Retrotechtacular: 1990s CD Mastering Fit For A King

Before it was transformed into an ephemeral stream of ones and zeroes, music used to have a physical form of some kind. From wax cylinders to vinyl discs to tapes of various sizes in different housings and eventually to compact discs, each new medium was marketed as a technological leap over the previous formats, each of which justified incrementally more money to acquire.

But that’s the thing — each purchase resulted in you obtaining a physical item, which had an extensive manufacturing and distribution process behind it. And few artists demanded more manufacturing effort than Michael Jackson in his heyday, as revealed by this in-depth look at the CD manufacturing process for The King of Pop’s release of the HIStory double-disc set in 1995.

The video was produced as sort of a love letter to Michael from the staff and management of the Sony Music disc manufacturing plant in Pittman, New Jersey. The process is shown starting with the arrival of masters to the plant, strangely in the form of U-matic videocassettes; the 3/4″ continuous loop tape was normally used for analog video, but could also be used for recording digital audio. The digital audio is then sent for glass mastering, which is where the actual pits are created on a large glass disc under cleanroom conditions. In fact, much of the production process bears a strong similarity to semiconductor manufacturing, from the need for cleanrooms — although under less stringent conditions than in a fab — to the use of plasma etching, vapor deposition, and metal plating operations.

Once the master stampers are made, things really ramp up in replication. There the stamper discs go into injection molding machines, where hot polycarbonate is forced against the surface under pressure. The copies are aluminized, spin-coated with UV-cure lacquer, and sent on down the line to testing, screen printing, and packaging. Sony hired 40 extra full-time workers, who appear to have handled all the tedious manual tasks like assembling the jewel cases, to handle the extra load of this release.

As cheesy as this thank-you video may be, it was likely produced with good reason. This was a time when a Michael Jackson release was essentially a guarantee of full employment for a large team of workers. The team was able to produce something like 50,000 copies a day, and given that HIStory sold over 20 million copies, that’s a lot of workdays for the good folks at Pittman.

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Injection Molds: Aluminum Or Resin?

[JohnSL] and his friend both have injection molding machines. They decided to compare the aluminum molds they usually use with some 3D printed molds created with a resin printer. They used two different resins, one on each side of the mold. You can see a video of the results below.

One half of the mold used ordinary resin while the other side used a resin that is made to hold up to higher temperatures. As you might expect, the lower-temperature resin didn’t stand up well to molten plastic. However, the higher temperature resin did somewhat better. It makes sense, though, that an aluminum mold draws more heat out of the plastic which is helpful in the molding process.

The higher temperature — and more expensive — resin did seem to hold up rather well, though. Of course, this was just to test. In real life, you’d want to use the better resin throughout.

No surprise, the resin molds didn’t last nearly as long as a proper mold. After 70 shots, the mold was worn beyond what you’d want to use. So not necessarily something you’d want to use for a real production run, but it should be enough for a quick prototype before you go to the expense of creating a proper mold.

We wonder if there are some other tricks to get better results. A comment from [TheCrafsMan] suggests that clear resin UV cures better, and that might produce better results. In fact, there are a lot of interesting comments on the video from people who have varied experiences trying to do the same thing.

If nothing else, watching the mill cut through the aluminum around the 15-minute mark is always interesting to watch.  If you don’t already have an injection molding setup, you can always build one. We’ve seen more than one design.

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Lots of parts printed at once with a resin printer

Making The Most Of Your Resin Printer Investment

To the extent that we think of 3D printers as production machines, we tend to imagine huge banks of FDM machines slowly but surely cranking out parts. These printer farms are a sensible way to turn a slow process into a high-volume operation, but it turns out there’s a way to do the same thing with only one printer — as long as you think small.

This one comes to us by way of [Andrew Sink], who recently showed us a neat trick for adding a dash of color to resin printed parts. As with that tip, this one centers around his Elegoo resin printer, which is capable of intricately detailed prints but like any additive process, takes quite a bit of time to finish a print. Luckily, though, the printer uses the MSLA, or masked stereolithography, process, which exposes the entire resin tank to ultraviolet light in one exposure. That means that, unlike FDM printers, it takes no more time to print a dozen models than it does to print one. The upshot of this is that however many models can fit on the MSLA print platform can be printed in the same amount of time it takes to print the part with the most layers. In [Andrew]’s case, 22 identical figurine models were printed in the same three hours it took to print just one copy.

It seems obvious, but sometimes the simplest tips are the best. And the next step is obvious, especially as MSLA printer prices fall: a resin printer farm, with each printer working on dozens of small parts at a time. Such a setup might rival injection molding in terms of throughput, and would likely be far cheaper as far as tooling goes. Continue reading “Making The Most Of Your Resin Printer Investment”

Teardown: 3D Printed Space Shuttle Lamp

Since the very beginning, the prevailing wisdom regarding consumer desktop 3D printers was that they were excellent tools for producing prototypes or one-off creations, but anything more than that was simply asking too much. After all, they were too slow, expensive, and finicky to be useful in a production setting. Once you needed more than a few copies of a plastic part, you were better off biting the bullet and moving over to injection molding.

But of course, things have changed a lot since then. Who could have imagined that one day you’d be able to buy five 3D printers for the cost of the crappiest Harbor Freight mini lathe? Modern 3D printers aren’t just cheaper either, they’re also more reliable and produce higher quality parts. Plus with software like OctoPrint, managing them is a breeze. Today, setting up a small print farm and affordably producing parts in mass quantities is well within the means of the average hobbyist.

Space shuttle lamp
Flickering LEDs provide a sense of motion

So perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised when I started seeing listings for these 3D printed rocket lamps popping up on eBay. Available from various sellers at a wide array of price points depending on how long you’re willing to wait for shipping, the lamps come in several shapes and sizes, and usually feature either the Space Shuttle or mighty Saturn V perched atop a “exhaust plume” of white PLA plastic. With a few orange LEDs blinking away on the inside, the lamp promises to produce an impressive flame effect that will delight space enthusiasts both young and old.

As a space enthusiast that fits somewhere in between those extremes, I decided it was worth risking $30 USD to see what one of these things looked like in real life. After waiting a month, a crushed up box arrived at my door which I was positive would contain a tiny mangled version of the majestic lamp I was promised — like the sad excuse for a hamburger that McBurgerLand actually gives you compared to what they advertise on TV.

But in person, it really does look fantastic. Using internally lit 3D printed structures to simulate smoke and flame is something we’ve seen done in the DIY scene, but pulling it off in a comparatively cheap production piece is impressive enough that I thought it deserved a closer look.

Now it’s always been my opinion that the best way to see how something was built is to take it apart, so I’ll admit that the following deviates a bit from the rest of the teardowns in this series. There’s no great mystery around flickering a couple LEDs among Hackaday readers, so we already know the electronics will be simplistic in the extreme. This time around the interesting part isn’t what’s on the inside, but how the object itself was produced in the first place.

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How The Flipper Zero Hacker Multitool Gets Made And Tested

Flipper Zero is an open-source multitool for hackers, and [Pavel] recently shared details on what goes into the production and testing of these devices. Each unit contains four separate PCBs, and in high-volume production it is inevitable that some boards are faulty in some way. Not all faults are identical — some are not even obvious —  but they all must be dealt with before they end up in a finished product.

One of several custom test jigs for Flipper Zero. Faults in high volume production are inevitable, and detecting them early is best.

Designing a process to effectively detect and deal with faults is a serious undertaking, one the Flipper Zero team addressed by designing a separate test station for each of the separate PCBs, allowing detection of defects as early as possible. Each board gets fitted into a custom test jig, then is subjected to an automated barrage of tests to ensure everything is as expected before being given the green light. A final test station gives a check to completed assemblies, and every test is logged into a database.

It may seem tempting to skip testing the individual boards and instead just do a single comprehensive test on finished units, but when dealing with production errors, it’s important to detect issues as early in the workflow as possible. The later a problem is detected, the more difficult and expensive it is to address. The worst possible outcome is to put a defective unit into a customer’s hands, where a issue is found only after all of the time and cost of assembly and shipping has already been spent. Another reason to detect issues early is that some faults become more difficult to address the later they are discovered. For example, a dim LED or poor antenna performance is much harder to troubleshoot when detected in a completely assembled unit, because the fault could be anywhere.

[Pavel] provides plenty of pictures and details about the production of Flipper Zero, and it’s nice to see how the project is progressing since its hyper-successful crowdfunding campaign.

Tales (and Advice) From Setting Up A Product Line

Making something that has to get into others’ hands involves solving a lot of different problems, many of which have nothing at all to do with actually building the dang things. [Conor Patrick] encountered them when he ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for an open-source USB security key that was not only shipped to backers, but also made available as an ongoing product for sale. There was a lot of manual and tedious work that could have been avoided, and so [Conor] laid out all the things he wishes he had done when first setting up a product line.

Turning these unprogrammed boards into finished products then shipping them is a big job.

If the whole process is a river, then the more “upstream” an issue is, the bigger its potential impact on everything that comes afterwards. One example is the product itself: the simplest and most easily managed product line is one that has only one product with no variations. That not only minimizes errors but makes supply, production, and shipping more straightforward. Striving for a minimum number of products and variations is also an example of something [Conor] didn’t do. In their crowdfunding campaign they offered the SoloKeys USB device — an implementation of the FIDO2 authentication token — as either USB-A or USB-C. There were also two types of key: NFC-capable (for tapping to a smartphone) and USB only. That is four products so far.

Offering keys in an unlocked state for those who want to tamper makes it eight different products. On top of that, they offered color choices which not only adds complexity to production, but also makes it harder to keep track of what everyone ordered. [Conor] also observed that the Kickstarter platform and back end are really not set up like a store, and it is clunky at best to try to offer (and manage) different products and variations from within it.

Another major point is fulfillment and in [Conor]’s opinion, unless the quantities are small, an order fulfillment company is worth partnering with. He says there are a lot of such companies out there, and it can be very time consuming to find the right one, but it will be nothing compared to the time and effort needed to handle, package, address, and ship several hundreds (or thousands!) of orders personally. His team did their own fulfillment for a total of over 2000 units, and found it a long and tedious process filled with hidden costs and challenges.

There’s good advice and background in [Conor]’s writeup, and this isn’t his first rodeo. He also shared his thoughts on taking electronics from design to production and the more general advice remains the same for it all: be honest and be open. Under-promise and over-deliver, especially when it comes to time estimates.

Silicone Injector Gives Parts Production A Shot In The Arm

Many of us are happy to spend hours cooking up a solution that saves us seconds, if success means never having to do a hated task again. [frankensteinhadason] molds enough silicone parts that he grew tired of all the manual labor involved, so he built a silicone injector to do it for him. Now, all he has to do is push the handle in notch by notch, until silicone starts oozing from the vent holes in the mold.

The mold pictured above is designed to make little shrouds for helicopter communications connections like this one. His friends in the industry like them so much that he decided to sell them, and needed to scale up production as a result. Now he can make six at once.

He designed brackets to hold a pair of syringes side by side against a backplane. There’s a lever that pushes both plungers simultaneously, and adapters that keep the tubing secured to the syringe nozzles. Ejected two-part silicone travels down to a double-barrel mixing nozzle, which extrudes silicone into the top of the mold.

Naturally, we were going to suggest automating the lever operation, but [frankensteinhadason] is already scheming to do that with steppers and an Arduino. Right now he’s working on increasing the hose diameter for faster flow, which will mean changes to the adapter. Once that is sorted, he plans to post the STLs and a video of it pumping silicone.

Ever thought about doing the reverse, and using silicone to mold hot plastic? Yeah, that’s a thing.

Via r/functionalprint