Category Archives: Design

Getting to know GIMP 2.8

Oil on the savannah

Things continue, I’ve narrowed the projects from 10 down to about 3 and am working towards sharable results… In my spare time, I’m making walking sticks and teaching myself open source image manipulation software GIMP. Expect random images, I’m practicing.

Color Coded for your Convenience
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Prohibition or Renaissance: The Coming IP Wars

The clash between Intellectual Property and cheap, distributed, additive manufacturing is both inevitable and predictable.  It’s one of those deciding battles where regardless of the outcome, the world  is different afterwards for better or worse.

The conflict is obvious – Patents and Copyright are about protecting ideas, while the line of development Manufacturing is following demands these ideas be created, shared, improved upon ad infinitum. Trademarks aren’t really included, since that’s about brand identity.

Within the next few years this issue will come to the forefront, with conventional design/manufacturing firms screaming that their sales are falling due to rampant production of unlicensed/open sourced (reverse-engineered) “stuff”.     Something comparable to “pirated” IPhone 3GS being for sale at your local flea market (and online equivilents) for 1/4th the price Apple charges for it, and you watch them print it (electronics, antennae, screen and all) while you wait.

Do you want yours printed in aluminum, titanium or Biodegradable Plastic?

Imagine the panic of investment banks, interested parties & governments around the world.  The old system isn’t protecting our property!  It’s all because of this rapid prototyping technology some idiot made cheap and pervasive – Now anybody can make whatever they want, or more importantly steal something you paid/worked/licensed to develop without giving you a dime for your trouble.  We’ll be ruined.  Something must be done.

There are two broad ways this can  dealt with: Prohibition or Renaissance

If we wait, the knee-jerk reaction will be Prohibition – IP Laws will pretty much stay the same, while a new government agency will be introduced to regulate “@home manufacturing businesses”.  It will probably take the form of a licensing scheme, where in order to own & operate a “@home manufacturing unit” you need to take a class on intellectual property, pay some fees for a license from the government, and put your identification number on every item that comes out, making your machine and thus you responsible for it.

The Good News:  It probably guarantees some minimum level of proficiency operating the machinery if there is a class associated with the licensing requirement.    If a product is pirated, defective or fraudulent it’s easy to find out who to punish.

The Bad News: By requiring a license, they’ll make the majority of hobbyists and tinkerers into outlaws and black-market participants by default.   For those who do participate in the licensing scheme, they will have the advantage of fewer competitors, but since every product produced can always be tied back to their machine it introduces a whole slew of liability issues that haven’t even been considered yet.

When it comes to piracy, the assumption is every act is intentional – But how many ideas are there? How many designs?  Additive Manufaturing makes the entire design process “Think it up, design or scan it, create it on-site” so where does the “research to make sure you’re not conflicting with anyone elses existing intellectual property” step come into play, before or after you hit the print button?   Additive manufacturing is so important because it shrinks the minimum viable market size to one consumer.   Is it the @home manufacturers responsibility to research every single design they are asked to print?  Probably.

IP liability insurance will be mandatory, inadvertent violations frequent and payouts punitive in the stated hopes of discouraging similar behavior.  But you can’t discourage creation once the potential of the tools are realized.  It’ll be easy to get one of these self-replicating machines, but expensive to get a license.  And so the blackmarket will flourish with the inevitable criminality that accompanies.  The costs of prohibition are already stacking up, and we won’t even address enforcement here, but it doesn’t have to be this way.


1 910 State of the Art

A Collaborative Renaissance: Everything Old is New Again

Patents exist for a reason, innovation is not free or even cheap.  But who says the way we’re doing it now works very well at all?  Large producing firms defensively acquire patents  as leverage in the event they are sued by a competitor, so-called “patent trolls” buy patents like lottery tickets while wielding the  letter of the law as a thief would a gun; extorting value they did not earn while leaving their victims shaken and thankful more was not taken from them.  The individual inventor is in there somewhere, but with the process to patent a single idea requiring multiple years and thousands of dollars (not including legal costs), what average individual has the time to create ideas and protect them all using only his own resources?  Not many.

Lincoln said “The Patent System added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius.”, and it did.   But over the intervening decades the creosote of bureaucracy and abuse has slowly choked what was once a vital part of American free market innovation.  I propose we take it back.

The Industrial Revolution Seemed Like a Good Idea At The Time.
Manufacturing has major expenses associated in the creation of even trivial objects – The mantra of “we’ll make it up in volume”  leads to a zero sum way of thinking where your costs are fixed at a minimum floor, but you have to compete with all other manufacturers in your space for the profit that remains.   This is the nature of mass manufacturing everything, and the culture it cultivates is one of technological stagnation and secrecy.
On the complete other end of the spectrum you’ve got a place like Thingiverse where nearly every design is available for free and is open source – You can take anything that anybody else has made, change it a little bit,  improve it, make it easier to assemble,  mash it up with something you or someone else created, and then put it back out there for others to become inspired by your work and do the same.  Each Thing has a page, and each page proudly displays the lineage of past Things it was derived from or based off of.  The only thing missing here is the value proposition – Some people use it to promote their other proprietary works for sale elsewhere, but mostly it is people collaborating to advance what is possible with the new manufacturing & design reality.
The coming challenge is to take this virtuous, self-reinforcing cycle of innovation leading to more innovation, and transpose it onto for-profit IP.

New Uses for Old Technology abound

Perpetual, Fractional Payments – A thousand bites at the Apple

If you have a great, profitable idea and you patent it under the current system – That’s great!   But how do you make money with it? You could sell it (if someone wants to buy it, ideas are cheap)  If you want to bring it to market yourself,  you’ll have to find a manufacturer, financing, packaging, marketing, distribution, and on and on.   Most patents are improvements to existing products, so what happens if someone improves your patented idea and patents it themselves?  Not only is your old system obsolete, but if you want to upgrade to the newly developed “state of the art” there are very expensive licensing fees or redudant development costs while you re-invent their re-invention of your technology.   Talk about wasting time and effort.

Instead, why not take advantage of the advantage of our digital world – Combine the concept of Thingiverse’s collaboration & attribution with free value transfer services like Bitcoin with Ricardian contracts sprinkled in there to automate the whole thing. This combination of attributes can uniquely eliminate the involvement of what some refer to as “the parasite class“.

The trick is to design the system in such a way so you can have a single object purchased provide value to everyone along the path of its creation.  Initially these relationships will be simple but as the virtuous cycle kicks in things get complicated. There would be a small submission fee to make sure people bring in designs that are at least a little thought through, say $10.   If someone wants to examine your design in detail, it might cost $.50, if they want to print it, or modify it: $1.   Prices need to be low to encourage experimentation with existing designs.    In that $1 for a use license, at least 50% should always go to the current creator with payments scaling down to earlier creators, but never ceasing to exist entirely.  With Bitcoin and a project called OpenTransactions, you can transfer values as low as .00000001 bitcoin instantly to anyone else with no transaction fees, automatically, with execution based on the fulfilment of pre-determined conditions.

 

Put simply, if I invent a innovative new doorstopper and upload it to this service, and then you came along and wanted to print it, you would take the other side of that contract and in exchange for $1 sent to an automatically generated bitcoin address, you would be sent the file and granted a license to print or modify under the condition that you make any improvements available under the same type of licensing conditions.

As the content creator, I only make and sign this contract once and then just  put it out there for as many people to take me up on it as like my product.    This remains just as true if my doorstopper is the 5th generation of novel improvement on that doorstopper, except there the $1 once sent to the generated bitcoin address would be split up and distributed to all the contributors based on some algorithm.

For-Profit Open Source – Innovation with Compensation

Instead of focusing your time and energy on protecting your ideas and technology, it is suddenly in your best interest to make sure as many people see your innovation as possible, and if someone wants to improve it that’s great!   Not only do you have a monetary interest, but you can cheaply use their improved version and then build your own improvements on top.

For manufacturing, this means instead of having a contract with a content owner to create 100,000 of their product every 6 months they could become “local manufacturing centers” that can make anything with designs acquirable through this system, paying $1 for each  time they print a design, and charging the customer the difference between what the licensing + material cost are and the prevailing market rate.  For an additional premium, customers could work with your designer to customize the product to their tastes.

A Room with a Large Capacity for Highly Personalized Manufacturing.

For the creator, everything you build goes into the library and if you tag your part correctly it will come up over and over as future innovators look for components to derive from, or consumers choose they want your product created at a hub.  This gives you control over what requires your time – Your designs all have long tails, so you can stay focused on improving new ideas rather than on protecting the ones you’ve already created.

This is a big idea, please tell me where I’m wrong and explain to me the things I just don’t understand.  Until then, I think this could be a better way for a more productive and open future, as it would quickly create a library of quality, constantly improving designs that could be cheaply licensed, and thus competitively manufactured in all localities while still providing value to the brains behind the design. 

What a time to be alive.

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Hivestack 0.3 Enclosure & Mounting System

Triangular landing in blue

Here is the new design for the enclosure

Hivestack .3 (loosely to scale)

4 Units in Holder (not to scale)

The handles are built into the lid, and the lid slides into place under the J-hooks.  The unit measures approx. 8″ x 8″ x 4″, so it’s actually quite small.  Those are the standard dimensions of commonly available inexpensive 3d printers, so it’s the starting size for our modules to keep things simple.  The outside walls are approx 1″ thick – I have concerns we may need to insulate.   There are three exterior entrance holes, all facing what would be away from the building, and a triangular landing just underneath that runs along the middle 2/3rds of the structure.   All transit holes are 9mm to conform to the large end of bee-space standards, and the ones on the exterior are at 45 degree angles coming into the structure to keep out weather and make them easier to defend, while still giving them easy access to most parts of the interior.

One thing missing in this design is a heat venting/rain shedding addition to the roof, anything else missing?

And here’s what it would look like with several of them, this would be about 2 1/2 feet long. 

The trick to all of this, is the (say it with me!) variable lattice matrix that conforms to bee-space rules.   This is pretty dang close, and would not take much modification. http://www.withinlab.com/case-studies/index10.php

Within has a sister company called Digital Forming, and they work with designers to help customers tailor products to what they want, while still keeping them functional.  Take that concept and put it onto beespace rules.  My hope is I can interest their leadership in this project, and get them to build us a little application that will let us generate beespace lattice matrixes that can be tailored to any size enclosure, and that give you the ability to easily and intuitively communicate to the bees how you would like them to build in a general sense, while still giving them all the tools they need to do the design as is most efficient for them.  This is possible because of the three dimensional structure we can give them…. Hell, we could even print it in wax.

The application would ideally let you do things like designate brood free units, which would make sure the mesh did not allow the queen into the comb area, while still giving her a path from one unit to another.  This is usually done with Queen Excluders, which cuts the queen off from part of the hive entirely…. Not an ideal situation but because we can generate meshes that are suited to different things in one manufactured package, it’s not a problem.     Digital Formings consulting is all about making applications that are easy to use, so this could all be done with sliders where as you increase the “Honey Prodution” slider, the “Brood Production” slider decreases….

I’m still working out some details, but I’ve handed the design & measurements off to Brett – A new recruit from the RepRap side of things who will convert them into SCAD format.   This will be a huge step forward towards our first in-the-flesh prototype, so stay tuned.

3D Printing & Lattice Structures – Within Technologies – Digital Forming

This is a more technical talk, but if you want to understand what I’m talking about with “variable lattice matrix”, this guys company already designed the algorithm.   Fascinating work with enormous implications in the fairly near term on what & how we can build.

Anybody have $30k for the optimized license? Lets talk.

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Hivestack .2 and pushing tinkercad to the limit

New version of the OSMPBeehive is just about ready for “primetime”, I am dubbing it 0.2 as it’s still just me getting whats in my head down in 3d without figuring out exact numbers (not parametric yet, sorry!).   Looking more at Makerslide, I think that’s our support material – MakerSlide is an aluminum V rail integrated into a standard extrusion profile.

An installation would be two 4′-7′ legnths set 2′ or so in the ground, with the wheel grooves on both facing inward.  Those seem pretty ideal for the type of ratcheting “insert Clean unit in the bottom, remove Full unit out the top” system I mentioned in the brainstorm post.

Without further adue, here she is!

Hivestack .2: 3 Module unit with oval cutaway and some racks removed to see enclosure floor detail

I call it the Hivestack, the bottom unit is suspended off the ground and the bottom holes would be covered by strong wire mesh.  The central nesting shaft is now gone, and  the comb-templates create a sort-of library feeling with narrow corridors between the frames.  I was able to increase the number of full-size frames to 6 with this configuration.  The floor plate which was previously a seperate piece is now integrated into the body, each unit will nest on top of the next with little or no gap.  There are still entrance holes on all four sides, but only one row per module now (two rows was a bit silly) – Also, I’ve angled the round entrance holes up at a 45 degree angle to make them easier to defend and to keep out rain.  Since we got rid of the “floor” piece, that means the top unit needs a roof of some kind to keep out the weather. I havn’t put much thought into it, but when my wife saw it she said it looked like a little elf house made from a tree.  Me?  I’m just subconsciously emulating the Ukranians.  Any ideas or clever things we should build into it?

Ukranian Bee Hives (from the old days)

I didn’t worry about removing the combs individually: Modular design allows the top unit on the stack to be harvested as one piece!

Since each unit is small, in the next version we could dispense with formal “frames” and just print some kind of lattice matrix that would let the bees build comb in whatever way was easiest.  Simply use a centrifuge to extract the honey from the module, then toss it in a large pot of boiling water to remove the wax from the module and sterilize it (this also recovers the wax, but not the comb).  That seems like a pretty slick and sanitary workflow to me. With a conventional hive, do you sterilize the inside & outside walls every harvest? I could even see doing this over the course of several days to minimize the stress, where you remove the top unit, then add one clean unit to the bottom of the stack each day until your harvest is complete.

One Hivestack module by itself (The frames will be replaced by a hexagonal latice matrix as soon as I figure out how to do that)

Reddit.com/r/beekeepers User svarogteuse  had this to say:

Its illegal. Every state requires all the frames to be removeable. Doesn matter if belive they need to be or not its the law. Version 0.2 needs to have all moveable frames if you want to even discuss the merits or flaws of this design over the current standards.

And I very much do want to discuss it here, but I’m curious if others think this will be a problem?  Seems like this design probably fits the letter and spirit of the law, but I’d like a second (3rd…4th…etc) opinion, please chime in!

Size and ratio will be important once someone starts drawing this up in parametric fashion –  bees seem to use how big a hole is relative to their body size to determine how to respond to a breach in the hive.  Whenever this gets to real CAD software, all transit spaces will need to be fixed…. Anybody have experiance with this?  Can we scale part of a design, but not all of it while still tracking where the fixed diameter features are on the overall model (if that makes sense)?

Larve space
=
space filled
with comb
Small space
=
space sealed
with propolis
Bee space
=
space
respected


My “render” times on tinkercad have gotten into the 10 minute range, and breaks altogether with more than 4 modules so I think this is the last version I can build there.  The next step is to transition to more capable CAD software, and create the 1.0 iteration.  Anybody want to take the first shot at Hivestack 1 plans?  Any suggestions to topics I did or didn’t address here?  Thanks to everyone who has participated so far, if seeing what I’m doing is giving you ideas please share them!

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Brainstorming: Bees

Edit: The Bee Project is featured on Thingiverse!

Just Joining Us?  Read the original post here to get up to speed (outdated version posted on thingiverse)

24 hours in, and I can’t help myself but put some thoughts up before heading outside for the day – I’ve been reading up on bees at the very informative beekeeping.com and have come up with a few ideas I’d like feedback on.

Hive Management seems to come in two common flavors, leave it alone and collect honey as available” or Manage your hives, combining weaker hives to produce fewer stronger hives, and then splitting them up again when they grow beyond their capacity”.    Here’s a quote from the beekeeping article

Honey bee colony growth and well-being are dependent upon:

  • The queen’s capacity to lay eggs;
  • The supporting worker population’s ability to maintain favorable temperatures in the brood nest and to feed the brood (i.e. size and age structure of worker population);
  • Availability of nectar (or honey stores during the dearth period) and pollen;
  • Space in the proper section of the hive for expansion of the brood nest and storage of honey (Productive Management of honey bee colonies, C.L. Farrar, American Bee Journal, vol. 108 nos. 3-10. 1968)


Many poorly-managed colonies = weak colonies = less honey


Fewer well-managed colonies = strong colonies = more honey

The advantages of actively managing your bears bees are manifest, and many – So how can we make it easier to achieve?   Well, lets look to nature for the answer…  This is from Hex-Hives:

Bees in nature work with gravity. Given the natural space of, say, a hollow tree they will start at the top and draw the comb down. This realization has been fully incorporated into the  design of the Hapiary hive. The hives are installed with all of the pods in place from the beginning. True to this initial observation, the bees start drawing comb from the top of the hive. This allows the Queen to always follow the cleanest, newest comb as it descends within the hive.

So that gave me an idea.   Right now, the mechanism to attach the modular beehive units to each other is by a nesting shaft located centrally, but that has a big problem.  It means that in order for us to remove any one or several sections, we have to totally disrupt ALL the units above it, which need to somehow be supported and lifted… Frankly speaking, it’s just not going to work.

We know the hive will be filled in from the top to the bottom as expansion needs manifest, so it makes sense to start with a full size unit – What about using a self-supporting frame out of a material like Makerslide, then designing the modules to be removed from the top and loaded in from the bottom (probably some kind of ratcheting mechanism).  You start the hive, the bees work their way down, and once they have the structure 75%+ full, you remove the top 50% of the modules entirely for honey retrieval and cleaning.  Then you load fresh units in from the bottom so the hive has clean expansion space again, while still having enough energy from the remaining 25% undisturbed but full-of-honey modules.   You could build the unit on a scale, and after the first collection you could use weight as a criteria for knowing when to check the hives for expansion needs.

I will mock this up when I have time, if you’d like to help and know how to 3d model I encourage you to take a swipe at it!

The Bee Blower - We can do better with design

Bee Suppression System without smoke

I always thought you needed the smoke to convince the bees to leave,  but watching an episode of a “how the natives survive” show recently, I saw how some african cultures that collect wild honey just gently blow on the bees, which is enough to make them peacefully evacuate.  They were wearing no protective gear, group of about 7 people (plus whatever cameramen) huddled around a hollowed tree and there were maybe two stings suffered.

So, obviously smoke isn’t required.    Looking more into this, I came across some… creative… mechanics for removing bees.

Hi Dan, I just use a leaf blower and operate it at about half speed. You will get the hang of it after a while. I just set the super up on it’s side in the hives lid. Work on one side then the other and back to the first side and do this over again till they are out. Then I take the super away and put the lid back on the hive.

It’s not a bad idea, but the restrictions of convention beehive design & manufacturing make this way more disruptive than it needs to be.   Since this project is based around additive manufacturing (3d printing in its various forms), we have all the advantages previously mentioned – Among them, Complexity is free!     Why not build each modules walls with a “bee suppression system” that allows you to plug a can of compressed air (or similar) into the side of a given module, and have the hive be flooded with low level disruptive but not debilitating, irritating but not dangerous downward biased crosswinds that strongly encourage the bees to lower levels?   Obviously this would need some tuning, but the goal would be to start at the top and herd the bees into the lower levels, allowing for removal of the upper stories with no bee removal.       This could be as detailed and intricate as is helpful while actually reducing manufacturing costs.

I think when I test that, I’ll wear two bee suits.

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The Open Source, Modular, Printable Beehive Project

Here’s my first project on Thingiverse, I’m curious to see what kind of response I get.   There will be blog specific content soon, but for now here is the Modular, Printable Beehive Project

Bees are a big deal. Einstein once said without bees, civilization would collapse within 5 years due to lack of pollination. Personally, I don’t believe any of that, but I think bees are cool as heck and just learned about how Bee-Hives are pretty poorly designed due to constraints on construction. The little bees require detail that is a bit too fine to be affordable, Until now!

Modular Beehive Colorcoded

This design was my inspiration

Each section holds 8 frames, 4 of which are removable and 4 of which are structurally part of the housing. As a bee-keeper, you want to make sure to not take too much of the bees honey because it is their food as well as delicious, thus no need to remove the “larder” frames.

One issue that comes up by making some of the frames non-removable is cleanliness over long period of time, well turns out the bees can actually take care of that themselves. From the Hexhives site…
“With pollen and nectar, bees create a substance called propolis. Propolis is a sticky substance that bees use to seal up undesirable open areas in the hive. It’s been long thought that the various pollens collected serve as a deterrent to encroachments by various infestations. This might be an example of how bees engineer combinations of substances to provide as sterile an environment as possible for the queen and nursery. It’s important to keep this in mind because the interaction between the bees and the beekeeper can have an enormous impact on the health of the colony.”

Three units assembled, with cutaway.

Wow! They make a substance that acts as a structurally adhesive filler with anti-viral/bacterial properties! How do we get them to make more of that than they do in conventional designs? Well, Hex-hives has solved that one too – They use rough finish on the inside of their wood boxes, which creates an irregular surface the bees are compelled to smooth out…. By covering it with this material! So that means we either need to print a rough textured surface, or do some post-processing to rough it up.

The design incorporates multiple round transit holes which are easy for the bees the sanitize and guard, the central shaft running through the unit is recessed for the bottom portion, and designed to have the top of one unit nest deeply into the bottom of the next for stability. The bottom unit of the hivestack should have a solid wire mesh attached to the bottom of the unit to keep out nosey things.

Some additional notes on efficiency with bees: All areas of comb should be quickly accessible, lots of existing designs rely on bees all coming in on one level of a hive, and then they basically climb around the internal structure until they get where they need to drop off the pollen/nectar. Since this design is round and relatively small diameter, the frequent perimeter holes let bees land wherever they are needed, drop off and head out again.

This unit is designed to be mounted on or in a tree, and thicker walls are probably better than thinner. The outer wall provides insulation for bees during hot and cold, so if you have any knowledge on materials that might be well suited for this application, I’d appreciate the input. I’m new to additive manufacturing with my first (printrbot) coming with the kickstarter release this month, is there a reason PLA and ABS are used to the exclusion of other materials? Or is it just availability?
This is version 0.1 of my modular beehive design. I’m very new to 3d modeling and built this in Tinkercad just eyeballing the dimensions so I could convey what I have in mind, I invite anyone else interested to take the concept and run with it, I look forward to your suggestions and contributions.

Printable Frame Part

Structure, Larder Frames, Bottom Plate, and Nesting Shaft as one piece

Some immediate improvements I’m looking to develop include changing the removable frame mechanism from the current system (vertically inserted into the cut-out holder from the top of the unit) to one where you pull the frame out the side. Currently, to get at any honey you’d have to disrupt any units above so that obviously could use a re-think.

I’m not sure what scale this should be, but the one I’m using is probably wrong. Obviously this is too big for Tinkercad, any suggestions?

This thing was made with Tinkercad. Edit it online

Broken into individual, color coded componants
tinkercad.com/things/3eVk8F7a08n

All-In-One unit that includes built in “larder frames” but does not include the removable frames. This is my furthest along design
tinkercad.com/things/9KIwyaF5AO7

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Spider Silk More Conductive than Copper – Architect Magazine

So much for our understanding of Thermodynamics. (Bolds are mine for emphasis)

Spider Silk More Conductive than Copper

Xinwei Wang, Guoqing Liu and Xiaopeng Huang (left to right) analyze the thermal conductivity of spider silk. Photo by Bob Elbert.

Iowa State University associate professor Xinwei Wang has conducted experiments measuring the thermal conductivity of materials for years. After testing many of the known thermal conductors such as copper, aluminum, or diamonds, Wang wanted to find an organic material with higher-than-expected conductivity. His target candidate came in the form of spider silk—in particular, dragline thread of golden silk orbweaver spiders.When Wang measured the silk, which is only 4 microns thick (human hair is 15 times that diameter), and was surprised by the results. In a paper just published in the Advanced Materials journal, Wang specifies that the dragline silk has a thermal conductivity of 416 watts per meter Kelvin. Copper, a well-known conductor, conducts heat at a rate of 401 watts per meter Kelvin. “This is very surprising because spider silk is organic material,” Wang says. “For organic material, this is the highest ever. There are only a few materials higher—silver and diamond.”Wang also discovered that spider silk becomes more conductive when it is stretched; not less conductive as is the case with many materials. The conductivity rate is also directly proportional to the length: a 20 percent increase in length of the silk results in a 20 percent increase in conductivity. Wang attributes the high rate of conductivity to the pure molecular structure of the material, as well as its nanocrystal-carrying proteins and the coil-shaped structures that connect them. Future applications of Wang’s discovery might include heat-dissapating electronics, clothing, or bandages, as well as other products that prioritize thermal management. “Our discoveries will revolutionize the conventional thought on the low thermal conductivity of biological materials,” Wang says.

Blog Entry – Spider Silk More Conductive than Copper – Architect Magazine.

You Are Here.

We Find Ourselves Right of Center
I love the collaborative eco-system that has developed in the open-hardware/software movement over the past few years.   Thingiverse has become a recent obsession, It’s the closest thing to jazz I’ve ever seen online. It’s not something I was much interested in previously, but there is something so infectiously exciting about watching people “riff” off each others ideas; iterating fast and quick with one designers revised version inspiring the next designer to improve, I just can’t help myself.

One missing piece of the puzzle was making the jump from “Great Idea!” to “Enough people want to buy it to get it made”, but in my opinion Kickstarter.com and its myriad of fund-alikes have kicked down that door quite firmly.  The amount of money pouring into joe-schmoe products shows that not only is there a need for this type of funding, but there is a demand for these types of products.   Sure, there have been failures to deliver and more than a couple scams, but like the old saying goes, you can’t have the good without the bad.

From where I sit, we’re at the precipice of a  revolution on par with the introduction of the Internet; it is impossible to imagine where we’ll be ten years down the road simply because nobody has ever seen anything like it.   Several technologies are conspiring to dramatically liberate the “means of production back to the people.” to borrow a loaded term…

  • Inexpensive, Local Manufacturing It’s a race! Here’s my first unit which was the cheapest & most advanced at the time I bought it, but has since been challenged for cheapest in the two months I’ve been waiting.  THIS is what happens when you unleash innovation and tell everyone they can make money, just develop the best thing.
  • Passively Collaborative Open Source Hardware & Design Encourages everyone to work on improving the best designs (and sell it/incorporate it without worrying about licensing), while still allowing anyone to work on improvements they may value that others do not.  A practical application of Voluntary-ism if I’ve ever seen one.
  • Complexity Makes it Cheaper  Cost = Weight, therefore more intricate designs reduce production costs, often substantially.
When you’re talking about conventional manufacturing, it is always SUBSTANTIALLY more expensive to make one hundred of a thing than to make a hundred thousand of the same thing – This is because conventional manufacturing is usually some derivative of “Spend a lot of time/effort/resources crafting one or several perfect molds of your product, then stamp/inject/pressform/etc the material into it under high pressure and heat, pop out the finished product and do it again every 5 seconds”.   This works if all your customers want identical products, and it works if you have a use for a hundreds of thousands of units.

My background (professionally) is Sales, although my (limited) schooling was in audio engineering.    For the five years I was employed as an environmentally friendly foodservice packaging salesman, I was often frustrated by the difficulty of matching the needs of customers who wanted anything done custom.  One (non) customer had wanted to buy a PLA cold cup that was 8″ long, had little taper, good stability and punch-outs at the “bottom” of the cup, along the base, which of course does not exist.    I asked him what the item was for, and he told me he was heavily involved with the shellfish industry on the pacific northwest coast.  At the time they were using (and might still be) lengths of PVC pipe with holes drilled in the bottom, these are used like glorified collars that are dug into the sea floor around the crustacean to protect it from overly strong currents and (I assume) predation.   The first question on your mind as a salesman having this conversation is “What kind of quantity are we talking about here”

It’s been some time now, but if I recall his usage was 200,000 units the first year for the pilot project with expected usage of 2,000,000pc per year following a successful completion.  The total market was substantially larger than that.     So these are not small numbers we’re talking about in any kind of sane world, the only problem is we’re talking about mass produced manufacturing!    To make something like this, it would require a completely new mold be struck, so anywhere between $40,000 and $100,000 in up-front costs.

So lets do some ballpark math here.  Assuming for a second we get lucky and the design is very simple, which keeps the cost down –

The tool costs $40,000….

Divided by the first years usage 200,000

Comes to $0.20 per cup JUST for the tool.   Manufacturing and distribution  this size probably would cost $0.15-$0.30/ea by the time it gets put in a box and delivered, so total $0.35-0.50 per piece!      The manufacturing of course costs roughly the same per piece as any other cold cup, BUT the good news is that if your product works and everything is great than you pretty much don’t need to ever buy that tool again (unless it breaks).   Of course, if you decide the cup needs to change in ANY way, better get your wallet.

Problem is, mostly people don’t have that big a market when they’re getting started, and even if the market does exist they often don’t have the resources to cover the up-front costs.  So the inevitable results:  “I can’t justify putting that kind of money out up front when all I want to do is see if my concept will work”; they keep doing the same thing.

I don’t know about you, but that’s just never worked for me.  Products are works-in-progress, releases should be viewed as a snapshot in the timeline, not a stopping point. ideas to be observed in the physical space and improved upon as our understanding evolves alongside.  Somewhere along the road to industrialization that concept was left behind; I am excited as can be to include myself in the generation that’s rediscovering it all over again.

Turns out, it doesn’t have to be this way.

I welcome any comments or suggestions.

h/t metalifestream.com for the image at top I modified

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