8-Bit Blog: Right Tools for the Job November 05 2013
Small scale manufacturing often requires creating tools to make assembly easier. These tools are called "fixtures" or "jigs" and allow assembly workers to be more efficient, keep the product from getting damaged, or line up parts with a very tight tolerance.
One of our greatest challenges was the use of glue to put the lamp together. We had to apply glue on the inside edges, but we couldn't allow any to seep out the cracks, because it had the possibility to marring the finish. In order to prevent this, we built a fixture that squeezed the lamp together, closing up any gaps on the edges where the glue would escape. This was machined by CNC mills, and made to within a few 10,000ths of an inch.
We realized that the workers would need to rotate the fixture in order to apply glue to the various internal sides of the lamp. The head of the factory came up with a fantastic idea to mount the fixture to an old motor, which would remain off, but allow the worker to spin the lamp freely as they applied the glue.
Here's a video of the fixture in use. You can see the worker applying a small piece of plastic to every internal edge where he applies glue. These "cleats" provide a much stronger bond between each of the sides, and are the reason why the lamp could survive a fall out the 6th story window. We also installed a lever system with a piece of aluminum and rubber bands. This allows the worker to easily rotate the fixture between the four optimal gluing positions.
Once the five-sided box is together, we needed a way of gluing the sixth side on without applying any glue to the outside of the box. Our solution to this was to place cleats precisely on the inside walls of the lamp. This would result in a "shelf" where the worker could apply glue (see highlighted picture above). The final panel could then press down onto this shelf.
We CNCed another set of fixtures to ensure that these cleats could be applied with exact precision. The worker places a cleat into the fixture and applies glue, and then the panel is placed down precisely on top. This is one of the first steps in the production, so that the shelf is already in place when the box is put together.
Another common purpose for a fixture is to test the functionality of a component. Shortly after receiving the circuit boards, we found that an unsettling number of units had non-functioning LEDs. As a result, we decided to test every board before they were glued inside the lamp. The factory made the jig above, that allowed us to test all 3,000 boards, and send the broken ones back to the circuit board supplier (luckily there were only 50 or so in the batch).
After the circuit boards were tested, we had to glue them to the bottom panel of the lamp. This acts as the brain of the device: it contains the touch sensor, turns the lights on and off, and plays the sound through the speaker. It also needs to be precisely placed, as the speaker needs to line up with the hole in the bottom of the lamp (that way you can hear the sounds!). We created a jig that lines up the holes on the yellow panel and PCB, and allows the worker to glue the board quickly and precisely.
On the last day of my trip, I met up with our sourcing group for a party. It was the first time in a few years when their whole team could come together so it was a really fun celebration. We ordered a lot of great food including something called a "Dragon Egg". It was essentially fried dough filled with air. Very tasty...
The team we've been working with is called the Berkeley Sourcing Group. They're a great partner that's been helping us with finding factories, and making sure the product gets delivered on time. It's often challenging to find suppliers that work with you on a small scale, so it was great to have them helping us along the way.
Til next time...
8-Bit Blog: Drop Test! October 11 2013
It's important for every company to do stress tests on their products, especially those that will be handled often (or in our case, punched). To address this, we decided to do a series of drop tests with Mr. Wen.
We started off with a standard 1 meter drop onto a hard surface and found no signs of damage. Mr. Wen decided to up the intensity a bit and started chucking it against the cement floor. As a final test, we decided to throw the lamp off the 6th floor of the factory. This would not be considered normal operating use (i.e. no refunds if you do this).
8-Bit Lit: Packaging October 10 2013
Packaging is a very important consideration for consumer products. In the best case, you want to give your customers a great experience when they first open the box (think most apple products). As we're working on a tight budget, our primary goals are to deliver the first run of lamps safely to the customers, but was we move forward as a business, we'll be designing packaging that will make the lamps look great on store shelves.
We had the pleasure of working with Charlie, who's a bright up-and-comer at a big packaging supplier. Charlie was ready to help us design our packaging, but first he gave us a tour of their facilities.
Some of the biggest and most impressive machines there were Heisenberg Offset printers. These lay down each ink individually (anywhere from 2-6 separate colors), and their fastest machines can print upwards of 18,000 sheets per hour. These machines are commonly used for any printing on the outside of packaging.
One of the next processes is the addition of a varnish, or reflective coating. This technique is used to attract the eye of the customer when the product sits on store shelves. You can see as I walk down the line that the sunlight reflects off the sheet after the varnish has been applied. The bright light is an array of UV lights that cures the coating very quickly.
In order to turn stock cardboard into boxes, a die cutter is used to crease and cut a design our of a rectangular sheet. This is an example of one of their largest die cutting machines that has to be run manually.
The auto die cutters are really impressive, and can work about as quickly as the Heisenberg Printers. The machines themselves are very complicated, so sorry if I wasn't able to capture all the mechanisms.
After the tour, we sat down with Charlie to discuss our packaging. Our two key concerns are the safety of the products, as well as the weight of the boxes, because this will determine shipping cost. Charlie helped create some innovative solutions that were both safe and lightweight.
As the day came to a close, we took Charlie out to a nearby Hakka restaurant. Top left: Crispy duck in soy sauce. Top right: Egg pancake with scallions. Bottom left: fried fish. Bottom right: Tofu with ground pork.
Thanks for reading y'all!
8-Bit Blog: Troubleshooting October 10 2013
Product manufacturing is often fraught with challenges, and success and failure can hinge on making the right decisions at the right time. At 8-Bit Lit, we haven't made every step of the process easy on ourselves. Most electronic products that you buy today will be comprised of an injection molded case, with circuitry inside. The assembly process for this kind of product is fairly simple and clean.
The question block lamp is quite a bit more complicated. It's comprised of six sides, which are glued together from the inside. This is somewhat straightforward for the first five sides, but the sixth and final is quite challenging, as we need to keep any glue from getting on the outside of the box.
A challenge like this calls for an expert. Enter Seth. Seth is a product designer with a specialty in DFM (or Design for Manufacturing). With 10 years of experience, I've come to trust him with manufacturing challenges such as these.
One of the first things we realized was a necessity for custom jigs or fixtures to help the workers assemble the lamps correctly, without getting glue everywhere. These fixtures needed to be precise, so we called in Mr. She who's creating the aluminum stands (his factory makes precision metal parts). After two days of discussion and design work, we came up with a series of fixtures that will help with the assembly process.
This trip has been very work-heavy, so we decided to take an afternoon to visit a pagoda about an hour outside of Shenzhen. The village was up on a peak that overlooked the city, and contained a temple, several impressive statues, and a giant pagoda at the summit (check out Seth for scale).
The village was beautiful and very peaceful. It was a great break from the long hours of factory visits and problem solving.
So I've seen a few turtles here and there in my life, but this totally blew me away. The village had a pool with several hundred turtles of all sizes (there was an adorable one about the size of a potato chip). We stopped and hung out for a while, taking video and watching them swim.
Thanks for reading!
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