Category Archives: for-profit

Aligni Wants To Let You Use Their BOM Software For Free

As Bunnie pointed out on his blog, managing the Bill Of Materials (BOM) for a project can become quite complicated. Even a simple project, if it needs to be manufactured by someone else, would benefit from a BOM-specific tool

One such tool is Aligni, a web-based tool that can be used to construct the entire BOM, coordinate with manufacturers and manage inventory. Oh, and Aligni wants to let open source projects use the site for free.

I interviewed Jake Janovetz on what Aligni can do for open source hardware.

Can you give me some background on where Aligni came from and what it’s been used for?

Aligni was created out of a need to manage parts for a small electronics company.  Everything on the market was either too big (SAP, Oracle, Agile, Arena PLM), dead (Parts & Vendors), or would not handle inventory (Agile, Arena, etc).  We wanted a one-stop shop to handle things from design, part management, BOMs, cost info, inventory, assembly management, quoting, and purchasing. Interestingly, some products out there solved some of these.  QuoteFX is a widely used platform for doing quoting via database.  I think it runs in the $100′s per month per user.  Which is absolutely ludicrous.  It’s just a piece of what Aligni does and we do it much better!

What open projects have used Aligni successfully?

Unfortunately, none, really.  Some small projects have started and left over the years.  We haven’t really pushed hard on Open Aligni.  The commercial version of Aligni has lots of successful companies using it.

What do you, or the Aligni team, think about open hardware in general? How do you think it compares to the proprietary approach? Strengths and weaknesses?

We love open hardware.  As it has become better defined over the years, it is easier to talk about it.  Early on, it was confusing what it really meant.  Both open and proprietary are very valid.  In particular, a corporate entity will often get a lot of value from using proprietary hardware.  It’s simply a matter of motivation and accountability.  But Open Hardware is profoundly useful and disruptive (that’s a good thing). We originally introduced Open Aligni because we felt Open Hardware lacked a venue and a proper presentation.  The Open Hardware projects out there tend to cobble together some Google Docs or spreadsheets or other things in an inconsistent and hard-to-maintain manner.  Aligni is a more structured, disciplined approach to presenting hardware designs and managing them.
More after the jump… Continue reading
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Bunnie’s Factory Tour Part 1: How To Make A BOM

Bunnie Huang posted an extensive explanation of how you’re doing your Bill Of Materials (BOM) all wrong. Here’s a taste. For the whole 5-course meal head over to his blog.

Most Makers trying to scale up quickly realize the only practical path forward is to outsource production.

Every single assumption, down to the color of the soldermask, has to be spelled out unambiguously for a third party to faithfully reproduce a design. Missing or incomplete documentation is the lead cause of production delays, defects, and cost overruns.

Here’s some of the things missing from the [typical] BOM:

  • Approved manufacturer for each component
  • Tolerance, material composition, and voltage spec for passive components
  • Package type information for all parts
  • Extended part numbers specific to each manufacturer

A complete BOM for an LED flasher also needs to include the PCB, battery, plastic case pieces, lens, screws, any labeling (for example, a serial number), a manual, and packaging (plastic bag plus cardboard box, for example). There may also need to be a master carton as a single boxed LED flasher is too small to ship on its own.


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QU-BD Combo CNC Mill And 3D Printer Pre-Order Interview

I’ve been saying for a while that there’s nothing inherently expensive about 3D printing technology…at least not the FFF type. Assuming the technology becomes more popular over the next few years (which I do) I don’t see any reason why 3D printers couldn’t become as cheap and ubiquitous as 2D printers.

However, 3D printing has weaknesses, not the least of which is that it can’t work in metal.* You can take the plastic parts and cast metal parts from them, but the heat and gases have side effects that nobody in their right mind would ever allow inside a house. It is possible to work metal by machining it in a small CNC mill, as demonstrated by the ease of finding a desktop mill on Google. Since 3D printers and CNC mills function so similarly, why not combine both functions into one machine?

QU-BD is working on that. Openalia interviewed them back when they were coming off of a successful effort to Kickstarter their own thermoplastic extruder. Now they’ve arrived at the main event, the beta Rapid Prototyping Mill (RPM) pre-order. This design is important because it has the potential to create all of the (non-electrical) parts for a 3D printer, including its own extruder. Read through the interview with Chelsea Thompson after the jump to learn a little bit about the RPM and the Revolution, which is an all-metal frame 3D printer.

* I’m limiting the analysis to current technology. Sure, there might be an unforeseen breakthrough in materials science in the near future, but that’s a different discussion.

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Makeblock Is A New Modular Aluminum Extrusion System

Makeblock is here to solve your robot problems. The t-slot aluminum extrusion is a tried-and-true way of building modular frames, and even simple mechanisms. It works, but it has an Achilles Heel…the nut.

t slot nut boltThat nut has to be inserted into the slot so that the bolt can torque down on the beam. Some designs include a nut that can be inserted straight through the slot and twisted instead of needing to be slid in from one end (FAZTEK). Others turn the bolt around so that the head of the bolt takes the place of the traditional nut and the nut tightens down from the outside of the bolt (MakerBeam).

A new Kickstarter campaign does away with the nut all together. Instead of using a t-slot, they have a slot with parallel sides and just the right threading to allow you to screw in a nut at any point along the slot.

Makeblock looks like an extremely well integrated system for prototyping cyber-electro-mechanical systems. They have the modular beam system itself, but they also have their own electronics with the correct footprint to fit on the beams and adapters for common things like Lego and servos. Additionally, they have it working in the real world and appear to have the manufacturing muscle to produce a lot of the kits.

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Ford Officially Backing Open Source 3D Printers

In a press release Ford Motor Company bragged about using 3D printing in general, and the open source Makerbot Thing-O-Matic in particular, to develop some of the smaller plastic parts for its vehicles. Zack Nelson, the engineer in the video, lists the easy availability of design files and community support as benefits to using the open source machine.

The full text of the press release is after the jump.

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Build A Portable Raspberry Pi Handheld Computer

Nathan Morgan, the CEO of, has put together instructions for building a soda-can-sized handheld out of a Raspberry Pi.

None of the individual components are particularly open source, but Morgan did an excellent job of ensuring they are relatively cheap and easy to work with. There are a few parts that need to be hacked together, like the battery, and the case needs to be 3D printed from the files here. The whole thing adds up to around $400, but $130 of that is the 64GB SSD.

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RepRap Generation 7 Electronics

This design is by Markus (Traumflug) Hitter and should be of particular interest to the RepRap side of 3D printing. RepRap stands for Replicating Rapid Prototyper because Dr. Adrian Bowyer’s project was focused on creating a machine that could more-or-less reproduce itself. We have the RepRap project to thank for the recent explosion in amateur interest in 3D printing and it was the RepRap’s self-reproducing feature that made the explosion possible. The more parts the machine can make, or process, on its own the easier it will reproduce. Traumflug’s Gen 7 electronics are simple and single-sided, so the board can be milled on a suitably equipped RepRap.

You can buy the electronics from Traumflug or find the files at github

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The Fixer’s Manifesto v1.0- From The Inventors Of Sugru

If you like the Fixer’s Manifesto then you can also look at pictures of people holding it here, if that’s your thing. If you want to fork/hack/improve it you can do that on the github page. If all of that is just to “free as in beer” for you then you can also buy a print from Sugru (it comes with a pink pen for making edits…yeah).

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AtFAB – Open Source Furniture

AtFAB is hoping that you will think about having your next table, chair or shelf cut out on a CNC machine.

Their furniture is licensed under a Creative Commons non-commercial license, so you can do whatever you want with it as long as you don’t sell it. If you want to sell it, they seem open to the idea of giving you an individual commercial license.

Balancing openness with the inherent need to pay for hardware development is tricky. For example, AtFAB will give you the DXF files for the furniture, but only after you exchange a couple emails and sign up for their mailing list. That seems fair, especially considering they have a nifty little app that lets you change some of the parameters in the files before you download them. You can stretch the chair out into a bench or adjust the cutlines to account for different material thicknesses.

Open design has been around just as long as open hardware, and the two have a lot of overlap since you need something physical to design on. That being said, I’m split on whether or not it makes any sense to “design” open hardware. On the one hand it never hurts to make something look prettier. On the other hand, open source designs tend to be utilitarian (because they tend to be cheap and require as few manufacturing steps as possible) so trying to “design” them starts to look an awful lot like trying too hard. An angular little chair is still an angular little chair after you paint an orange stripe on it.

Additional links:

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The Amp Hour #114

I think this episode of The Amp Hour is a nice segue from Makerbot’s open/closed source fiasco.

After an introduction about winter and new jobs they discuss the Replicator 2 and Pettis’ abysmal message control. Then they talk about how Kickstarter has recently changed their rules for hardware projects.

In the blog post Kickstarter Is Not a Store we find that Kickstarter is getting a little tired of the vaporware shenanigans that have been going on.

Today we’re introducing a number of changes to reinforce that Kickstarter isn’t a store — it’s a new way for creators and audiences to work together to make things…Today we added a new section to the project page called “Risks and Challenges.” All project creators are now required to answer the following question when creating their project: “What are the risks and challenges this project faces, and what qualifies you to overcome them?”

Product simulations are prohibited. Projects cannot simulate events to demonstrate what a product might do in the future. Products can only be shown performing actions that they’re able to perform in their current state of development. Product renderings are prohibited. Product images must be photos of the prototype as it currently exists.

Offering multiple quantities of a reward is prohibited. Hardware and Product Design projects can only offer rewards in single quantities or a sensible set (some items only make sense as a pair or as a kit of several items, for instance). The development of new products can be especially complex for creators and offering multiple quantities feels premature, and can imply that products are shrink-wrapped and ready to ship.

There’s discussion about not allowing simulations over on Core77.

It’s possible that Kickstarter changed their rules in response to the LIFX LED lightbulb project. They asked for $100,000 and with 50 days to go they already have $1,311,863. However, they are claiming to be able to build and ship an LED lightbulb, which is something that established manufacturers have failed to do for a long time. It looks like Kickstarter is trying to protect themselves (and their users) from the implication that a project is much farther along then it actually is. Understandably they don’t want people dumping a million dollars into a project that simply can’t go anywhere because of the laws of physics. Reuters really took a magnifying glass to the LIFX project and their analysis wasn’t pretty.

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