Engineering to Save $5000

Upon receiving our pre-owned 3D Printer we discovered the machine was having a few issues.  However, we expected a bit of work to flush out the bugs.  When the print head was removed to troubleshoot a clogged extrusion nozzle, we discovered a much larger problem …

The material extrusion nozzle and heating tube appeared to have sprung a leak during the previous ownership.  There is quite a large amount of material now extremely hard and carbonized (plasticizers all cooked out).  Left unchecked, the material would continue leaking eventually rendering the head unusable and unrepairable.

Without knowing how the print head is constructed, the only option was to disassemble the entire head.  We were able to put the partially disassembled head back into the machine to heat the nozzles back up (seen in the picture above).  The material was slowly and carefully pulled away from the nozzle while soft.  Once the material was pulled from the heat tube, it solidified into a rock-hard substance within a minute.

We pulled out the heating tube causing the problem, removed the foil and fiberglass over-wrap.  Most of the leaked material residue came off with the foil exposing a clean heat tube and heating element.  It wasn’t until now that we identified the source of the problem.

In the picture above, notice the inlet buffer (tanish brown plastic looking disk) is broken leaving a small piece left in the center of the heating tube.  Also, note the material residue on the face of the inlet buffer.  The material had been leaking between the fractured inlet buffer.  This was most likely caused by a clogged extrusion nozzle in combination with a stress fracture in the inlet buffer from the heating and cooling cycle.

How do we fix this?  First, let’s call Stratasys and see if they have a replacement ….

PRINT HEAD, FDM2000, WATERWORKS ABSi …………………… $5000

Ouch!  Now, we’re totally dedicated to getting this machine functional as we have a decent bit of money already into its purchase price.  However, if we invest another $5k, we’re probably better off buying their new machine for $15k.  Now it could be suggested that this is Stratasys’ planned obsolescence.  Maybe, maybe not.  The head is so complicated and designed for low production (expensive to manufacture parts) that it actually does cost that much to rebuild every part in quantities of less than say 5 at a time.  You’ll get a glimpse of this in a second.

Now what?

The part we need is very simple and something we could make in about an hour or less with the right equipment.  Pull out the calipers and let’s get this done…

Done.

Only one question… What type of plastic can hold the tolerances we need (+/- 0.001″) throughout the temperature range of the heating tube (room temperature to 290 degrees C) ?  Phenolic? No.  ABS?  Not a chance.  Engineering plastics ?  Absolutely now which one?

Cut to the chase… Polyimide is typically sold in very thin sheets or adhesive tape for insulating electrical circuits but is also solid in bars at about $71 per inch.  We can’t just chuck up just one inch in the lathe and what if we need another one?  Wow… the hits keep coming.  We found a surplus 5″ bar for about $150 and got it done …

One minor improvement was made where the small boss meets the large disk.  We added a radius to reduce the stress caused from the coefficient of thermal expansion differences between aluminum and Polyimide.  A chamfer had to be added to the heat tube to clear the new radius.

Heating tube reinstalled into print head (on right).

Because the head was taken apart, the tip offset between the model and support tips must be adjusted.

Back in action…

After replacing the clogged nozzle that started all of this, the machine has worked quite well for us.  We’ve had some minor hiccups and a lot of calibrating to do but all is well now.

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Energy Harvesting and the Green

Here at Incredilution, we are always on the lookout for new and upcoming technologies to use in our client’s projects.    While energy harvesting is not new, many of the most promising concepts leverage cutting edge technology.

Energy harvesting is the process of capturing and storing ambient energy.  This energy can be in the form of radio waves, heat, vibration, wind, solar and  many others.  We are especially interested in harvesting techniques that can be leveraged for use in an embedded or small device environment.  Below we’ve identified some ideas worthy of further investigation and monitoring for improvements.

Piezoelectric

Here is a company that specializes in Piezo energy harvesting.  They use large piezoelectric elements with lever arms that vibrate at a specific, narrow band of frequencies to generate power.  Their units are relatively large for their power outputs and they must be used within certain narrow band frequencies.  However, this may be a good solution if your requirements fit within those constraints.


Solar

Just about everyone is familiar with solar technology using the standard monocrystaline silicon wafer (blue/green metalic look).  The problem with these is that usually they’re quite large for an embedded application.  Additionally they have very low output voltages making them tough to economically integrate into a design.  A company by the name of Clare (an IXYS Company) has taken a similar technology and repackaged it  in the form of an IC (integrated circuit) that can be directly soldered to a printed circuit board.  They’ve used new technology called silicon-on-insulator (SOI) to fabricate a tiny, yet high voltage solar cell.   We can take an array of these in parallel and build a very small device that is either solar assited or completely solar powered.  These ICs cost around $0.60 in quantities over 500.  In the world of energy harvesting, this is pocket change.

http://www.clare.com/Products/SolarCell.htm

Electroactive Polymer (Artificial Muscle)

EAP (electroactive polymers) material is quite neat.  They will change shape when a voltage (typically very high >1KV) is applied to them.  Depending on how the material is layered they can bend, contract, or turn into crazy shapes.  One of the technologies that falls under EAPs is dielectric elastomers.  These can also be used to generate power by flexing, bending, or streching the material.  There are thousands of applications for this type of energy harvesting.  One interesting one was the concept of sewing this material into a shirt.  The deflection of the material from normal human movement would generate a small amount of power.  Check out the link and video below:

http://www.artificialmuscle.com/applications/power_generation.html

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Don’t Miss Out on the next Wireless Boom!

In the last decade or more we’ve seen the proliferation of consumer-oriented wireless devices.   These devices use technologies such as Wifi (802.11) and Bluetooth (802.15.1) to achieve long range and/or very low power functionality.   As these technologies are perfected, they are gradually making their way into smaller, less expensive devices like cell phones, headsets, mp3 players and the list continues. These standards however are not going to create the next wireless boom. Look out for something much smaller in much higher quantities.

The ARC Advisory Group predicts  “The market for wireless devices and equipment in process manufacturing will grow to over $1.1B in 2012, a growth rate of 32% per year…”  They go on to explain the reason for this large growth is due to large reductions on installation cost.   As an engineering company, we see many semiconductor manufacturers coming out with new wireless chips and modules.  There are two large paradigm shifts in how wireless devices are being designed that we’ve noticed in the last 5-7 years.  The first is one-chip radio solutions where only a single chip (IC) is required to provide wireless functionality.  The second is called a System-on-a-Chip or SoC and refers to a one-chip radio and microcontroller solution.  This allows the system designer to not only add wireless functionality to their device, but integrate it into the existing “brain” or microcontroller that was already in their  system.  Essentially, they’re consolidating what used to be many chips into a single one.  This integration lowers the cost to develop, certify (regulatory compliance) and manufacture a device.

Here is a device that has USB 2.0, a UHF radio transceiver, a Microcontroller, AES Encryption all on a single chip the size of your fingernail!!  Imagine the possibilities!

These new SoCs also have several other interesting benefits.  The two most notable are that of size reduction and power consumption.  By integrating the wireless and processing “blocks” into a single chip and sometimes even the same die, the chip manufacturers are able to drastically reduce the chips footprint.  The SoCs are also able to share some functionality thereby saving power.  Furthermore, advances in semiconductor manufacturing technologies have allowed the chips to be manufactured using a newer semiconductor process.  This new process helps the chips to run at higher speeds while consuming less power.

So why is all this important to you as our client?  These new advances allow for many product ideas that may’ve previously been impossible now very possible.  The new wireless boom isn’t limited to industrial uses.  There are already entrepreneurs putting these devices to use in the most obscure of places.  Some of the ideas we’ve heard include winery humidity monitoring, soil moisture monitoring, personal sensor networks, road, bridge, and building monitoring.

Come up with an idea and give us a call!  We can help you find the best solution to ensure your product is sucessfull!

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Why you should LOVE the Snuggie (or the marketing of)?

Yes, yes, yes… I know, you HATE the snuggie commercials right?  I didn’t mind them so much initially even though I felt the product was ridiculous. Now that I’ve seen it so much I can’t help but mute the TV.  There are plenty of parodies on YouTube regarding the snuggie.  I won’t post them here as they’re not appropriate for wide audiences. If you’d like a good laugh, head over and check it out.

A quick search on Google will yield results that show just HOW popular the snuggie is.  According to multiple sources (through Google), they’ve sold over 4Million snuggies!!  This translates into over $80M in gross sales.  How?

 

Marketing 101:

 

EASY to purchase:  Check out their website ww.getsnuggie.com (NOT affiliated) and what is the first thing you notice?  Their landing page is ALL that they need!  You don’t have to dig for the price as it couldn’t get any bigger on their site.  They have a video which explains how it works and you can purchase right on that same page, ingenious marketing!!

 

NEED: Using their video, they’ve conveyed the problem and the solution to something you may’ve not even been aware of.   They created a need.  You don’t have to instantly convert but guess what?  The next time you use a regular blanket I bet you’ll at least think of the snuggie.  If you ask nearly any female who actually uses blankets with regularity, they will agree then it IS a pain to have to snake your arms out of a regular blanket.

 

VALUE:  In the beginning of the video they imply you can keep your thermostat low to save money while using the snuggie.  This helps the consumer justify the purchase.  In their mind they compare the $19.95 price to the cost of raising their thermostat a few degrees.

 
 
 

FEELING: Did you notice the video on their website uses a monotone filter for the first portion of the video where they show a distraught blanket user?  They then switch to normal full-color video with vibrant snuggie colors and pleasant music (somewhat).  If you didn’t, go look again.  This gives you feelings regarding the old blanket vs the snuggie.

 
 

I didn’t cover all aspects of their marketing but you get the point without the boredom.  Pretty neat huh?  It doesn’t take much of a product just a great team.  We are that team and while we may not be the marketing and promotion experts, we can help you get in contact with the right people.  If you are successful, we are successful!

 

Want some more pain?  Maybe you’ve seen the Bumpits?  If not, check out their website… http://www.bumpits.com/ and look for another post about them soon!!

 

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MADE IN CHINA … Is Sourcing Overseas Right For Your Company?

Sourcing overseas has become so common that it’s almost impossible to not consider it when selecting new suppliers for your business. Thousands of companies offer every product and service under the sun, and it’s hard to imagine the good ol’ U S of A could ever compete. There are definitely downsides though, so arm yourself with knowledge to ensure you make the right decision for your business.


1.) US standards do not apply … so go overboard on details and specs for quote requests.


The tiniest detail left unspecified can easily translate to a quote that’s for something close to – - but not exactly what – - you want. If your requirements are flexible, you can get some amazing deals. If not, you might find yourself extremely frustrated. The grade of material may be different than what’s considered standard here, a plastics plasticizer used might be something ok in China but banned under CA’s Prop 65, or your Pantone color match might be a few shades off. ALWAYS get samples before making a production order, to ensure that you really know what you’re buying. Ask plenty of open-ended questions to be sure you’re fully understood, and even ask for photos of the factory if your product would require specialized equipment. It’s very common for people to farm work out to others without telling you, which adds another layer of potential problems and miscommunication.

2.) It takes thirty to forty-five days to get my stuff? And then I have to go through Customs??


Logistics and transportation are no small matter when electing to purchase offshore. Ocean freight is cheap, but it generally takes 30-45 days. Your shipment will have to go through US Customs after it arrives, requiring a whole host of paperwork and fees. You’ll probably have to hire a company to act as your Freight Forwarder and Customs Broker unless you’re really adventurous and want to try to navigate through US Customs yourself. Even with a Broker you’ll be juggling details like whether your supplier is sending the original Bill of Lading by air, or if they’re doing a Telex release. If the details aren’t ready in time, your shipment will sit in Customs indefinitely while you pay storage fees. Air freight (like UPS) is much faster (2-5 business days), and they’ll handle all that paperwork for you … but you’ll be paying at least $4/kg. It is not at all unusual for airfreight to be more expensive than the products being transported. Yikes!

3.) This whole transaction looks shady … is this really the norm for China/Taiwan/India?


A lot of oddities that might indicate fraud in the US really are just the norm overseas. Yes, the person you’re emailing will probably call themselves by an English name that you’re pretty sure they made up (Paul, Salina, Alex, Tiger, Coke … I’ve heard a lot of interesting ones!). Yes, their email address is often hotmail, yahoo or gmail. No, their English isn’t all that great (I send lots of pictures along with any specs … with plenty of arrows, circles, comments, etc.). Yes, they’ll want 30-50% wired to them before they begin work. No, their banking information does not seem in any way related to the name of their company, and may not even be in the same town. Yes, they’ll want the remaining balance before they release anything for shipment … and if what shows up on the boat 45 days later doesn’t look like exactly what you want, you’ll probably have a very difficult time getting any type of resolution.

Side note: On large amounts, you may be able to negotiate a Letter of Credit rather than just a cash wire transfer – - highly advisable if at all possible, as it brings a bank’s oversight into the equation. The money is still effectively gone from your account as soon as you set it up, but you do at least have some recourse if issues arise.

Bottom line … there are great opportunities available in China, Taiwan and India for the wary buyer who puts in the extra work to mitigate potential risks. Weigh the pros and cons, do your homework, and you’ll be ready for success.  If you have any questions feel free to give us a call or email us.

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What Holds the Joint Strike Fighter Together?

What holds the Military’s new fighter together? The answer to that is adhesive bonded fasteners by Enfasco. Yeah, thats right we’re talking GLUE here. I’m sure those glue specialists would prefer I use the term “Adhesive!!” I bet you’re wondering what possibly could one of these things look like? Here…

Stainless Steel Fastener

I came across these while looking for an innovative solution to mount a product we’re working on to the hull of a boat. After talking with the application engineer over at Enfasco, it is actually pretty common to use these in the marine world. Apparently NASA also used them in the space station.

Base of fastener

What makes these so incredible isn’t that they are an adhesive fastener. It is their patented fixture which holds the fastener to the bonding surface and the fact that it is disposable. To apply one of these you first squirt some adhesive onto the base. Next, you will remove the paper backing on the double-sided tape of the fixture. Then you place the fixture onto the surface to bond to and push the upper part of it firmly. The fixture uses live hinges that cams the entire fastener to the bonding surface and applies force until the adhesive is cured.

On the left is the fixture before “set” and on right is fixture as its received. If you look closely you can see the live hinges which work nearly identical to the live hinges on your shampoo bottle lids (or catchup).

Live hinges of fixture at rest before being applied to surfaceLive hinges cammed down to hold position

If you ask nicely Enfasco will even sell you a very convenient bonding kit that comes with all the necessary supplies and is one time use. This is great for the reason that it leaves no clean-up to worry about. This kit comes with the following:

  1. Acrylic adhesive (other types available)
  2. A solvent wipe to clean both bonding surfaces
  3. Scuff pad to rough up the bonding surface before adhesive application
  4. Popsicle stick for stirring and applying the adhesive
  5. Mixing pallet to stir and apply from

Adhesive Kit

Here are the instructions to install these:

Instructions

If you are interested in purchasing any of these you can get a hold of Enfasco over at their webpage. They have all different shapes, types, sizes, and materials.

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5 Neat Ideas for Your Product with a Printed Circuit Board

  1. If you are using a 7-segment display or an LCD that is circuit board mounted this idea may be perfect for you. Instead of using a harness to connect the display to the main board, solder the display board directly to the main board.  Design the board so the copper conacts run all the way to the edge of both boards.  Next, solder the two boards together at a 90 degree angle. Make sure to place some mechanical pads with vias for support and to prevent the pads from pulling up.

    Render of attaching two PCBs together at 90 degrees

  2. Leave off headers for programming and debugging (serial ports and usb ports) and instead use edge card connectors or spring pins and a custom PCB to mount them to. The expense of the custom pcb is much less than the reoccurring cost of the extra headers and connectors that are not used by the customer.
  3. Card Edge Connector

  4. Reconsider design reuse when it comes to schematic design and board layout. With more and more devices going wireless there is a need for a transmitter and receiver. Typically these are actually both transceivers. In many cases, the base station has a similar layout to the transmitter. Consider building a module that has all of your radio (or similar) components on it and soldering it down to your main board. This not only saves you money when it comes time to have the boards built, it also saves you from having to design two separate boards. Additionally, with the wireless revolution, if you are building small quantities consider using a COTS radio module as they are much cheaper than spinning your own (in low qty’s). Furthermore, they work without much work (usually)!
  5. Bluetooth Module

  6. If you have the space, a well designed 2-layer circuit board can perform as well as a 4-layer. The most important thing to consider is cost vs time. The 4-layer board will cost nearly twice as much as the 2-layer which is significant at any purchase quantity. However, the 2-layer board may require a few more prototypes to get right, especially if its a transceiver.

    Application Schematic

  7. If you are designing the schematic or you are hiring a consultant to do it consider leveraging work that someone else has already completed. Many manufacturers publish application notes that have a reference schematic which has been tested and documented. Typically these designs work very well and require zero to few minor modifications. This will save you a lot of time and money in the long run. Additionally, these same companies have application engineers (usually the guys who designed the reference schematics) who can answer questions.

Whether you are working on a board design or conceptualizing a new product, give us a call. If nothing else, we might be able to point you in the right direction and save you some time.

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Easy No-kink Hose

We’ve all been worn out by cheap kinky hoses. So you’re leaving for work and notice that your flowers are dying and need to throw some water on them real quick. You go to drag the hose out to where you need it and then run back to the house to turn it on. After cranking on the faucet you run back to the end of the hose to water the flowers. Pull the trigger on your nozzle and….. nothing.

There are many different ways to skin a cat as there are to make a kink resistant hose. Here is a neat one I came across while disassembling the coffee maker for a one-on-one cleaning session. I didn’t get to what I wanted to clean but I sure got some cool pictures.

Spring inside small tubing

Notice a small spring is used within the hose. It starts prior to the arc in the hose and ends shortly after. This provides internal support that keeps the hose from kinking. In this case they’re simply using it because they have a tight radius to bend around. In some cases this method can also be used to prevent hose collapse under high vacuum. Typically you would use a hose designed to withstand the vacuum, however sometimes these problems don’t creep up until the products hit the production line.

If you can appreciate things like this then we may be the right design house for you. On the other hand, If you’re really on top of your game you’ll tell us that we should appreciate a better design instead of a quick fix like this! :) Either way, we’d love to talk. Give us a call or fill out our easy inquiry form.

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First Article!

Willkommen!!!

This is my first post and I’d like to take a moment to introduce “The Team!” We are a tight knit group of young entrepreneurs who strive to innovate an incredible solution to any product need that you may have. We try not to claim we know it all and we are always open to new ideas and suggestions. Our team consists of a lean group of Engineers (both mechanical and electrical), a machinist by trade, and a “master of sourcing” as she likes to be called.

We pride ourselves on the feel, fit and finish of our designs in addition to making them manufacturable at a profitable price. We do this by finding creative solutions and looking in unusual places for inspiration. We also goto great lengths to leverage existing COTS products to keep the custom part count to a minimum. Additionally we can drive the price down further by utilizing offshore manufacturing and assembling the items state-side.

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