The Boeing B-17 “Flying Fortress” is arguably the most recognizable aircraft of the Second World War. Made infamous by the daring daylight strategic bombing runs they carried out over Germany, more than 12,000 of these four-engined bombers were produced between 1939 and 1945. Thanks to the plane’s renowned survivability in battle, approximately 60% of them made it through the war and returned home to the United States, only to be rounded up in so-called “boneyards” where they were ultimately cut up and sold as scrap. Today there are fewer than 50 intact Boeing B-17s left in the world, and of those, only 11 remain airworthy.
One of them is Nine-O-Nine, a B-17G built in April 7, 1945. This particular aircraft was built too late to see any combat, although in the 1950s she was fitted with various instruments and exposed to three separate nuclear blasts for research purposes. It’s actually not the real Nine-O-Nine either, the original was scrapped after it completed eighteen bombing runs over Berlin. Without a combat record of its own, this bomber was painted to look like the real Nine-O-Nine in honor of its incredible service record of never losing a crewman.
Since 1986, Nine-O-Nine has been owned by the Collings Foundation, who operate her as a living history exhibit. The bomber flies around the United States with an entourage of similarly iconic WWII aircraft as part of the Wings of Freedom Tour, stopping by various airports and giving the public a chance to climb aboard and see the pinnacle of mid-1940s strategic bombing technology. History buffs with suitably deep pockets can even book a seat on one of the scheduled 30-minute flights that take place at every stop on the Tour.
I was lucky enough to have the The Wings of Freedom Tour pass through my area recently, and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to experience this incredible aircraft first hand. The fact that I’m equal parts a coward and miser kept me from taking a ride aboard the 74 year old Nine-O-Nine, at least for now, but I made sure to take plenty of pictures from inside this lovingly restored B-17G while it was safely on the ground.
Overseas factories can be sort of a mythical topic. News articles remind us that Flex (née Flextronics) employs nearly 200 thousand employees worldwide or that Foxconn is up to nearly a million. It must take an Apple-level of insider knowledge and capital to organize such a behemoth workforce, certainly something well past the level of cottage hardware manufacturing. And the manufacturing floor itself must be a temple to bead blasted aluminum and 20 axis robotic arms gleefully tossing products together. Right?
Well… the reality is a little different. The special sauce turns out to be people who are well trained for the task at hand and it doesn’t require a $1,000,000,000,000 market cap to get there.
[Adam leeb] was recently overseas to help out with the production ramp for one of his products and took a set of fantastic videos that walk us through an archetypical asian factory.
I’ve been to several factories and for me the weirdest part of the archetype is the soul crushing windowless conference room which is where every tour begins. Check out this one on the left. If you ever find yourself in a factory you will also find a room like this. It will have weird snacks and bottles of water and a shiny wood-esque table. It will be your home for many, many more hours than you ever dreamed. It’s actually possible there’s just one conference room in the universe and in the slice of spacetime where you visit it happens to be in your factory.
Ok, less metaphysics. It’s amazing to watch the myriad steps and people involved in taking one product from zero to retail-ready. [adam] gives us a well narrated overview of the steps to go from a single bare board to the fully assembled product. From The Conference Room he travels to The Floor and walks us through rows of operators performing their various tasks. If you’ve been reading for a while you will recognize the pick and place machines, the ovens, and the pogo pin test fixtures. But it’s a treat to go beyond that to see the physical product that houses the boards come together as well.
Check out [adam]’s videos after the break. The first deals with the assembly and test of his product, and the second covers the assembly of the circuit boards inside which is broadly referred to as SMT. Watching the second video you may notice the funny (and typical) contrast between the extremely automated SMT process and everything else.
If you have a Raspberry Pi and have any interest in its peripherals, you may be familiar with the grinning pirate logo of the British company, Pimoroni. The Sheffield, UK based outfit first established a niche for itself as one of the go-to places for much of the essentials of Pi ownership, and has extended its portfolio beyond the Pi into parts, boards, and components across the spectrum of electronic experimentation. Their products are notable for their distinctive and colourful design language as well as their constant exploration of new ideas, and they have rapidly become one of those companies to watch in our sphere. On our way up to Newcastle for Maker Faire UK, we passed close enough to the Pimoroni HQ to be able to ask nicely if we could drop in and have a tour.
The Pimoroni HQ can be found in a nondescript unit with a discreetly placed sign on an industrial estate after a short drive through the city from the motorway. Inside it’s the same as thousands of other units, a set of offices at the front and a cavernous warehouse behind, except this one is filled with the kinds of goodies that get our blood pumping! And we’re told this toybox warehouse is soon to be joined by another nearby unit, as the Pimoroni business is expanding.
Our guide was the company co-founder Paul Beech, whose work you will be familiar with even if this is the first time you’ve heard his name; Paul was the designer of the Raspberry Pi logo! The company is not exclusive to that platform but it’s fair to say they have a strong connection with the Pi, starting in 2012 with as their website puts it: “One laser cutter and a kettle” on which they produced the first of their iconic PiBow laser-cut sandwich Raspberry Pi cases.
When designers and architects need a fancy centerpiece, a design element, or even some wall sconces, they don’t head over to the machine shop by themselves. They get someone else, who owns some fancy machines, knows how to use those fancy machines, and can create anything out of wood, foam, or metal to do the fabrication for them. Think of these companies as artisan contractors, capable of turning whatever an architect thinks of into a real, tangible object.
One of these such companies is MachineHistories, a joint venture between [Steven Joyner] and [Jason Pilarsky], who work in the medium of computer code and CNC programming. As part of the SupplyFrame Design Lab’s Detoured series, lead Staff Designer [Majenta Strongheart] takes us along for a tour of MachineHistories to figure out how this collaboration actually works.
This collaboration began at the ArtCenter College of Design where [Steven] and [Jason] spent most of their time working in the shop. Eventually, they realized they didn’t actually need the ArtCenter and decided to sign a lease and strike out on their own. The first tools in their new shop were just a 3-axis CNC and a laser cutter, but MachineHistories gradually expanded to enormous five-axis machines and other incredible tools. These machines are put to work creating works of art for architectural and design installations, ranging from futuristic chairs, fine furniture, to sculptures and even new designs for simple home items.
The skill and craftsmanship that goes into these works of art are beyond compare, but this is a great insight into how all those manufactured panels, design elements, and artistic accents are created, and one that shows you can do anything, provided you have the right tools.
[Majenta Strongheart] is one of the talented folks who works at the SupplyFrame Design Lab, home to dozens of Hackaday meetups, the Hackaday Superconference, and when the shop floor isn’t filled with chairs, is the place where tons of awesome projects are fabricated. [Majenta]’s role at the Design Lab is a Staff Designer, where she’s responsible for working the machines, and holds the distinction of being in the room when the SawStop kicked for the first time. Don’t fret: it was mirrored acrylic.
The tour begins in an exceptionally well-equipped wood shop kitted out with panel saws, spindle sanders, bandsaws, and not enough clamps. From there, the tour moves over to the metal shop and — unique for the city of Chicago — a forge. A long time ago, after Philadelphia and New York were the tech centers of America, and before the Bay Area was the tech center of America, Chicago made everything. The forge at the Art Institute of Chicago is the last remaining place in the city where metal casting takes place. This space was grandfathered in, and still remains a place where students can cast objects out of bronze and aluminum.
The Art Institute of Chicago is a very, very well equipped space full of enough tools to make anything you want. If you’re looking for some inspiration on what your basement, garage, or local hackerspace should look like, you need only look at [Majenta]’s tour. You can check out the entire video below.
Last week was the Open Hardware Summit in Denver Colorado. This yearly gathering brings together the people and businesses that hold Open Hardware as an ideal to encourage, grow, and live by. There was a night-before party, the summit itself which is a day full of talks, and this year a tour of a couple very familiar open hardware companies in the area.
I thought this year’s conference was quite delightful and am happy to share with you some of the highlights.
When we think about world-famous electronics markets in Asia, usually Shenzhen, Tokyo’s Akihabara, or Shanghai’s Beijing Road come to mind.
There’s another market that I’ve had my eye on for a few years: Nhật Tảo market in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It might not be as large or accessible as the more well-known markets, but it’s very much worth a visit if you’re in the area. I decided it was time to hop on my red motorbike (red things go faster) and give you a short tour of the central market, as well as some more hobbyist-friendly options.