting your stuff built: how to shop, conduct business, stay alive, and eat your way through Shenzhen

This is [Bob Baddeley]. He’s an EE with an idea that started as a fun project until someone said “hey, that’s cool”. He started thinking about what it would take to launch it commercially and before he knew it he was involved in a startup accelerator to help him assemble what he needs to make his idea into a business. He spent several weeks in China learning about manufacturing and posted copiously about it.

We’ve seen other engineering trips to Asia, but [Bob’s] experience living there provides a different perspective than a quick trip would. He posted about the thing’s you’d expect, like touring a short-run prototyping facility. But he also talks about the rigors of being a pedestrian in a place where legged transport is marginalized by the gas and pedal powered vehicles that are crammed into every square-inch of the city. In the image above he’s walking on the highway (for some inexplicable reason; deathwish?).

He also got to do a lot of fun stuff. He met a ton of folks, like [Bunnie Huang], [Ian Lesnet], and the team over at Seeed Studios. He even took his protoype to the local Maker Faire. It’s a scoreboard which can be controlled from your smart phone. [Bob] tells us that he didn’t get much interest showing the face of the device as seen in that post. But when he turned it around to show off the point-to-point wire porn he was mobbed by interested hackers. Guts!

An inside look on how reed switches are manufactured

reed-switch

[York] wrote in to share a video he stumbled across while researching reed switches and relays, which documents the tightly controlled process through which they are produced. Like many other electronic components out there, we usually don’t give a lot of thought to how they are made, especially when the final cost is relatively small.

For something often taken for granted, the process is an incredibly precise one, requiring a clean room environment the entire way through. The video follows the production line from beginning to end, including the soft annealing of the contacts to remove magnetic remanence, the sputtering process that applies sub-micron thick conductive coatings to the contacts, through the laser cutting and sealing of the glass tubes that make up the body of the switch.

At the end of the day, the video is little more than a manufacturer’s promotional video, but it’s worth the 8 minutes it takes to watch it, if only to satisfy your curiosity as to how they are made.

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Next generation Arduino manufacturing problems?

[The Moogle] just got his new Arduino Uno; wow, that was fast. What should have been a happy unboxing turned sour when he took a close look at the board. It seems that it exhibits several examples of sloppy fabrication. The the lower-left image shows unclean board routing, a discolored edge, and a sharp tooth sticking out from the corner. The shield header shown in the upper left is not flush with the board, resulting in a weaker physical union and a crooked connection. There are vias that look like they’re not be centered in the solder mask, and areas where raw copper is exposed.

It saddens us to see this because the original Arduino boards were so well manufactured. Keep in mind that this may be an isolated case, and as of yet the company hasn’t been given the chance to swap out the board for one that has passed a more rigorous quality control inspection. But if you’ve already ordered one of your own, take a close look and make sure you’re satisfied with it upon arrival.

Not sure what we mean by next generation Arduino? Take a look at the new hardware that was recently unveiled.

Update: Here’s a direct response from the Arduino blog.

Update #2: [Massimo Banzi], one of the founders of Arduino, took the time to comment on this post. It details the organization’s willingness to remedy situations like [The Moogle] encountered and also links to the recent Arduino blog post.