Category Archives: manufacturing

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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DARPA’s Open Source Cyber-Electro-Mechanical Design Tools Are Posted

Just a quick post to remind the world that DARPA has posted the open source design tools (and associated tutorial) that will be used to simulate and eventually manufacture an infantry fighting vehicle. This Fast Adaptive Next-Generation Ground Vehicle (FANG) Challenge is part of the Adaptive Vehicle Make (AVM) program. The primary tool that I’m working with now is CyPhyML written by Vanderbilt University.

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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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VehicleFORGE – DARPA’s Open Source Hardware Competition Is Open For Registration

I’m gonna start this post with a little bit of background. I’m a developer on various open source hardware projects, others and my own. Hardware has more barriers to entry than software, particularly when it comes to distributed collaboration. It’s not a matter of exchanging text files; you have to work with images, CAD files, videos, documents, etc and then there’s the problem of incompatible versions of multimedia. Even when everybody uses the same file formats, it can be difficult to convey all of the relevant information. And if you change anything it can be a huge issue. Then there’s the ever-present problem of turning the design into an actual physical thing.

What the open source hardware community needs is a common set of tools, but not just a few tools, an entire toolchain. I tried to work out a common file format and quickly realized that it’s not possible. You need a common database format, and not just a database, you need tools that can edit the project files without losing all the relationships in the database. Basically, you need an end-to-end development environment that links any random developer with all other developers, using identical file formats, and identical tools, that eventually produces a digital description of the machine that can be qualified and fabricated virtually.

It’s a huge undertaking. Without an end-to-end environment each piece is only marginally useful. The chicken and egg problem seemed almost insurmountable.

However, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) had the same thought, and they threw a lot of money at it. In an attempt to cut the development time of military vehicles by a factor of five, DARPA has created a complete, web-based, virtual development environment…oh and they’re releasing it under an open source license.

It’s called VehicleFORGE and for its first trick it will host a year-long, three-stage competition to design the Marine Corps’ next amphibious infantry fighting vehicle. It’s called the FANG Design Challenge and it’s open to any “U.S. person.” Yes, ANYONE (who doesn’t violate ITAR restrictions). All you have to do is register and, when the competition goes live on 14 January 2013, you’ll be able to design a vehicle using cutting-edge open source tools.

I just registered and I can assure you that, after poking around the members area for a while, VehicleFORGE looks polished. It’s only got a few controls, but they’re exactly what you need, they work intuitively, and it’s an overall slick experience. The only stuff that’s live at the moment seems to be the social network stuff (competitors and teams).

Speaking of which, if you’d like to join Team Openalia, just register and do a quick search or follow the link.

I’m fairly certain that the competition will be won by teams uploading a lot of high-performance parts that aren’t included in DARPA’s list of supplied components. However, participating will be a lot of fun. Lets see how well we can do against the other non-professional teams!

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Vote For An Open Source Ecology Documentary In The Focus Forward Competition

Vimeo is being stupid and I can’t figure out how to embed the video.

Anywho, Open Source Ecology (OSE) is an awesome project that is trying to create an open source version of the infrastructure that the modern world depends on. Basically, all the machines you’d need to turn dirt into iPhones.

This is a documentary about their work that has been doing well in the Focus Forward filmmaker competition. Go watch it and add your vote!

http://vimeo.com/focusforwardfilms/semifinalists/51764445

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Defense Distributed Had Their Stratasys 3D Printer Taken Away

Defense Distributed, headed by Cody Wilson, is championing the Wiki Weapon project, the aim of which is to produce files for a 3D printable gun.

Unfortunately for them, when Stratasys found out what they were doing the 3D printer they had leased got repossessed.  Stratasys said that a plastic gun runs afoul of the 1988 Undetectable Firearms Act which bans guns that can pass through a metal detector without setting it off (according to Wired Danger Room). WikiWep posted the letter from Stratasys on their blog…along with a weak attempt to spin the situation. This is also following the attempt to raise money on indiegogo, which was ended by indiegogo after they found out what Wilson was doing.

According to Wired…

Wilson visited the ATF field office in Austin…he added that the ATF believes he’s not broken any laws, and that the agency believes 3-D printed guns fall into a regulatory gray area…

Wilson says he’s consulted with a lawyer, and is considering acquiring a federal firearms manufacturing license, a process that could take at least two months at the earliest. He’s also thought it may be necessary to incorporate Defense Distributed, turning it into a company instead of a decentralized internet collective.

Wilson says. “It’s just disgusting. I hate that that’s the way it is, but that’s apparently the regulatory landscape.”

Wilson says his group is looking at building an electricity-fired 3D-printed test chamber that can be used to test pressure and the interaction between heat given off by bullets with thermoplastic, which could cause the gun to melt. The chamber wouldn’t have a trigger, Wilson says, who also plans to send the schematics to the ATF for approval while waiting for a manufacturing license.

Wired Danger Room also produced an interesting follow up to this story in which they dive into Stratasys’ relationship with existing weapons manufacturers. It turns out the company’s 3D printers are very popular with companies like Remington because, surprise surprise, they use them to rapidly prototype new guns. There is an exception in the Undetectable Firearms Act for plastic guns as long as they are prototypes made by licensed manufacturers.

I’ll wrap this up with the words of 3D Systems Corporations, CEO, Abe Reichental

Keeping 3D printing positive, allowing it to continue to make good requires decisive action – industry wide action.

With that in mind, I call on our capable and responsible industry leaders to join me in making 3D printing good and the community safe. Without taking a position on gun control laws, our responsibility is to be lawful.

We should join together so parents don’t have to worry their child might print something illegally and communities don’t have to worry that someone irresponsible will open fire with a printed weapon and companies don’t have to worry about counterfeiting and piracy.

References and additional links

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