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Kickstarter

Blood, Sweat and Progress..

By | Kickstarter, Prototype Build | No Comments

We’ve had a bit of a breakthrough this week. We found 3 tiny components (1.0×0.5mm) on the extruder daughter PCB that were missing a connection to ground. After applying a minuscule amount of solder to bridge the gap between the capacitor (C7) and the ground via next to it, the extruder breathed new life into Robox.

You may think the diagnosis of this fault to be easy, but for many reasons we’ve been looking elsewhere to find out why our earlier machines have performed better than the BETA build machines. It was actually our factory pointing out that the C3 capacitor was missing its ground that brought our attention to the missing link.

Standard Fine profile - 100mu layers
Standard Fine profile – 100mu layers

Our new software engineer, Tony Lynch, along with Ian, is ploughing through the most urgent of the feature updates and bugs to give us our first public release of AutoMaker which we are hoping to have with you next Wednesday (28th May).

After opening all the boxes, gently unpacking and amending the extruder PCBs on all the BETA machines we hope to have them shipped the following Wednesday (4th June).

These are the dates we are aiming for, and we see no reason why they aren’t realistic, but we can’t predict the unforeseen.  We’re feeling pretty positive now, but if anything changes with the dates you will be the first to know.

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.

Beta Pledges in Transit!

By | Kickstarter, News | 4 Comments

So………they’re ready to ship!

For some of you, the wait is finally over! This morning the factory have shipped 60 printers and they are soon to be winging their way to our beta backers all over the world. They’re currently moving from the factory in China to Hong Kong where they will be air-freighted either direct to backers or to CEL HQ in the UK for distribution within Europe.

We intend to have the first release of AutoMaker available to Beta Backers before their hardware arrives. A link for download will appear in the private Beta section of the forum.

We’ve ironed out most of the hardware and software issues, and it’s now down to you guys to help us get this product to market in it’s finished form and to make it the best fused filament printer in the world. If any beta backers haven’t joined the forum, please do so ASAP at http://www.cel-robox.com/groups/robox-beta-phase-1/forum/

 

We’ve also given them a good shaking to make sure you guys get them in one piece – all drop tests passed! (don’t worry this isn’t your printer!)

I know a lot of you have been disappointed with the frequency of updates from us as we’ve been going through these final stages, but we would like you guys understand, we are currently only a small team of four full time staff in the UK that are responsible for the Kickstarter campaign. We are also responsible for the mechanical and electronics design, software engineering and UX design, production issues and specifications, graphic design and packaging, the website, forum, social media / PR, exhibitions, procurement, user manuals, safety testing and EMC, responding to the emails and messages we receive every day, research and testing of hardware and software (plus the complications that come with all of them, especially as we are manufacturing Robox 1000s of miles away).

We’re pretty sure you’d rather we spent our time working as hard as we can on those issues rather than issuing an update to inform you of minor details.

Over the past few months our sales team has also been trying to set up distribution agreements with interested vendors all over the world to bring Robox closer to you. Once all of our Kickstarter pledges have shipped, we hope to have stock on the ground and on display in retail outlets and online in all major international markets.

One last reminder – Betas – Please try to keep all correspondence within the forum so that we can keep track of who has done what – we currently have a lot of contact points, and we’d like to try and keep you all in the same place. We look forward to hearing from you guys once you receive your Robox!

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?