Category

Chris Elsworthy Design Blog

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!

 

Spit, Polish and Elbow Grease

By | Chris Elsworthy Design Blog | 3 Comments

We are moving forward on production now and the teams’ focus is moving from mechanical improvement to software features and all the systems we need in place before the general public can buy, register and use their Robox.  For long time we’ve tried to blinker ourselves and only work towards a stable mechanical and electronic platform to set a good foundation for the Robox system, but we are now in a position to start looking at the new features, and print quality improvements.

Chris White has been beavering away at the user manual, safety information guide, quick start guide and warranty registration. The links on this download page will go live soon.

jennerupsidedown
Any surface to the bed in just 2 clicks!

Tony has been working on a feature we are all very excited about; the ability to place any face of the model down on the bed with only two clicks. We have had a version of this working before in the office but Tony’s eye for detail has ironed out most of the final bugs and we hope to include this on the next release of AutoMaker.

Chris E and Ian have been focused on improving print quality and are experimenting with and implementing new ways of closing the needle valves without leaving imperfections on the surface of the printed model. We say Chris E has been working, but he’s mostly been playing with Ian’s new code then telling Ian what is wrong and what is right, Ian’s been doing most of the work!  But the good news is we’ve found and removed a few bugs in the process and are starting to dramatically improve print quality. These software changes will be passed internally to our test guys so we can bullet proof them and generate the new print profiles to take full advantage.

Peter is busy still in the forums and support portal talking to our BETA team, helping them where needed and gathering all the user information that’s feeding back into the development of Robox.
myminifactory_oxfam
My Mini Factory

IMakr are interested in stocking our product and we’ve had a few interesting discussions, but one of the cool things that’s come out of these conversations is the idea that we will integrate their online model parts library MyMiniFactory with AutoMaker. All the models on this site are tested and confirmed to be 3D printable!

The MOST common question we get asked by people who haven’t yet considered 3D Printing to be part of their future is:

“All very nice, but what would I print?”

Well we can easily answer that now, with a library of interesting and useful parts at their finger tips everyone can more easily see how this new technology will be part of the future.
Currys-&-PC-World3

A leading high street retail group has also started talks with us and we are planning to get a Robox demo into their key stores. One day we envisage Robox being sold in place of all those 2D printers, doing all the jobs they did and so much more. This retail group are fighting the fact that a lot of us go online to buy our tech so to draw people back to their stores they are introducing a selection of bleeding edge tech to demo to the public. This fits perfectly with Robox as 3D printing is an amazing process to watch, and no one displays the process better than we do.
MAPSLICE

Selling Robox to business users will be much easier than the large but very new retail market for 3D printers. There are a few very large industry supply groups servicing the UK and Europe, we have a very exciting contract in place with probably THE BIGGEST of all. Schools, design offices spare parts suppliers, table-top gaming shops and any business which deals with physical objects anywhere between idea and reality will want one of our printers and we are well on the way to having easy and familiar channels to get Robox where it is needed.

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.

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.

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.