When the first Bantam Tools’ Milling Machine landed, it put PCB prototyping at the forefront with a smooth software and hardware pipeline for spinning out circuit boards in a manner of minutes. Now the folks at Bantam Tools are back, putting those insights into a new machine that makes cutting aluminum a first class feature. While machine details are still sparse from their announcement page, knowing that Bantam Tools has spent a few years turning classrooms of students into hardware prototypes reassures us that we’re in good hands. Now let’s spill some beans on this beast. Continue reading “Bantam Tools PCB Mill Gets A Ferocious New Sequel”
Stylish! is a wearable music synthesizer that combines slick design with stylus based operation to yield a giant trucker-style belt buckle that can pump out electronic tunes. With a PCB keyboard and LED-surrounded inset speaker that resembles an eyeball over a wide grin, Stylish! certainly has a unique look to it. Other synthesizer designs may have more functions, but certainly not more style.
The unit’s stylus and PCB key interface resemble a Stylophone, but [Tim Trzepacz] has added many sound synthesis features as well as a smooth design and LED feedback, all tied together with battery power and integrated speaker and headphone outputs. It may have been originally conceived as a belt buckle, but Stylish! certainly could give conference badge designs a run for their money.
The photo shown is a render, but a prototype is underway using a milled PCB and 3D printed case. [Tim]’s Google photo gallery has some good in-progress pictures showing the prototyping process along with some testing, and his GitHub repository holds all the design files, should anyone want a closer look under the hood. Stylish! was one of the twenty finalists selected for the Musical Instrument Challenge portion of the 2018 Hackaday Prize and is therefore one of the many projects in the running for the grand prize!
The name Other Machine Co. is now dead. In a post to the company blog, Other Machine Co. is now Bantam Tools. This news comes just months after the announcement that [Bre Pettis], one-third of the founders of MakerBot, investor in Glowforge, and undeservingly the most hated man in the 3D printer community, purchased Other Machine Co.
Over the past few years, the Othermill, Other Machine Co.’s main product, has gained a reputation for being a very, very nice CNC mill capable of producing PCBs with 6 mil trace and space. Additionally, the Othermill was excellent at very fine CNC work including wax carving jewelry, very neat inlay work on wood, and any other CNC task that doesn’t involve anything harder than aluminum and can fit inside the machine itself.
As of right now, the only change to the Othermill is the name — it’s now the Bantam Tools Desktop PCB Milling Machine. According to a Wired press release, this name change also comes with a change in focus. Bantam Tools will not focus on hobbyist makers, but instead to professionals that need PCBs and other small milling jobs done right now. For the record, I cannot recall the Othermill ever being advertised directly to ‘hobbyist makers’ — it has always seemed the target audience was professionals, or at least people who would make money from the stuff produced on their mill.
Other changes to the Othermill have been in the works for months. Since the time of the acquisition, Other Machine Co. / Bantam have introduced a PCB probing system, a desperately needed fine dust collection system, and automated material thickness probing. These new projects for Bantam mills are compatible with the old Othermill.
Other Machine Co., manufacturer of the very capable and very cool OtherMill Pro CNC machine, has been acquired by [Bre Pettis], former CEO of MakerBot. Under the terms of the acquisition, current CEO of Other Machine Co, Dr. Danielle Applestone, will remain in charge of the company.
We have a love affair with the OtherMill here at Hackaday. We have a few of them kicking around the Design Lab, and they’re great. Six mil traces are possible, and the OtherMill is a very reliable machine. We’ve taken a look at the OtherMill manufacturing process and liked what we saw, and we’ve invited [Danielle Applestone] to talk about the quest for the highest precision per dollar.
Of course, the newsworthy item for this, ‘rich guy buys a company’ story is who acquired the company. [Pettis] is most famous for being one-third of the original MakerBot team, a position that netted him about $130 Million after Stratasys acquired MakerBot. Stratasys’ acquisition of MakerBot has made a lot of people angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move. The history of MakerBot is not written yet, but the general consensus is that [Pettis] only played a very limited role in the downfall of MakerBot and desktop 3D printing as a whole.
Since leaving MakerBot for greener pastures, [Pettis] has put his money to work; he’s also an investor in the laser cutter startup Glowforge. While Glowforge has seen its share of troubles including a ridiculous policy on field-replaceable laser tubes, and perpetual delays for production units, Glowforge will be shipping soon. It’s unclear how the Glowforge will ultimately be received. But [Pettis’] continues to put his money where his mouth is (and into hardware startups) with this acquisition of Other Machine Co..
Othermachine Co. is not a big company. Their flagship product, the Othermill, is made in small, careful batches. As we’ve seen with other small hardware companies, the manufacturing process can make or break the company. While we toured their factory in Berkeley California, a few interesting things stood out to us about their process which showed their manufacturing competence.
It’s not often that small companies share the secrets of their shop floor. Many of us have dreams of selling kits, so any lessons that can be learned from those who have come before is valuable. The goal of any manufacturing process optimization is to reduce cost while simultaneously maintaining or increasing quality. Despite what cynics would like to believe, this is often entirely possible and often embarrassingly easy to accomplish.
Lean manufacturing defines seven wastes that can be optimized out of a process.
- Overproduction: Simply, making more than you currently have demand for. This is a really common mistake for first time producers.
- Inventory: Storing more than you need to meet production or demand. Nearly every company I’ve worked for has this problem. There is an art to having just enough. Don’t buy one bulk order of 3,000 screws for six months, order 500 screws every month as needed.
- Waiting: Having significant delays between processes. These are things ranging from running out of USB cables to simply having to wait too long for something to arrive on a conveyor belt. Do everything you can to make sure the process is always flowing from one step to another.
- Motion: If you have a person walking back and forth between the ends of the factory to complete one step of the manufacturing process, this is wasted motion.
- Transport: Different from motion, this is waste in moving the products of each individual process between sections of the assembly.
- Rework: Get it right the first time. If your process can’t produce a product that meets specifications, fix the process.
- Over-processing: Don’t do more work than is necessary. If your part specifies 1000 hours of runtime don’t buy a million dollar machine to get 2000 hours out of it. If you can find a way to do it with one step, don’t do it with three.
The first thing that stuck out to me upon entering Othermachine Co’s shop floor is their meticulous system for getting small batches through the factory in a timely manner. This allows them to scale their production as their demand fluctuates. CNCs and 3D printers are definitely seasonal purchases; with sales often increasing in the winter months when hackers are no longer lured away from their workstations by nice weather.
As the seven sins proclaim. It would be a bad move for Othermachine Co. to make too many mills. Let’s say they had made an extra 100 mills while demand was at a seasonal low. If they found a design or quality problem from customer feedback they’d have to commit to rework, potentially throwing away piles of defective parts. If they want to push a change to the machine or release a new model they’d either have to rework the machines, trash them, or wait till they all sold before improving their product. Even worse, they may find themselves twiddling their thumbs waiting for their supply to decrease enough to start manufacturing again. This deprives them of opportunities to improve their process and leads to a lax work environment.
One way to ensure that parts are properly handled and inventory is kept to a minimum is with proper visual controls. To this end, Othermachine Co has custom cardboard bins made that perfectly cradle all the precision parts for each process in their own color coded container. Since the shop floor is quite small, it lets them focus on making spindle assemblies one day and motion assemblies another without having to waste time between each step. Also, someone can rekit the parts for a recently completed step easily without interrupting work on the current process going on.
It’s hard to define what’s over processing and what isn’t. My favorite example of what isnt, and something I’ve fought for on nearly every factory floor I’ve worked on is proper torque limiting screwdrivers. They’re a little expensive, but they are a wonderful tool that helps to avoid costly rework and over processing. For example, let’s say you didn’t have a torque limiting screwdriver. Maybe your customers would complain that occasionally a screw came loose. Now, one way to solve this would be the liberal application of Loctite. Another way would be an additional inspection step. Both of these are additional and completely uneccessary steps as most screws will hold as long as they are torqued properly.
In one factory I worked in, it was often a problem that a recently hired worker would overtorque a screw, either stripping it or damaging the parts it was mating together. A torque limiting screwdriver takes the worker’s physical strength out of the equation, while reducing their fatigue throughout the day. It’s a win/win. Any time a crucial step can go from unknown to trusted with the application of a proper tool or test step it is worth it.
Another section where Othermachine Co. applied this principle is with the final machining step for the CNC bed. The step produces a large amount of waste chips. Rather than having an employee waste time vacuuming out every Othermill after it has gone through this process, they spent some time designing a custom vacuum attachment. This essentially removed an entire production step. Not bad!
With the proper management of waste it is entirely possible to save money and improve a process at the same time. It takes a bit of training to learn how to see it. It helps to have an experienced person around in order to learn how to properly respond to them, but with a bit of practice it becomes a skill that spreads to all areas of life. Have any of you had experience with this kind of problem solving? I’ve really enjoyed learning from the work stories posted in the comments.
I’ll admit. When I saw the Othermill for the first time I thought it was just another mill with cheap Chinese hardware inside sold as a premium. I’m ashamed to say that I even trash talked it a little bit. It gave me another chance to relearn that I should always do my research before being a jerk, check my assumptions thoroughly, and even then it’s not recommended. Other Machine Company was kind enough to let me swing by the office in Berkeley California. [Danielle], the CEO, led me through the design of the mill as well as the challenges in running the operation.
The Othermill is a serious machine, and with the recent release of the Othermill Pro, it’s only getting better. The components are not bargain basement. This is something that could be more obvious, but it’s almost entirely made from US sourced parts, including the custom stepper motors. There aren’t any ball bearings that will start to make strange noises in a year. It can now cut 6mil traces in a PCB all day long. To put it into perspective. The Othermill Pro costs a third of the price of an equivalent machine from LPKF and has the same capabilities.
Many of us may qualify as “makers,” but how about a “maker of machines?” [Danielle Applestone] tells us what kinks to look for whilst embarking on your hardware startup adventure. Co-founder of Other Machine Co, the company that makes a PCB Mill that holds tolerances as tight as a thousandth of an inch, [Danielle] holds degrees in chemistry and materials science from MIT and UT Austin. While she may tell you that the math for running a hardware company is easy, knowing what numbers to crunch and keeping track of them has been part of her key to success. So take 20, and give yourself a moment to take in [Danielle’s] tips from her Hackaday Superconference talk on beating the hurdles ahead in the land of hardware startups.