A Behind The Scenes Look At Small Scale Production

Back in 2013, [Karl Lautman] successfully got his kinetic sculpture Primer funded on Kickstarter. As the name implies, you press the big red button on the front of the device, and the mechanical counter at the top will click over to a new prime number for your viewing pleasure. Not exactly a practical gadget, but it does look pretty slick.

These days you can still by your very own Primer from [Karl], but he tells us that the sales aren’t exactly putting food on the table. At this point, he considers it more of a self-financing hobby. To illustrate just what goes into the creation of one of these beauties, he’s put together a time-lapse video of how one gets built from start to finish, which you can see after the break.

Even if you’re not interested in adding a mathematics appliance to your home, we think you’ll agree that the video is a fascinating look at the effort that goes into manufacturing a product that’s only slightly north of a one-off creation.

The biggest takeaway is that you really need to be a jack of all trades to pull something like this off. From milling and polishing the metal components to hand-placing the SMD parts and reflowing the board, [Karl] demonstrates the sort of multi-disciplinary mastery you need to have when there’s only one person on the assembly line.

Small scale manufacturing isn’t cheap, and is rarely easy. But stories like this one prove it’s certainly possible if you’re willing to put in the effort.

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You Could Be A Manufacturing Engineer If You Could Only Find The Time

Let’s be honest, Ruth Grace Wong can’t teach you how to be a manufacturing engineer in the span of a twenty minute talk. But no-one can. This is about picking up the skills for a new career without following the traditional education path, and that takes some serious time. But Grace pulled it off, and her talk at the 2019 Hackaday Superconference shares what she learned about reinventing your career path without completely disrupting your life to do so.

Ruth got on this crazy ride when she realized that being a maker made her happy and she wanted to do a lot more of it. See wanted to be “making stuff at scale” which is the definition of manufacturing. She took the hacker approach, by leveraging her personal projects to pull back the veil of the manufacturing world. She did a few crowd funding campaigns that exposed her to the difficulties of producing more than one of something. And along the way used revenue from those projects to get training and to seek mentorships.

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Hackaday Links: December 22, 2019

It’s hard to believe it, but the Raspberry Pi has been on the market for only seven years now. The single-board computer has become so entrenched in the hobby electronics scene that it’s hard to imagine life without it, or what we did before it came along. And with the recent announcement that the 30 millionth Raspberry Pi was recently manufactured, now we have some clarity on the scale of its success. Just roll that number around in your head for a bit – that’s one Pi for every nine or so people in the USA. Some of the other facts and figures in the linked article boggle the mind too, like Eben Upton figured they’d only ever sell about 10,000 units, or that the factory in Wales where most Pis are made can assemble 15,000 units a day.

Speaking of manufacturing, have you ever considered what goes into getting a small-scale manufactured product ready for shipping? The good folks over at Gigatron know all about the joys of kitting, and have put together an interesting un-unboxing video for their flagship TTL-only retro computer. It’s a nice riff on the unboxing videos that are somehow popular on YouTube these days, and shows just how much effort they put into getting a Gigatron out the door. All told, it takes about an hour to ship each unit, and the care put into the process is evident. We especially like the part where all the chips are placed into antistatic foam in the same orientation they’ll be on the completed board. Nice touch.

Last time we checked in on the Lulzbot saga, the open source 3D printer manufacturer had been saved from complete liquidation by a company named FAME 3D. Now we’re getting the first solid details about where things go from here. Not only will thirteen of the remaining Lulzbot employees be staying on, but FAME 3D plans to hire 50 new employees to get operations back up as quickly as possible. The catch? The “F” in FAME 3D stands for Fargo, North Dakota, where Fargo Additive Manufacturing Equipment 3D is based. So Lulzbot will be moving north from Loveland, Colorado in the coming months.

For the last few years, adventure travelers making the pilgrimage to Shenzhen to scour the electronics markets have stuffed a copy of Andrew “Bunnie” Huang’s The Essential Guide to Electronics in Shenzhen into their soon-to-be-overflowing backpacks. The book is a goldmine of insider information, stuffed with maps and translation tables critical for navigating a different culture with no local language skills. Bunnie’s book has only been available in dead-tree format and now that all but the last few copies have been sold, he decided to make a web version available for free. We’d have to think a tablet or phone would be a bit harder to use in the heat of negotiation than the nice spiral-bound design of the print copy, but the fact that the insider information will now be widely available probably makes this a net positive.

And finally, if you’ve ever nearly been run over by an EV or hybrid silently backing out of a parking space, you’ll no doubt appreciate attempts to legislate some sort of audible presence to these vehicles. But what exactly should an electric vehicle be made to sound like? Volkswagen has begun to address that question, and while you can certainly read through the fluff in their press release, all you really need to do is listen to the sample. We’ve got to say that they pretty much nailed what a car of the future should sound like. Although they might have missed a real opportunity here.

The Golden Age Of Ever-Changing Computer Architecture

Given the accuracy of Moore’s Law to the development of integrated circuits over the years, one would think that our present day period is no different from the past decades in terms of computer architecture design. However, during the 2017 ACM Turing Award acceptance speech, John L. Hennessy and David A. Patterson described the present as the “golden age of computer architecture”.

Compared to the early days of MS-DOS, when designing user- and kernel-space interactions was still an experiment in the works, it certainly feels like we’re no longer in the infancy of the field. Yet, as the pressure mounts for companies to acquire more computational resources for running expensive machine learning algorithms on massive swaths of data, smart computer architecture design may be just what the industry needs.

Moore’s law predicts the doubling of transistors in an IC, it doesn’t predict the path that IC design will take. When that observation was made in 1965 it was difficult or even impossible to envision where we are today, with tools and processes so closely linked and widely available that the way we conceive processor design is itself multiplying.

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A Simpler Method To Make Optical Fiber With 3D Printing

There are a lot of remarkable uses for optical fiber, chief among them being telecommunications and imaging. While fiber can be produced for a better price than copper wire equivalents, they’re still not easy or cheap to manufacture.

Silica fibers require spinning tubes on a lathe, which requires the fiber’s core to be precisely centered. A new method by researchers based at the University of Technology, Sydney offers a simpler method using additive manufacturing.

There are still challenges in producing silica fiber, however – unlike commonly drawn polymer materials, silica requires high temperatures, up to 1900 degrees Celsius, to 3D print. Past attempts at glass printing using fused deposition modeling with high-temperature nozzles to pump out molten silica have been slowed by the viscosity of molten glass.

In order to overcome the temperature problem, composite materials consisting of a polymer with a lower melting point and silica nanoparticles are used instead. In addition, the researchers opted to use a direct laser writing printer. The technique involves drawing the molten material and pulling out the optical fiber. After the polymer and impurities are debinded and removed, it’s only an issue of sintering the silica to fuse the forms back together.

The method has been used to fabricate a preform that can be used for multi- or single-node fibers. While the technique isn’t perfected quite yet, it holds promise for reduced fabrication and material costs, as well as eliminating labor risks from the lathe-based work.

[Thanks to Qes for the tip!]

Replacing The 3D Printer And Router: A Tool For Manufacturing Human-Scale Forms

The purpose of Geometer becomes apparent when you realize its simplicity: [David Troetschel]’s project is to create an easily understandable design tool that encourages goal-oriented design. The kit comes with physical components and digital counterparts that can be combined in a modular way. They each have a specific geometry, which provide versatility while keeping manufacturing simple.

For the prototyping phase, small snap-on parts 3D printed on a Formlabs printer mimic the module components on a smaller scale. Once a design is conceived and the Geometer Grasshopper program finalizes the module arrangement necessary for the model, the larger pieces can be used as a mold for a concrete or hydrocal mold casting.

The present set of modules is in its seventh iteration, initially beginning as a senior thesis for [Troetschel]. Since then, the project itself has had an extensive prototyping phase in which the components have gone from being injection-molded to 3D printed.

The overall process for prototyping is faster than 3D printing and more cost-effective than sending to a third-party shop to build, which adds to the project’s goal of making manufacturing design more accessible. This is an interesting initiative to introduce a new way of making to the DIY community, and we’re curious to see this idea take off in makerspaces.

The Price Of Domestic Just In Time Manufacturing

Hardware is hard, manufacturing only happens in China, accurate pricing is a dark art. Facts which are Known To Be True. And all things which can be hard to conquer as an independent hardware company, especially if you want to subvert the tropes. You may have heard of [Spencer Wright] via his superb mailing list The Prepared, but he has also been selling an unusual FM radio as Centerline Labs for a few years. Two years ago they relaunched their product, and last year the price was bumped up by a third. Why? Well, the answer involves more than just a hand wave about tariffs.

The Public Radio is a single-station FM radio in a mason jar. It’s a seemingly simple single purpose hardware product. No big mechanical assemblies, no complex packaging, not even any tangential accessories to include. In some sense it’s an archetypically atomic hardware product. So what changed? A normal product is manufactured in bulk, tested and packaged, then stored in a warehouse ready to ship. But TPR is factory programmed to a specific radio station, so unless Centerline wanted one SKU for each possible radio station (there are 300) this doesn’t work. The solution was domestic (US) just in time manufacturing. When a customer hits the buy button, a unit is programmed, tested, packed, and shipped.

As with any business, there is a lot more to things than that! The post gives the reader a fascinating look at all the math related to Centerline Labs’ pricing and expenses; in other words, what makes the business tick (or not) including discussion of the pricing tradeoffs between manufacturing different components in Asia. I won’t spoil the logical path that led to the pricing change, go check out the post for more detail on every part. 

We love hearing about the cottage hardware world. Got any stories? Drop them in the comments!