A True Craftsman

Here is a gentleman who takes great pride in hand building vacuum tubes.  Not only does he build them by hand but he uses equipment that appears to be custom made.  If you enjoy watching a craftsman at work then checkout this two part video:

PART 1:

PART 2:

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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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The Harbor Freight Phenomenom – Leveraging China

This place is like a grab bag of randomness for the tool junky in you. If that isn’t bad enough their website is from 1989 and they have an unending supply of catalogs and I seem to be at the top of their list. Just when I’ve finished reading one catalog partially for entertainment factor and partially for interest, I get another one!!! I’m not quite sure why I read them when it’s much easier to find parts on their website (as bad as it may look).

We’ve all heard about it before … manufacturing being moved overseas and people losing their jobs. Even though most people refer to this as the China syndrome, China isn’t the only guilty party. India, Taiwan, Vietnam and South Korea to name a few, all contribute to helping us move our manufacturing overseas. The interesting part of sourcing overseas comes when you find out that its not nearly as easy or as straight foward as it may seem. Each country has their own manufacturing specialty, communication idiosyncrasies, payment policies, and costs of business. Look for the nitty gritty on these areas and more in upcoming articles written by Kim our “Master of Sourcing.”

A healthy side effect is the affordability of many of the items manufactured overseas. This article is entitled “The Harbor Freight Phenomenon” to cover just that. Below, you will find some incredible pricing disparities. I won’t say that the quality, support, or even functionality is equal for what I’m about to show you. I will say this, for the prices involved one can nearly afford to discover the quality of the item and dispose of it without incurring much financial harm. We would never endorse such wastefulness, however it is a very real side-effect of this pricing model that all of us as humans must deal with in the form of land fills and recycling.

Exhibit A:


So I have a project I’ve taken on at home that involves building some wood cabinets. Since unfortunately Engineer != woodworker, I rely on my woodworker friend to advise me. He said I should get a corner clamp to make my life easier when gluing and nailing my boxes together. What he didn’t realize is where I intended to purchase it from or the price at which I’d obtain it.

Here is one that can be found on Woodcraft’s website for $29.99 and is part #145962. I wouldn’t say this is a terrible price however it is all relative. The marketing experts say one of the first actions a customer takes is to evaluate what they feel the product is worth. If their evaluated price is close to the sale price then the rest is history.

Woodcraft Corner Clamp

Here is a similar unit from harbor freight for……….. a whopping $1.99 part #1852-7VGA. They are not exactly the same but for an expert woodworker such as myself, I obviously have made the decision that they will both work and are equivalent for my intended purpose. I do have one of the Harbor Freight units on order but it is backordered so I’ll have to wait to give an opinion on it’s quality.

Harbor Freight Corner Clamp


Exhibit B:

Once again, my woodworker friend recommended that, for a clamp, I look for something called a pipe clamp. I know most mechanical engineers and woodworkers are familiar with these. I, on the other hand, was not and recently discovered how handy these guys can be. It’s essentially a clamp that can be made as long as you have pipe (within reason). Once again I visited my favorite tool junkie website, harbor freight.

First I will show you an option this woodworker “friend” (is he a friend if he isn’t looking out for my pocket book? debateable!) suggested. This is from his favorite place, woodcraft. For a low, low price of $15.99 you can get the beauty seen below part #15I01.

Woodcraft Pipe Clamp

… But wait, call now and receive this guy (below) for only $3.99 part #3813-1VGA pipe not included.

Harbor Freight Pipe Clamp

I received this exact part today (actually 2, what good is only 1 clamp?) and examined it closely. As you can imagine it is a low quality casting with a paint job looking like it was done in billy bob’s front yard. The wedge (slanted silver strips of metal seen in the woodcraft picture) that allows the second half of the clamp to hold onto the pipe is not at all designed like the woodcraft version. It uses a toothed, camming lever that wedges itself up and against the pipe. I have my doubts as to how well this will work but for $4, how can you go wrong? Surely I will be able to modify it or use it for something else.

Exhibit C – Finale

Getting older is full of many wonderful and not-so-wonderful experiences. There are many times when just knowing how to do something correctly could’ve saved me hours, days, or even weeks of frustration. One of these such times is when I discovered that many of our interior and one of our exterior doors don’t actually latch. Instead, the striker hits the plate instead of entering the opening in the plate to secure the door. This is an easy fix but being an engineer, I figured there HAD to be an adjustment somewhere on the door. I looked everywhere (short of consulting Google) and found nothing. Finally, I mentioned it when we had an inspector in the building and boy was I embarrassed to find out the answer. Dumbfounded was I when I listened to him describe to me how to move the striker plate down using a chisel or router (fancier). It seemed such a hack to me, like adding jumper wires to a circuit, I despised of the thought I’d be left with a chiseled door frame. I shortly got over it and fixed what I needed to. The only problem is I used a screw driver instead of a chisel. Yes, it was a pain. Yes, it was ugly. Yes, I didn’t remove enough material. Thus I lead you to my last and final purchase…. CHISELS!!!!

Woodcraft Chisels (Qty 4) part #148104 for $34.99

Woodcraft Chisel

Harbor Freight’s Chisels (Qty 6) part #3816-1VGA for $5.99

Harbor Freight Chisel

Now I have to say that I know these are no where near the same quality however for MY intended purposes cheap is on the order of the day. Just for the record, I DO appreciate nice quality tools however it is hard to convice myself when the choice is between NO specialty tool (screwdriver vs chisel) or a budget specialty tool. For good measure I have included a picture below of some of the nicest chisels I’ve ever seen. I can honestly say this is the first time I’ve caught myself lusting for…. chisels for $45.99.

Beautiful Chisels

My point of this entire (overly lengthy) post is that great savings can be had by considering overseas sourcing. It does not matter what industry you are trying to source parts as nearly all are affected. There are some exceptions and they usually are in cases where there is little to no human labor and a large capital investment or the cost of shipping becomes the limiting factor. A shipping limitation example would be for something such as a large plastic water tank. They cannot be stacked inside eachother and each one holds thousands of gallons of water. If you can only fit 100 in a container your cost of even ocean freight may exceed the cost of manufacture. In this case it may be possible that it is still economical to source these overseas but this isn’t always the case.

We can help you with all of your Engineering and Supply Chain needs. Sourcing overseas is not trivial and we have all the bangs and bruises to show for our education. We would love to share what we’ve learned and help you design and source your products. Give us a call and we can talk you ear off or give you some quick insight.

Here’s a link that has a LOT more regarding Harbor Freight and the quality of their tools.  It even has a list of the ones not to buy.


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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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Taking the Delonghi Magnifica Apart

The story starts off with me noticing that recently while pulling shots of espresso, the espresso machine has been getting slower at extracting the shots. I adjusted the grinder about 30% and that seem to have fixed the problem. Because the grinder is a conical burr grinder it shouldn’t get clogged. However, I wanted to take it apart to clean it and see how it all was put together. I didn’t get a chance to take the grinder apart because it had more parts than I wanted to deal with on a Sunday morning. I did however snaps some good pictures which you can see below.

Inside front of machine with tray and carrier installed

This is the machine after the front door is opened. You can clearly see the carrier and its release tabs (red).

Inside front of machine with tray and carrier removed

I have removed the carrier and the drip tray with the used espresso puck container and set it aside. As you can see, it gets pretty messy in there however it is easy to clean out.

Rear of machine with pump and carrier motor

Besides awfully messy wiring (came like this, i promise), there are two things to note in this picture. The first is in the middle of the machine you’ll notice the 15 bar pump which has a label on it. This pump is the main pump used for pulling shots. Then a bit lower and to the left is a large motor. This motor is what drives the carrier up and down. It is large because it is used to drive the carrier into the tamper in compress the grinds. It appears as though there is some mechanical advantage happening here but I didn’t determine how much.

Inside right side of machine with heater and water filter

Here we have the right side of the machine. On the top tucked underneath you’ll notice the very shiny aluminum block. This is the heater and serves two purposes. The water is heated here and the radiated heat is used to heat the shot glasses which are placed on top of the stainless steel plate. Also, on the bottom of the machine there is a small water filter that connects into the tubing from the water reservoir (not present in this picture). It’s nice to know they added such a simple yet potentially product-saving item. It’s incredible how many products out there cut corners in these areas. Sometimes it’s only one little item that was overlooked or vetoed by the accountant that kept it from receiving “excellent” reviews. I’m happy to state that this Delonghi Magnifica is not one of them and I have been thoroughly satisfied with it. On to more pictures…

Combined brew head and tamper

This is the brew head where the magic happens. When the carrier comes up to this location it presses (tamps) the grinds and brews the coffee all at once (genius). The red o-ring is there because this brewing head actually slides down into the carrier. This provides the seal to hold in the very high pressures used when pulling espresso shots. See the next image for detail on this part of the carrier.

Combined brew head and tamper

This picture is looking down into the top of the carrier. This is where the brewing head resides when pulling (pumping) a shot of espresso. At the bottom is the metal grate which acts as the filter. It keeps the grinds captive while allowing the espresso through.

puck flapper

This picture shows how the puck slapper scrapes the used espresso puck off into the bin. When you empty the pins the pucks are surprisingly very well intact and easy to dispose of. In the summer, we use them in the garden as fertilizer.

Main circuit board

Lastly, we have the circuit board. Upon close inspection they’re using a microchip microcontroller and several mosfets for heater and motor control. With just a cursory glance the circuit board looks quite nice and well designed. My only gripe is the messy wiring seen on the rear of the machine. It’s so easy to throw in a few ties and makes all the difference during servicing and troubleshooting.

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Inside the Delonghi Magnifica Espresso Machine

So here we have a Delonghi Magnifica super automatic espresso machine. This is one beautiful piece of machinery. I’m not saying this because of its aesthetic characteristics but because of how well it performs. After using a manual machine with a blade-type grinder to make espresso every morning, upgrading to a super automatic is like a dream come true!

Many espresso/coffee purists would say that a super automatic machine is akin to taking a Geo Metro and putting tires from a Ferrari on it hoping for Ferrari-like performance. I disagree. When you consider the quality of the result combined with the time/hassle savings, it becomes a no-brainer.

Down to business… Check out this first video showing the basic brewing of a shot of espresso. It shows what a “good” shot should look like with the crema on top. I muted the sound as its rather uninteresting.

Next we have the video with the door open. Those clever guys over at Delonghi spared no expense when it comes to fault detection (door switch, water level, used espresso puck level, mineral buildup counter, etc). As a result, a paring knife was used to overide the door switch. I will go into more detail in the up coming days as to what does what.

Here is what’s happening in this video:

  • The carriage (black plastic with red tabs) is moving from its brewing location down to its home position. We also call this the dump position. This is the position where it dumps off any pucks of ground espresso. If you watch the video closely, you can see the flapper moving away and slapping the buck into the bin (there is no puck yet but if there was, that is what it’d do).
  • Now the carraige moves up to the grind location. The grinder will grind beans (after user selects serving size button) found in the hopper on the top of the machine. The grinds will fall out of the grinder and into the top of the carriage.
  • The carriage now moves up and to the right. When it does this you’ll notice after it stops, it moves slightly up again. It is actually compressing (tamping) the grinds into the carriage. Typically, on a manual machine this is done by hand with a tamper. Because this machine has a combined brewing head and tamper, it is able to stay at location after compressing the grinds to brew.The machine will immediately start the pump to begin the brew cycle. It does something called pre-brewing where by it wets the grinds down and waits a few seconds for them to saturate. This allows for a better shot of espresso. After the grinds are wetted it will execute the remainder of the extraction. In this video you’ll notice that the shot has an awefull lot of crema on top. I found it interesting myself how much more there was when the door was open and the espresso was falling straight into the glass instead of through the machine’s shoot. I believe I may have my grinder set too fine and will have to check into it.

Combined Brew Head and Tamper

  • After the extraction is complete, the carriage returns to the lower position and simulataneously ejects the puck of spent espresso grinds.
  • The carriage returns up to the grinder to wait for you to request another excellent shot (or 2) of espresso.
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