Friday, September 19, 2014

Production Ramp for New55 FILM

Production ramp up estimates are usually expressed in straight lines, but never, in my experience, occur that way. There are bumps, delays, overages and changes along the way. Our supporters have pledged for New55 FILM to become a sustainable product, not a one-shot deal. That means we have to 1. estimate the steady state sales demand and 2. tool and schedule materials and labor for the required numbers.

The chart shows how it all might work: On the vertical scale are units per week. I prefer to have that as a measurement because it works well with production assemblers, who may work part of the week, or have a certain quota to meet. If week 7 fell a little short, for instance, then the assemblers still have week 8 to look forward to.  This is better than waiting a month to find out if production targets are being met.  So in our case we will call start of production "week 1", which starts out as zero.

The steady sales demand estimate is pegged at 1000 units per week.  This number surprises some people as rather small, but it represents the point where in steady amounts the product nears break even which is the term for "not losing money, not making money".

Since nobody imagines that the Kickstarter "demand" of some 20,000 units can all be built and shipped at once (nor could they be unless we hired a lot of people and then had a big layoff after the first 20,000 are shipped, which would be very wrong!) a scale-up ramp that within a reasonable time achieves the steady state demand is used and the shipping schedule is established to fit it.

Early "orders" get filled first and in the sequence they came in, which means that a trickle will go to the first few supporters and from then a stream will build up until all have been shipped.  This kind of "first in, first out" method is very common, and along with a scale-up ramp, allows a small number of people to be employed on a steady basis through the demand. It also has the advantage, the very big advantage, of allowing us to fine tune the process, which will naturally get better over time if there is no "panic".  Steady, sustained, even and smooth are the words you want to hear.

The big risk is what happens after the demand is filled. A sharp drop off in orders would be bad. More orders than expected would be good.  1000 units per week (that means 200 boxes of 5 sheets) comes to 25 units per hour in the normal week.  That's a good and sane starting pace that is fair to the assemblers and achieves - we hope - a new instant film product that can be made for many years. Time will tell.
There is also a low side estimate within statistical possibility

Monday, September 1, 2014

September 1 update

Risk Summary - September 1 covering progress in August, 2014.

Here is a summary of the various at-risk components of New55 film as of September 1, 2014. Please refer to the August summary as well so you can compare progress.

The Sleeve Assembly. This contains the Receiver sheet which has several parts, the stop tab, end tab and printing. It has to be stable yet easily peelable, light tight, and axially stiff enough to allow easy insertion into the 545 holder. And as we have advertised, it should produce less "Polatrash" than its predecessor.

Status: Some parts done, several in development. We continue to rely on The Sleeve Machine and it works well. We have even found a die-cutter who can perform all the cut to length operations at an OK starting price.

Cost: Still high, but at least now we know.

Risk: Moderate mechanical risk, high materials risk.

The Receiver Sheet

Status: New design developed by New55

Cost: High? We don't really know what the bill will be yet.

Risk: High. This is the highest risk component of the project and is quite complex. The team has done well, and have a single layer all aqueous system that works.  The design is out for quotes at coating facilities.  THIS IS A HUGE MILESTONE.

The Base is paper, of a certain thickness, width etc. that serves as the support for some 8 other layers of materials.  Further experiments with the Base paper show it is a suitable substrate, subject to the addition of a bridge coat, and a bright white coating.

Status: We have it

Cost: Low

Risk: Modest

The Laminate in this case is the opacification layer, which is something we invented, and the polymer overcoat layer.

Status: We have it, but we might not need it anymore, given the apparent success of the single layer all aqueous receiver design.

Cost: Low

Risk: Modest

The Bridge is an additional coat that seals the Base and Laminate making them impervious and less susceptible to excess water absorption during coating steps and user processing. It has to be a material that will support the next coat.

Status: Still needed and one version tested that works reasonably well.

Cost: Unknown

Risk: Moderate

"Image" is what we call the layer that is white and has the glossy surface you see. In actuality, this layer is fairly complex, has to have an exact pH and pH over time characteristic, and have a high whiteness. It also has to have a nanostructure that is particular to the DTR process and image quality requirements learned from the photonics fields, and therefore requires specialized services which we do not have, currently.

Status: We might have eliminated this, too. Luck may be with us here, but we do not know for sure.

Risk: Being reassessed.

The Nucleation Layer is where the black and grey tones of the positive image are developed and held for eternity or at least for a long time. We have formulated our own modern Nucleation Layer and now have to find a resource to apply it.

Status: We invented this, it works, and we think it can be commercialized

Cost: High. This layer uses very expensive materials in small quantities, but it adds up.

Risk: High. Even though we know how to do this, it has never been commercialized, but we have possibly found the right coating resources to make it a reality.

The Release Layer is the very topmost layer and it keeps the reagent from sticking and making a mess. We have to find someone able to do this, or do it ourselves. It isn't all that complex but this layer can impart a brown or yellow tone to the positive, which looks awful. So we want to avoid that.

Status: Tests show this is an easy process.

Cost: Moderate

Risk: Low/Moderate

The Cover might also be called The Back of the Sleeve Assembly. Its job is to keep the assembly light tight and form a thin cover for parts to slide. We have designed The Cover to mimic the operation of our Base and Laminate, only thinner, to keep the total thickness within the limits of the 545 holder. The Cover works very well, looks nicer than anything Polaroid used for its sheet film, and it seals the light out like no tomorrow, so hooray for The Cover!

Status: We have it here and it works well. Leaving well enough alone!

Cost: Low

Risk: Modest

The Stop Tab is a piece of thick paper that prevents you from pulling The Sleeve all the way out of the camera. It has to be cut from the right stock and glued into the right place and we need to invent a tool to do that, because nobody wants to hand-glue 25,000 tabs.

Status: Being designed and sourced, with significant vendor contact now

Cost: Unknown

Risk: Moderate/Low

The End Tab is the part you hold with your hand as you insert the film into the 545. It has to be peelable, stiff, locatable with simple machinery, and have opposing adhesive stripes applied to it prior to assembly. It looks like something we might have made for us. Fingers crossed.

Status: Being designed and sourced with significant vendor contact now

Cost: Unknown

Risk: Moderate/Low

Printing on The Sleeve is expected but not absolutely necessary. Some kind of "Lens Side" mark might do. I'm not even going to think about it now.

Status: None

Cost: Unknown

Risk: Low

The Pod is very important and has to be configured to fit inside the sleeve, on The Insert Assembly, and contain the processing jelly, or reagent.

Status: Working prototype needing further tooling and a schedule.  We have estimated the quantities and a further consideration is the move of 20x24 which could make scheduling a problem in the coming months.

Cost: High

Risk: Moderate

The Pod Materials is a bit touchy as it uses aluminum barrier material perilously close to a strong alkali, but Polaroid and Fuji got away with it for the most part, and then so must we. A better pod material is something worth developing, but later on.

Status: Some on hand, more needed later

Cost: Unknown

Risk: Moderate

The Reagent is made of a specially blended developer, solvent, alkali booster and thickener (and other chemicals) that process the negative and do double duty of transferring dissolved silver sols across an electrolytic barrier into the Receiver Sheet. A book could be written about The Reagent. It won't be published today. Suffice to say that a suitable reagent processes a good negative and a good positive, and stays active for a while before something happens to it.

Status: Complete and working, but now we need to run it in quantity and test it again.

Cost: High

Risk: Moderate

The Tongue Assembly is the insert that holds the sheet film, pod and is terminated by The Clip. Its final assembly has to be done in total darkness so it is the last assembly step.

Status: Prototyped and a very clever prototype it is, with laser cuts and adhesive strips! Pretty cool!

Cost: Low

Risk: Moderate

The Clip is "just" a piece of metal. No understatement stings more than that one at this moment, when the tooling charges and lead times for The Clip are still ringing in the checkbook. The original style Polaroid clip was made of soft steel and painted. The cost to make this part from a painted steel would be enormous today. Without the paint it would rust, so we have found a substitute material that does not require paint and has better springiness too. It has never been tested, so we wait with bated breath.

Well, the first batch is out of spec. They want us to see if we can use them the way they came out. I don't think so. This is a bummer and needs to be addressed right now.

Status: Designed and on order with prepaid tooling, awaiting decision of engineering if we can use them as-is. Probable change to tooling needed.

Cost: High

Risk: Dammit

The tongue is shaped like a tongue, sort of, and supports the film and pod. It is made of thin but stiff and slippery stock which has to be die cut. Pretty doable.

Status: Designed and very cool prototype from a can-do vendor! We like that!

Cost: Low

Risk: evolving.

The Adhesive Strips have to be applied to The Tongue with a machine. This involves vendor development and has not been done yet, so it remains an unknown for now.

Status: In design

Cost: Unknown

Risk: Moderate

The Negative is rather important and something we could not make ourselves. It has been unnerving to see our favorite negative - EFKE - go out of business. It worked the best in DTR mode because it was primitive and had cubic grains that were mainly at the surface - like Panatomic X used to have. It turns out that the more primitive emulsions work the best in DTR and advanced T grain types do not. They were latecomers anyway and there are still some old school emulsions left. The makers of these emulsions were not quite sure if they should be named in New55 because the performance of the film is very different in our system, but it doesn't matter much to us as long as we can get 4x5 negative in bulk, cheaply! We cannot do that, but we are doing our best to keep the cost reasonable. You had better start buying more 4x5 films from these vendors is all I can say right now.

Status: Sourced AND NOW IN OUR FREEZERS. Whew!

Cost: Higher than expected

Risk: Moderately low

Source A has agreed to ship a starting quantity of film in stages and we are tracking the heat history, lot numbers, emulsion characteristics, packaging and other things that can ruin film or degrade, fog or damage it - before we have a chance to.

Source B has suggested they might compete with Source A in price but we have not any agreement on that at the moment. 

Since last month, we have prices for each of our suitable emulsions. The price ratio is about 2:1 and we have chosen the right balance between cost, performance, and suitability for Diffusion Transfer Reversal.

The Package is essential if we want to ship New55 FILM to anyone.

Status: To be sourced, no change to status

Cost: Unknown

Risk: Unknown

The Liner is a fancy name for a sealed plastic bag that seals the film from the environment. There has to be the right size and a sealer that is quick to use.

The Box has to be stiff enough for transport but light in weight and inexpensive. It should be plain for shipping and not appear to be sealed after opening.

The Label has to be printed and put on the box. There is a machine that does that and uses the label to also seal the box, saving tape, time and expense.