Hey Team,

As you might have guessed from the title….. we’re moving forward with shipping the first batch!

Delivery day has arrived, and we have 40 beautiful Palettes to show for it. This day has not arrived without its challenges – but after more than two years of development we have a product that we’re proud to be shipping out.

We’re going to give you a look at what went into the final steps of Palette’s manufacturing and quality control processes, as well as what the final challenges we faced were…. But before that we think it’d be interesting to take a step back and give you a snapshot of where we started two years ago. 

Check out the below video of our first prototype, from July 2014: 

And below, a video of our production facility running five prints at once:

We’ve done our best to document the evolution of Palette and Mosaic both on our updates, and on our blog (Link).

We’ve gone through every type of challenge and issue that hits a manufacturing company – supplier issues, quality control issues when moving to manufacturing, and product performance issues when progressing to production.

In this update, we’re going to cover the biggest improvements from our operation in March, to our operation today. We’ll talk you through our QC processes to help you understand what your Palette goes through in our facility. Finally, we’ll lay out the full delivery timelines, and when you should expect your Palette to show up.

So, what’s changed?

When we first began production in March, we were having quality issues – but the bigger problem was that the issues couldn’t be solved quickly.

In March and April we had an overflowing shelf of Palettes that weren’t working, with no clear steps to get them working again. We’d setup Palettes, and the default was that they would fail. The ones that worked properly worked relatively well; however, these were few and far between.

Today – not only are we having a lot fewer issues with our Palettes, but the issues we’re having are typically fixable in minutes. The FAT (Final Acceptance Test) that we run today is 4x longer than back in March, and our pass rate is multiples higher.

In our June Post we covered the multi-day all hands meeting we had. This meeting froze all work that was unrelated to Palette reliability and repeatability.

Over the months of June and July we were working in three teams:
1) Drive Team
2) Splice Team
3) Calibration Team

On a high level, each team accomplished the following things:

1) Drive Team:
a. Completely removed slipping and skipping in our drive systems, two of our biggest quality control and manufacturing issues.
b. Decreased assembly and testing time (on a per drive basis) from 2+ hours, to ~10 minutes.
c. Increased long term reliability, allowing Palettes to run thousands of splices with no drive degradation.  

2) Splice Team: 
a. Removed issue of gap splices, and bulging splices (accomplished via opto homing)
b. Increased splice reliability from 1 in 80 fail, to 1 in 350+.
c. Found and fixed manufacturing tolerance issue with hot tool  

3) Calibration Team:  
a. New ping detection algorithm, increasing ping detection from ~60% to 99%+
b. New correction algorithm to account for parts with wildly varying extrusion amounts
c. Improved firmware and software – including manual control, hot tool cleaning, parametric transition towers, and many more. 

All of this was accomplished in the span of two months.

In August, we faced a number of process related challenges. There’s a really big difference between getting five Palettes to work, and making five Palettes that work – every. single. day.

The first few weeks were full with challenges related to repeatedly tuning our adjustable drive systems.

Below is a picture of our tuning rig:  

The adjustable drives are tuned on the basis of torque. Torque is a measure of drive gear bite in, which is determined by the distance the drive gear and the idler bearing are away from each other.

We use a stepper motor mounted to a geared jig to pull a force gauge, and record the readings from this tool.

We convert the readings to torques and based on them, tighten or loosen the adjustment bolt to get the torque into the correct range.

By tuning the drives based on torque level, we’re able to control slipping and skipping better than we’ve ever been able to do before.

We used to have ~50% failed drives – drives that would have to go directly into a waste bin. Since making the switch to adjustable constant distance aluminum drives, this waste rate has decreased to <5%.

That means the Fail shelf for our old drives that you see below  is no longer overflowing:

Basically, what all of this means is a much more reliable, efficient manufacturing operation.

To pull a quote from our April Shipping Post:

“Now, the hard truth – 20% of our units passed our QC processes. We built a total of ten units, and two of them were cleared at the end of the week.”

Now, when we make ten units, about 5 of them will pass on the first try. The other five will be tuned, and 4 of them will pass the second time around. The last one will usually pass the third time around.  

Out of the 58 we’ve made so far, check out our current Tuning Shelf:

Five out of 58 waiting to be tuned. The other 53 are either passed, or in our QC process.

Quality Control

We’ve mentioned QC a lot in our posts, we’d like to give you a look at what our QC processes look like to help you understand what your Palette goes through before it leaves our facility.

There are a number of tests we run called ICTs (In-Circuit Tests), which we covered in one of our April Post. ICTs help find early failures in individual components, our drive systems, and in our electronics tray.

Once a Palette has been fully assembled, our manufacturing team runs through the Final Acceptance Checklist, pictured below:

This checklist ensures that all the screws are tightened, the internal metal structure is flush with itself, and the appropriate QC marks are on the specific sub-structures. This checklist allows us to catch errors made in the assembly process before Palettes enter the QC room.

Stage 1: Splice Testing

When a Palette enters the QC room, the first thing that happens is a splice test. Splice testing is our way to ensure the entire system is functioning together, and Palette is performing one of its two main jobs (reliable filament creation). 
Running a splice test allows us to test all aspects of the system – drives, hot tool height, merger, cutter, and temperature.
The majority of the issues we have we’re able to catch in the splice testing stage. This fact is important, as it allows us to save a substantial amount of time setting up a print, waiting for the print to complete, and having Palette fail 1.5-3 hours in.
A splice test consists of 200+ splices being run through each Palette, and their dimensions and quality investigated.
If an issue is found during splice testing, the Palette is either tuned on the spot, or passed back into the assembly room, to the tuning shelf pictured earlier in this update.
Once the given Palette successfully finishes its splice test, and our QC Team gives it the go-ahead, it moves into print testing.  

Stage 2: Print Testing

Back in March, a print test consisted of the triangle cube you see below:
This square is approximately 40 splices worth of filament.
Here is a side-by-side of our old QC print next to our new one:
Palette’s new QC print is over 120 splices, about 3x more than the original print. This new print allows us to test calibration over a longer period of time, and test more splices than we were before.
This is the print that every Palette must complete before it is deemed ready to leave our production facility. (The marker on top of the print identifies which Palette the print was from.)

And the result?

This picture is the first batch of Palettes, waiting to be cleaned, covered, and boxed. Once Palettes are at this stage, they’re ready to go out the door.

We do occasionally spot check them, but from what we’ve seen there haven’t been any real inconsistencies in performance from the QC checks to the spot checks.

So, what happens now?

If you’re in the first two tiers (Super Early Bird + Early Bird), your Palette will be shipping out very soon. We finalized the surveys earlier this week, and are in the process of billing for shipping expenses.
Now, I’m sure if you’re one of our Kickstarter backers (41-464) you’re wondering when you’re going to get your machine. (Note: The 464 total also includes the backers who selected non-Palette rewards)
Our critical path for production is our new drive systems. It took a bit of time before we had the confidence to order 50 more from our Canadian supplier. We ordered 50 more, and they should arrive by the end of the month.
Now, why are we only ordering 50?
We’re in the process of shifting our supply chain overseas, and placed an order for drive samples a few weeks back. We’re waiting for these samples to arrive to give us the confidence required to put in an order for ~500 drives.
In terms of what this means for the final product shipping dates:
We should be moving another 50 units (minimum) in September. Depending on when the larger order of drives arrives, this number could be closer to 75-90.
In October, we believe we will be able to move ~100-140 units, given that we will have all of the materials in house, and many Palettes will be waiting for drives to be installed.
This puts the first 20% of our delivery being shipped out today, about 20-35% in September, and the remainder (45-60%) to be shipped out in October.
In terms of the rest of the production – we’re still working to get more Palettes further in the process. There was about a week and a half at the beginning of the month where we had no production drives, we used that time to push our work-in-progress inventory further along.

Check out some of the pictures below:
We currently have 120 Palettes awaiting drives and electronics trays.
Here you can see the rest of the assembled sub-systems, plus a number of electronics trays at the bottom (silver bags). Our current count for trays is 113.
More electronics trays (silver bags).
Here you can see our cutter wheels waiting to be installed onto cutter plates
Here is our final station. Palettes on top are those waiting to go out into the QC area.
And with that, it’s back to work. We’ve gotten over a huge amount of hurdles in the past few months, we’ll touch base with a quick update in a few weeks from now to ensure you’re kept in the loop with deliveries moving forward.
Here’s the team that’s responsible for getting Palettes out the door. Everyone has done an awesome job!

As always, if you have any questions please feel free to comment below!