Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Brief update on first month

June 17, 2014: The last four weeks have been hectic: We are still getting banking and credit accounts squared away so we can disburse the Kickstarter money more efficiently and get quicker responses from vendors. Everything takes longer than you'd like, when you are in a hurry.  A number of important things have happened since the actual transfer of funds for the project one month ago:

We now have an agreement in place with Soundwave Research to use its facilities at a reasonable rate, and also use its existing insurance, bookkeeping, and heat, light, and rent. A portion of Soundwave's facility has been reallocated to New55 FILM, including "the back lab" where I sit, and the upstairs lab and office areas.  This saves having New55 try to rent its own space for now, which would take about three months to accomplish, and a lot of money that is more urgently needed to work on product development.

I have cleared my schedule, and have been working full time on the project, and Sam has too.

Sam has negotiated a reasonable starting price for our film while leaving our options open. Having choices in the film supply is a goal, and probably a necessity considering the changeable nature of photographic film suppliers. The global nature of film suppliers and the logistics costs, such as shipping and import duties, are significant, too.

Ted and I flew to Kodak Park in Windsor CO to discuss a contract where the coating machines can be used for making our receiver sheet. This trip also resulted in a big bill from Hertz car rental. The coating machines in Colorado might be able to do the solvent coating development we need, and possibly more. This is going to be an ongoing and intensive part of the New55 FILM project, and will have to occur in parallel with all the machine design efforts and everything else. It is our number one risk area as there are financial, technical and timing risks throughout this portion of the project.

A number of new machine designs have been drawn up, the process flow chart is done, the product configuration tree is finalized, and a portion of the Sleeve Machine is already nearing completion. The Sleeve Machine is a key piece of equipment and will - if it works right - assemble some or all of the Sleeve assembly, which is fairly complex and requires precision, and several steps in rapid sequence. We've hired an automation engineer who is going to design and have build cutters, possibly rotary die cutters (for speed) and various crimping and bonding tools, and install the Sleeve Machine on the first floor, in the back lab area which will become a dedicated production area. The plan is to use that space for any process that may create particulates, then clean and perform final assembly in the upstairs lab where we can better control dust.

We've finalized the clip design (but still subject to the last design review), and have quotes from four sources. None are cheap and all require fairly large tooling charges, which are a one-time thing.  I think we will pull the trigger on the order for 25,000  clips this week, probably. The clips we are going to order will be made of a different steel than previously and they will be stronger, more supple, and less prone to deformation. The new clips will also not require paint, which is a very expensive thing to get on a clip that has to cost less than a quarter. Some of you may be alarmed to see a shiny clip instead of a black one, but it is nothing to worry about.

With clips and some machines expected to be here within 8 weeks, we've ordered surrogate papers from a paper converter slit to our dimensions. This is necessary so we have something to work with while we source the real papers. Surrogate papers are just about any paper that has the right thickness and width that can be put up on rolls.

And much much work hunting down papers has gone on. This mystery still leaves me with the impression that if we had an expert we'd find what we need off the shelf. But so far we have made modest progress with some of Polaroid's old vendors, slowly. The supply of paper materials has been identified as our number two risk. I've already traveled to paper mills and plan to go to more of them soon, and we are looking to hire a genuine paper expert, in case you know one.

We hired a very sharp Summer Intern who is a Chem-E undergrad from UMass Amherst to do a lot of the test coatings, pH and timing layer experiments, and several other important experiments that we think we need to do to finalize our own receiver design. This simplified design will use materials that didn't exist until recently and stems from my work in nanotech. We are fortunate to have Ted McLelland from 20x24 Studio guiding much of this R&D and leading the coating efforts.

Sam has established contacts with important logistics and shipping, fulfillment and customer tracking firms we will need to ship the product. He has also started to plan the fulfillment process, plant tours, and schedules, though it is quite early for that.

This list is by no means everything. We've purchased some lab equipment we needed, such as a viscometer, and have performed some basic experiments that point to next generation DTR in the process.  We are just getting organized and it seems to me, at times, like pushing a very heavy boat off of a dock. Over the next month we hope to have at least one key assembly machine up and running with surrogate materials, and also have progress in the receiver sheet design.

An important lesson - a reminder - from this first stage is how important materials and suppliers are, and what a minor role machines really play, despite all their complexities. New55 FILM is materials-intensive. Each part has special properties that you can't just go out and buy, even though they look simple. You can get a hundred samples of "opaque paper" and none will actually be opaque, for instance.  So that's what we are on right now, and today we are going to clean the upstairs lab and install full spectrum lamps and do a little painting. There are many other things to do.

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