Design/Manufacture - Post Kickstarter Thoughts

These two products represent an interesting year for me. The one on the right is a cheap follow focus for filmmakers that I funded via Kickstarter (50-Dollar Follow Focus). I’d intended to make a couple hundred of them and ended up having made more than 3000 at this point.

It’s the product on the left, however, that I enjoy the most. After the follow focus project, I was inundated with people asking for a rails rig to mount the follow focus to. 15mm rails are an industry standard, and lots of folks make this stuff. So in order to make yet another rails baseplate worth doing, I approached the problem as one of reduction. The driving question was, how much can you take away and still have a 15mm baseplate? The picture below is the result. The red star nut in the center both clamps the rods and attaches the plate to the camera. It took many iterations to get the deformable clamp right, as it was a balance between rod clamping power and not over-torquing the camera mount.

I’m really posting this because I’m interested to hear how many others incorporate both design and manufacture into their work. For the Barely Baseplate project, it was invaluable being able to walk from the computer to the mill and make another iteration. And knowing that I was the guy who would be designing the fixturing and loading parts and pushing the cycle start button affected a number of design choices. So I’m curious how many of you have a major role in the complete idea-to-consumer chain, and what you’ve learned from that.

Congratulations on the successful funding. Having control of the manufacturing makes a huge difference in the process. I just recently got a big CNC router and brought all our machining in house. I’ve always tried to make things easier to manufacture, but I find now that I am actually more willing to push the capabilities of the process at the cost of some difficulty.

When you’re paying $120/hour, it’s difficult to justify spending a couple days trying to help the shop figure out how to do something they’ve never done before. Now I just do it. In the last few months I’ve developed several CNC-cut wood joints that had been in my head for years. Having the ability to do that R&D is huge. It’s also one of the biggest weaknesses of trying to work with factories overseas. Even when you’re over there often, it’s very difficult to do something beyond their normal experience.

Welcome to the boards Wiley - we’d love to see more of your project (process, etc.), and congrats on successful funding!

@NURB - Thanks for the welcome. The photo below shows some of the iteration. There were more but those are the only prototypes I could find offhand. Anyway, you can see I kind of overbuilt the first few, so it was mostly a process of whittling away. The change between the bottom two was primarily production-driven. The original design required a 1/4" endmill for the center slot, which was painfully slow to machine, so i redesigned it to allow for a 3/8" endmill, which shaved about two minutes off the production time, which is huge. I still laugh at the mantlepiece-like shape of that original version. Not sure what I was thinking there.

@Scott - Completely agree on the R&D aspect. I did all the prototyping for the follow focus on a converted CNC mill I bought for $2500. Had I paid a shop to machine the prototypes, I would have easily burned through $10,000. How did you find the transition from outsourcing to running the equipment yourself? Were you planning to do that all along, and if not, what was the thing that changed your direction?

Nothing beat being able to test an idea quickly. I now use one tool in front of that process, quick, painless FEA software called Scan and Solve that runs inside Rhino. Able to quickly expose the weak areas in a design before machining, really is an advantage to see where the stress areas are in a part and adjust accordingly.

The classic way to do this was to machine clear acrylic parts and look at the stresses in parts between two polarized filters.

The main thing I have learned from the product to consumer chain is to listen to what the customer wants something to do, not what he or she thinks the product should be.

Never heard of doing that, that’s clever.

@wileydavis- That is a gorgeous little part. How are you holding that down on the second operation? I’d love to get a little mill and do more stuff in metal.

I didn’t initially plan to do anything in house. I started up with essentially no money, and just bootstrapped it out of my garage. I couldn’t take the risk of buying equipment before knowing whether I had a viable business. But a couple years ago it got to the point where the amount I was spending on machining every year was enough to buy a used router. I’d rather buy one for myself than buy one for someone else every year. It helped that I’ve built little desktop CNC machines before, and have done some programming on racecar parts in the past, so the learning curve was minimal.

It’s so nice having all the G code in Solidworks and associative to the part, and not having to make 2D drawings for someone to reinterpret. The process is so fast now. We can literally go from a model in the morning to shipping in the afternoon.

@Scott - Thanks. It’s actually a four-op part, as it gets machined on four sides and I don’t have a 4th axis, yet. Vimeo embedding didn’t seem to work, but here’s a link to a video showing the first two operations: Machining a Barely Rail DSLR Baseplate on Vimeo I’m close to moving to an extrusion for this part. The video shows the new machine, not the $2500 clunker :slight_smile: Soft jaws and carrier machining are godsends for short runs. The stock on the right is only held by .060" of material.

I was in the same boat regarding machine purchase after the Kickstarter project. Machine prices have really come down and you don’t have to be selling that many units to pay for the tool. And as you pointed out, the CAD/CAM equation is becoming more user friendly as well (Sadly, my CAM is not associative with my CAD at this point…someday).

I think the real power of Kickstarter for product design is here. Rather than just funding a single product, it has the potential to get miniature factories off the ground. I funded the follow focus via Kickstarter, but the Barely Baseplate was self-funded because it was so cheap to do so once I owned the means of production (and because it’s more stressful to move from prototype-to-production in public ala Kickstarter.) So when people support a design/manufacture concern, they’re really getting multiple benefits: the original item, plus the potential of future products that might have never existed with multiple middlemen taking their cuts. That’s my take anyway. I too have some background in CNC (worked in machine shops while in college) so I wonder how steep the learning curve would be for someone with no background in it whatsoever. I know when I was in school, you had to hang out in the engineering labs to get any hands-on cnc experience.

Cool furniture, by the way.


Here you go…

See this tutorial on posting videos: [HOW TO] Embed a YouTube or VIMEO video in a thread - #5 by cdaisy

Ahh, thanks. I had actually found that tutorial, but still couldn’t get it to work. It’s the secure url that breaks it…replacing https with http does the trick. Good to know.