All Posts By

Chris Elsworthy

Kickstarter Training Day

By | Chris Elsworthy Design Blog, Kickstarter, News | One Comment

Friday (26th August) was a special day for us here at CEL, as a few of us had the privilege of meeting with the select people from our Kickstarter campaign who bid on the ‘Robox® 3D Printing Starter Pack’, which included a visit to meet us in Bristol, UK and the opportunity to own an early Limited Edition Robox® in the Kickstarter colours, as well as a day’s training. Oh, and lunch as well.

Excitingly the day went pretty much to plan, with only one slight change in the lead up to the event as we realised that with an office and warehouse move, perhaps a visit to HQ wasn’t the brightest of ideas. So a quick change of venue later, and we found ourselves in a dust-free, rubbish-free, clean and tidy office just around the corner.

Our backers brought their own laptop computers with them, and much of the day was spent unpacking the brand new Rob units – the only ones in the world with limited edition plaques – installing the software and testing the prints. Happily, all of the Robox units worked well and it was amazing to actually see the reactions of people as they got to grips with the new technology. The fact they were printing pretty quickly after discarding the packaging was very reassuring.

c1

c2

It was also really great to spend the day with some like-minded people…. These are the guys who understand or love 3D printing so much they’ve waited patiently for the best part of a year to receive the unit they truly believe will be the difference within the 3D printing industry.

But contrary to our expectations, a real mix of people attended the day – it wasn’t just geeky tech-types who know everything about additive manufacturing; normal people attended too! We were pleased to meet home users, retailers, engineers, and even children – all of whom managed to get their machines up and running quickly despite having no previous experience. Our aim with the Robox project has always been to make 3D printing accessible to everyone, and the training day proved this is really possible.

We all got a real buzz from the day, and are now making plans to run similar training days in the future, so watch this space!

 

Transformers: 3D printed robots in the skies…

By | Chris Elsworthy Design Blog | No Comments

We love reading about the latest trends for 3D printing, as companies strive to invent the coolest gadgets to take the media world by storm.

These stories are brilliant for illustrating just how versatile 3D printing can be, and allow readers to use their own imaginations and dream up their own innovative designs.

Some of the most impressive 3D printed parts have to be the prosthetic limbs which have benefited people all over the world, and even 3D printed human tissue.  Scientists one day hope to be able to create human organs on a 3D printer, and while developments towards this are being made daily, we’re probably a couple of decades away from seeing a 3D printed organ appearing in a hospital operating theatre.

The team at Robox are passionate about 3D printing being used for worthwhile causes, and will soon hope to be instrumental in making human hands along with The Open Hand Project leader Joel Gibbard … watch this space for more info.

amsterdam chair

Other great achievements have been 3D printed furniture which allows homeowners to create a unique living space, 3D printed cars, innovative rocket designs, hand washing devices to solve hygiene problems in Lebanon, hats and clothing, and even story books.

The most recent news comes from BAE scientists who have announced that in 2040 we may see Transformer-style 3D printer drones flying through the skies, after researchers have spent time designing and researching futuristic aircraft technologies.

Read more about developments these experts believe could take place in just 26 years time:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/06/3d-printer-drones-2040-bae-futurist-aircraft

We at Robox certainly love Transformers, so the thought of being able to print and send mini unmanned aircraft into the stratosphere sounds great!

The Sci-fi Generation

By | Chris Elsworthy Design Blog | No Comments

I was really excited to meet Gordon Attenborough and Mark Reynard from The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), to be interviewed about the fact the Robox looks set to be one of the world’s first ‘plug and print’ 3D Printers.
Gordon and the IET team visited our offices in Portishead and spent a day with the team, learning more about the capabilities of both our hardware and software.

Pleasingly, the Robox behaved beautifully, producing some great prints, and I was able to demonstrate how the software interacts with the hardware, as well as taking the unit apart to show the ‘gubbins’ inside the print head, as well as some of the more unique properties of the machine such as our filament feed.

The great thing about the IET is that they are a team which is passionate about working to engineer a better world, and that’s exactly what we at CEL are all about.  Our mission is to design and engineer products which can be accessed by everyone; including people who have knowledge of engineering and how things work, and people who don’t.  The key thing behind each and every one of our designs is usability.

We’re delighted with the resulting video and interview, as it demonstrates just how the Robox might soon find its way into schools, colleges, universities and homes.

We hope our affiliation with the IET will continue, as support from our customers, kickstarter backers, and like-minded organisations is what will be the driving force behind the Robox project.

Frustrating times

By | Kickstarter, News | No Comments

Once again we have to start with an apology – we promised prompt delivery times and we’ve not delivered. I know this is no consolation to you but it is as frustrating to us as it is to you, we pressed the ‘GO’ button on the beta production some time ago and there has been a stream of small issues ever since.

Firstly, sorry for the lack of information we are passing on to you. This is because we want to give you definitive points and dates, but the list is long and we just don’t know if each of these issues are design problems, mechanical faults or software related until we have tested each and proven our theories.

Listed below are some of these issues so at least you know what the hold-ups are and what we are doing to fix them.

Electronics Faults – The products arrived in the UK from our factory, and of course the first thing we did before shipping out to you was to open a box and see what we were going to be shipping. We ran a lengthy sequence of tests and found a problem on the main PCB. The thermistor in the head was not reading the correct value. We had them 100% tested and printing before they left the factory so we know they were working then, so only shipping could have caused the problem. What do we do now? Test every machine again? Even if they all worked would that still be true after they reached you? We opened 3 more and found it to be an isolated problem, fixed by replacing the Main PCB. The worry for us in this case is that the beta testers would not have been able to fault find and test the machine in the same way we can here. Dealing with such an obscure fault remotely would have cost us severely in time and resources.

PLA Printing – Even though we have had some of our best quality prints in PLA we are struggling to get any good results from the Beta Production Robox units. We don’t want any more delays, so the decision has been made to get the hardware to you, and ask that you print in ABS in the short term whilst we diagnose the problem. When a solution has been found we will issue any hardware/software changes to you. Before we ship we want to do a few more tests to reduce the downtime of each unit once you have it.

New Post-processor for GCode – We started this project by modifying Slic3r to make it work with Robox, but we ran up against limitations that were causing print quality issues. Instead, we’ve decided to make a program that takes the GCode generated by Slic3r and amends it to work with Robox. This change was as simple and successful as we had initially thought but the integration back into the GUI took much longer than we had anticipated. The good news is that now we are ready for all future updates to Slic3r without a lot of work and we can easily modify our GCode post-processor to accept code from other slicers. This will be seen as a huge step forward once Robox is in common use.

GUI and Firmware Fixes – As you can imagine there is a list of bugs and future improvements that we are continuously adding to our GUI tracker. It’s time to prioritise – we need to decide what must be fixed now, and what can be saved for future releases. Our problem here is not expertise but resources. Each amendment took longer than we anticipated and because Ian has not only been working on the GUI but many other aspects of the system to keep our mechanical tests going, there have been delays. There is good news however – we’ve taken on more software engineers and are ploughing through the list much faster now.

Framework around release – Before we start getting feedback and sending you updates, we need a load of systems in place to handle it. We’ve got an update and fault logging system in place now and this will help us be more responsive and be less draining on resources. This same support portal will become a FAQ and resource of settings, commands, fault finding, confirmed fixes and other useful data that will keep us all happily printing.

Just plain scared to let an unfinished project out – I know one of the points you may make is that we have experience in releasing products to the market, and indeed we used this knowledge to sell ourselves to you. The truth is that we DO have experience getting products to market and this has been invaluable, but there are areas of this project that are new to us, some sections are pure research and have never been done before. The learning curve has been steep and the challenges are significant. We are still moving forward, most days.

We hate having to apologise again for not updating you more and further delays with the product, we’re sorry and we’re trying to be as honest as possible. I would like to stress to you guys that this is what you’ve signed up for, Kickstarter is not a shop; the projects and products here are not finished and all estimates for completion date are just that, estimates. We really do appreciate your backing and are disappointed to not have met our own delivery dates, but the big picture here is that we are trying to develop the best 3D printer in the world and a micro-manufacturing system that will endure and sell in volume around the world. We are working extremely hard and your backing is enabling us to reach this goal. Please bear with us and we promise to keep you closer in the loop with more regular updates going forward.

Our short term plan today is to have the software with you by the middle of you next week and the hardware to follow shortly after that.  This will enable us to ensure that installation and initial use is smooth before the hardware turns up so we can segregate the two things.

Chris Elsworthy has been beasted to make sure that at least one update is with you each week keeping you better informed about exactly we’re doing, and how we’re achieving the goal that you’re backing us to reach.  Again, as always, thank you for your patience and support.

Why product design, development and production is more difficult to plan than you may think….

By | Chris Elsworthy Design Blog, Prototype Build | 5 Comments

As you know we have suffered delays with the launch of Robox and on the whole the followers and backers of the project have been extremely supportive and understanding of this unforeseen delay.  It has however given me the idea to write a quick blog about why it’s so hard to nail down dates when designing and developing a new product.

Firstly, let me get down a few of the issues I’ve experienced whilst developing innovative features and functions on products.

You might imagine that copying someone else’s product or design is a quick business, challenges can be confidently predicted and completed after a few examples have been sketched, modelled and made.

Designing a new type of product or feature is the opposite of this; although I often start with a clear and structured idea, the path to get there is not clear and has often never been trodden before.

When I start a new project I normally have what I think is the perfect way to achieve my target, and my first task is to get the ideas out of my head and into a drawing or model. Putting the contents of my brain on paper, into CAD or physical models usually shows up many unconsidered problems, and this is where the real work normally starts.

I start to modify my initial concept to actually work in the real world and this in turn often leads to new and unexpected problems, but by diligence and repetition of both drawings and real models I often get to my end goal, sometimes in the most unexpected way. Of course there are really clever people in this world who imagine the full system before putting pen to paper or glue to plastic, and can create the perfect product first time round – but this is a rarity.

Working through the process bit by bit greatly expands on my understanding of the original problem. This means I am constantly increasing my knowledge of relevant subjects and the processes involved in creating the elements required to make them perform as intended. Test rigs and assemblies, paper models, hand made plastic parts, glue, piles of drawings and discarded revisions.

The Eureka moment – finally, after working through the above I finally have a concept which works in theory…time to put it into practice.

So I’ve modelled my idea in CAD and I have a heap of hand-made parts which prove my theories – at this point I get an overwhelming sense of satisfaction and I feel my next logical step could only be to take over the world .. (Evil Laugh).

Just as quickly as I reach euphoria, I’m brought back down to earth by colleagues who try to push me into making something which is less pie in the sky and more commercially viable – and this brings us to stage two of product development.  The point at which all the concepts and solutions you’ve worked through in the design stage get amalgamated into something which can be manufactured at a cost which is commensurate with its intended use.

This is the hard slog in my experience and often takes me back into the design stage a number of times as I tweak things to make them actually possible to manufacture.

I find myself sitting at the CAD station for months on end drawing and redrawing every individual part of my product, considering tooling design, materials, assembly sequence, durability, safety, aesthetics, quality and a million other things. Every time I think I’m getting to the end of this process I would normally order and build a prototype. This once again reveals a massive list of things that don’t work as well as I had wanted.

This process can happen again, and again, and again, as I try to perfect the design once and for all.

During this time, I need a huge bucket of faith as things can seem impossible… At some point, when things seem almost perfect, I make that final decision to start the tooling and put the project into production.

The next stage is costly, risky and takes you to the point of no return in terms of investment.  You are relying on a production team to take what they see as a half-baked design into full production by using all your drawings and prototypes to make and produce the product on mass scale.

Before the production line gets going, it starts to feel like Christmas as I receive boxes and boxes of off-tool parts from the factories, which again highlight more problems and weaknesses that need adapting, changing and re-designing to get things perfect.

Finally I get to the stage where I’m happy with the product I have, my designs have finally come to light, I’m feeling pretty good.

That’s it then? Finished?

Well, not quite.  It’s time for testing, getting safety certs, tuning tooling, writing user manuals, designing packaging, and all the ‘User experience stuff’. Then comes the time-consuming task of setting up a production line and getting a team of skilled workers on board who understand every miniscule element of the product.  Discovering my telepathic abilities are lacking means hours spent explaining the thought process behind every single nut, bolt, wire and plastic feature.  And things still come to light which need to be changed and tweaked.

Finally the product goes to market, everyone loves it and wants to talk about it but I’m already back in the design chair looking for that Eureka moment once again…

I hope by describing how I muddle through taking a concept to the finished product demonstrates just how hard it is to put an exact timeframe on bringing a new product to market.  I’m still guilty of getting over-excited about what I do, and assuming I can get things working quicker than I actually can.  That’s because I’m passionate about what I do, and I firmly believe in the products I’m producing. Unfortunately, the fact is, when trying to create something brand new and unique, we are always entering the unknown.

With Robox, I’m confident we’ve just about mastered the production and we’re excited to see the product reaching homes soon.

There are still some monstrous challenges ahead, but with the support and backing from our customers we’ll get there.

Halfway through our Kickstarter Campaign

By | Kickstarter, News | 11 Comments

Well the hard work paid off and after only 7 days of the Campaign we reached our goal of £100,000.

If Robox is the best 3D printer why isn’t the Campaign generating more Interest?

First off, we are not disappointed with the current results, quite the opposite, the process and response has been a great experience. I have never had the opportunity to talk to so many potential customers before the project is finished and I’m enjoying the process, certain that ultimately it will make the product better. We’ve had some extremely kind remarks, my personal favourite and something I have seen repeated is “This is a real game changer” – sorry… patting my own back right now. Saying all this I feel there are some 3D printers that have had better responses from the media and public but are technically inferior. So why the reduced interest?

3D printer fatigue – There has been a lot of 3D printers released into the market over the past year, and I’ve read comments like “another day, another 3D printer.”
Maybe our decision to not release any information or start the Kickstarter campaign until after we had a confirmed production date has not done us favours when it comes to the volume of KS backers. I stand by our decision, especially after reading the bad press that Pirate3D got when they could not deliver on their dates.

Christmas & Thanksgiving – Our timing is not great! A few days after we started the campaign the whole of the US downed tools, left their desks and celebrated Thanksgiving. Also, Robox delivery dates are after Christmas and I think a a lot of people are currently focusing their money on gifts and celebrations.

Poor prints in Video – This is a tricky one… We finished the mechanical side of Robox first, this is where most of our experience lies. Electronics and software are getting polished now, but without all aspects of the product working you can’t show all the functionality. We thought it most important to show the 2 nozzles working together on the video but this system needs EVERY aspect of Robox to be working seamlessly, we could again have waited until it was more complete but we were desperate to show the world what we have done! Also see the first point… waiting longer to release Robox may have further reduced the KS response.

Not in the US – Just a guess but… The biggest following for Kickstarter is in the US – maybe products that are produced and manufactured in the US do better than similar projects from other countries?

Low spend on PR and marketing – “You have to speculate to accumulate”… Wise words, but if you are asking for money to help with development is it right to spend all your money on telling the world? A fine line I think. There is no doubt that the more successful campaigns have spent a lot on PR and Marketing to polish their content and reach more people.

Cost of the product – This one makes me a little cross… We have priced our product so that it has a good future. The RRP of a product has to include development, tooling, material cost, assembly cost and shipping cost including tax and duty, our margin, distribution, resellers margin, etc… you can see that the cost of the materials to make the product becomes only a percentage of the price to the consumer. I think that a few, if not more, of the projects on Kickstarter have not fully considered these costs and if the product is to be truly mass marketable their initial price will later hurt them in the shops because they have had to increase it. As a product developer it is often possible to reduce your price in a market but its much more difficult to increase it unless you include additional functionality or accessories. Also, following the launch of the product, and with Robox in the hands of users, we must consider the cost of supporting those users and honouring our warranty period.

Stretch goal – We laid it all out, everything we have done, everything we are thinking of doing and where we are now. I think if we add stretch goals it’s like not really having a clear idea from the beginning of what it is we have set out to achieve. By offering more than our original plan for the same price we are not being fair to our backers. We asked for backing to help us develop a specific product, adding more complication/development is unlikely to bring us to improve our initial goal. Having said that, we are considering adding further rewards by putting dates against some of the future developments we are planning and asking backers if they want to support these developments now.  For example, one of the most frequently requested extensions is the dual material head. We could add a reward to get this and a second extruder when ready in 4 months for a further pledge of £199…(only thinking out loud here…just an idea) this is possible because we have already included many of the requirements for this item in the original designs and tooling.

All this is just guess work of course and the only true way of telling would have been to amend all the above points and release at a different time.

This is not a gripe, we are extremely happy with our progress on KS, but there is the obvious question; If we think our system is the best in the world, why is it not the best Kickstarter campaign in the world?

This is probably a good time for me to stop talking and let you answer the question.. you are the people looking at the campaign I’m probably too close to the project to see the answer clearly. Your ideas are welcome; how can we make this campaign as big as it should be?

Robox on Kickstarter Day 1

By | News | 2 Comments

So this is the biggest week of my career so far, today Thursday 21st November we launched the Robox project onto Kick-starter in an effort to get the backing of our end users to support the project through to completion.

A great start so far with over £25,000 in the first hours of the campaign. Thank you all already, please tell everyone you know that you have helped to fund this project so we can keep this rolling.

I’m guessing that some people will ask “why do CEL need the support of customers to finish the project?” This is simple to answer; we’ve spent the last 18 months developing the project and all the IP around it. This development has been and continues to be expensive. Until this point we’ve been able to draw on the income from CEL’s other products but this has been draining and is starting to affect the business as a whole. So it’s time to see if all our hard work has been well invested and release some product to the public. There are two more reason that kick-starter is a good idea, first is that we get the product into the hands of the people that matter, the end users and early adopters that will help us, through their feed back, to make the product the best it can be. The final reason is the simplest straight up advertising, marketing what ever you want to call it, if we don’t have a good voice to tell people about what we’ve been doing then the whole project will fall on its face.

I have no idea how successful this kick-starter campaign will be but I have great hopes. CEL has never spent a penny on marketing or PR before but this time we are going all out, through experience we know it’s not enough to design and make great products, you really need to make sure your audience know about them. We’ve only done this by attending trade shows and giving samples away for testing, don’t get me wrong it’s worked well enough till now but after so much time and money has been invested in Robox we really need to see a return on our investment so it seems it’s a case of ‘speculate to accumulate’.

If I’m honest, and this statement might leave me with egg on my face, I’m quietly confident, the guys in the office have really put their hearts and souls into the project and it shows, we’ve done endless research and we will have the most comprehensive micro manufacturing solution on the market at day of launch. So unless 3D printer fatigue has set in, the right people don’t hear about it or some one makes a better product and a multitude of other reasons, Robox will be a success.

If you reading this post I ask for your help to let us reach our goal, you may or may not be interested on supporting us on Kick-starter but the video is worth a watch, please can you send this link to your friends so they can then share it again. If the campaign reaches enough screens we will reach the percentage of those people who are as excited about 3D printing and micro manufacturing thing as we are. Thanks in advance!

Kickstarter.cel-robox.com

A quick espresso cup design that can be spiral printed - haven't had time to test the design yet, the Robox sample is being used by Peter at the moment!

3D Printed future: Designing for Spiral Printing

By | Chris Elsworthy Design Blog, Prototype Build | 5 Comments

Over the weekend, between taking the kids to birthday parties (Happy Birthday Addy!) and clubs, I experimented with Robox and spiral printing. Having downloaded the obligatory vases and sliced them using the Slic3r experimental spiral print function, it was really quick to get some good results and I was pleased with the performance of Robox. After getting bored with vases, I CAD’ed up a Robox version and printed it, which was good but left me thinking there must be more to spiral print than vases…

IMG_1475

Vases 100mm tall, 0.15mm layer height, 1mm wall printed using the 0.8mm nozzle.

The quality of prints were fantastic, in-fact some of the best surface finishes I’ve seen from a 3D printer, but what I was most impressed with was the speed and ease they were produced. One of the benefits of Robox is that due to it’s large nozzle (0.8mm), we can print a single outside perimeter that is 1mm thick, meaning great quality rigid prints, fast.

Why can’t everything be this easy to print?  –  We need to start designing products and parts that take advantage of this new manufacturing technique – I don’t just mean orienting them in the build chamber and slapping a flat bottom on so the part will stick to the bed, but really designing things that can be better if made with a 3D printer. One of the things we’ve been printing a lot in the office is a whole lot of espresso cups (don’t ask why, you’ll find out later) which are taking ages… but spiral printing could not only make them quicker to print but also have a better surface finish and introduce more features. Why not design the cup so each layer has a single profile, handle and all, and vary the wall thickness where needed? You could even have an inner and outer wall like a Thermos flask to keep your coffee hot and the outer surface of the cup cool.

First prints on our prototype

By | Prototype Build | 2 Comments

We have been printing with the first complete prototype, the results are very promising. In fact the hardware is working just as we imagined it, just a few tweaks to improve the speed, the accuracy is spectacular!

Every imperfection in our test prints is just down to tuning in the print parameters. Between the software and firmware we can set everything we need too thanks to Ian and Ben W’s hard work. There is still a lot more work to do to make all this control accessible to Robox users.

Our intent is to allow the user to simply press print and get a good result every time. The building blocks are in place and we now have complete control of every aspect of the print process, now its time to tune the system.