It has been a while since we last synced up. Hope things are great on your side. This is going to be a long update so please sit back and relax.
Before we move on to the update itself, we would like to apologize for the lack of consistent updates over the past few months. It was not our intention to cause any unnecessary worries. We simply wanted to allocate our time on the most important thing – shipping the best products to you. Moving forward, we will be more transparent with how things are progressing.
Hint: Many awesome things are happening.
To be clear, we did not leave the project unattended nor went on a vacation on the beach anywhere. We have been stationed in China spending all of our time, energy and focus on solving manufacturing and supply chain problems in order to get the products to you. (By ‘all of our time’, we mean even the weekends.) Thanks again for your patience and continuous support!
Now back to the update on what we’ve accomplished over the past months on your behalf and how the project is coming together!
We would like to officially welcome SP to the team. As we learned together in the previous update, managing suppliers is very critical to the quality of our products. Do it right and we are many steps closer to having the best products shipped to your doorsteps. For a product as complex as ours, this activity can be very involved and time-consuming so we decided to find a full-time expert to manage the suppliers and ensure quality on your behalf. And this is exactly where SP comes in.
Having managed suppliers, quality control as well as assembly process design for Toshiba, SP brings years of experience to help us manage our suppliers proactively. He has been with us for the past 2.5 months and added tremendous progress to the project. More details later.
Surprise from our metal supplier
To prepare for mass manufacturing, we ordered a small (tiny) batch of 5 production samples to conduct trial assembly run. The first parts we ordered were the metal parts because they were the most complex and required more time. Having received a great set of sample parts from them before, we were very excited to see 5 perfect pieces arriving for assembly.
To our surprise, what we received was not up to our agreed standard. Thankfully, with SP’s addition to the team, we had enough boots on the ground to navigate through this in a relatively peaceful manner.
The symptoms we saw were a combination of aesthetic problems – ranging from bulging surfaces and welding marks. These flaws, although minor, were not acceptable according to what we had previously agreed with them prior to signing the contract. Since we have received and carefully checked a great sample before ourselves, we were perplexed to what could have caused such flaws. Were they being careless with our samples? Were they trying to cut corners somewhere to make more profit? Our minds spiraled as we struggled to search for the truth.
The first (and perhaps most important) step to solving any problem is to identify what the root cause really is. Upon his personal visit to the supplier, SP found the root of the real problem. Apparently, the first perfect set of samples we received was perfect only because they made so many units that failed. In short, the metal tooling design was still not perfect and needed more work.
So why didn’t they tell us about it? As it turned out, they did not have any ill intention. Instead, they were worried that we would stop working with them when we found out about the mistakes. Jurn, SP and the rest of the engineering team got together to help them solve through the problems. Two extra toolings later, we figured it all out!
Although this came as surprise to us, we had built cushion into our shipping schedule to mitigate this. The only issue was our morale. After going through so many ups and downs, the last thing we needed was for our 5 metal samples not being usable in the trial assembly.
Before & After
To lift the team spirit and further contribute to the product quality, we decided to use some of the metal samples to experiment with surface finishing. The goal of the surface finish is to make the product look great with minimum effort from your side. We found that certain finishes were more prone to fingerprints while others were more prone to scratches. Of course, we decided with the most robust finishing that could look great with minimum cleaning required.
3 Shades of Gray
With the parts and components in order, we shifted our focus onto optimizing our partnership for assembly, quality control, and delivery logistics.
Long story short, we established a strategic partnership with one of the best OEMs in the Pearl River Delta area. Thanks to their years of experience delivering kitchen appliances and representing respectable brands in the North American and European markets, we believe this partnership would serve as a key leverage in setting up the supply chain, and controlling quality during assembly.
Their supportive team and their prominence among the local suppliers have, in fact, already increased our negotiation power with suppliers. Worst comes to worst, they do have in-house capabilities that would allow them the flexibility to either fix or make certain parts themselves as a backup plan.
Another reason this was a big step forward was that they promised to give us the attention they would normally give to their bigger clients. Our OEM typically would only work with big companies and not with a smaller firm like ours. However, we managed to convince them to buy into the idea after we showed them our previous prototype. They believe this to be the future and would like to help by investing their care and effort into making it the best it could be.
OEM staff caught checking out our product-SP explaining how it works. The machine showing how it’s done
Packaging design and preparing for shipping
With shipping date nearing, we dedicated a significant chunk of our time to sort out the logistics to deliver the products to you in the best manner.
The biggest concerns for our product are the delicate glass parts. We were introduced by our OEM to companies they trust in delivering fragile delicate products with years of experience. Together, we designed the foam in the packaging box and prepared the methods for shipping the packages out with confidence.
To ensure high level of safety and peace of mind, we took our previous prototype through certification pre-scanning. In short, we cleared through certification speed bumps and are now just waiting for the final check on the mass production factory floor for confirmation.
Our Assembly Process Design
After hitting those milestones, we now have only assembly and quality control to focus on. We decided to start on assembly process design.
Right from the design phase, we have anticipated assembly to be tricky since our product is very compact. As a result, we have proactively designed features to make assembly easier in the ways that we could anticipate.
Before we hand off the assembly to the line of assembly workers, we decided to conduct thorough studies of how the assembly process could be designed and optimized. We see it as due diligence instead of completely outsourcing it to the OEM because we know our product better than anyone (and usually have a higher standard than other third-parties).
We broke down the processes into small chunks of tasks so that a line of workers could complete multiple machines in a much more efficient manner. Insights were shared with our OEM to help facilitate building their assembly process.
OEM Assembly Process Design
OEM staff having a go at assembling our product
Realizing quality is our #1 priority; the OEM suggested we slow down the assembly on purpose. For instance, although the factories could churn out X, we would do Y instead and spend the extra time paying very careful attention to all the things we could improve in the assembly process. To us, this option provides the highest probability of giving everyone the best product possible so we quickly agreed on the strategy.
After handling the old parts to our OEM to do a quick trial assembly, we did find many things that could improve. The biggest learning however came from the one issue that caught us by surprise.
One of the tubes got caught during assembly causing many units to not function properly. After a thorough investigation, it turned out to be a mistake on the assembly floor. While our engineers knew how the machine worked and which part to be extra careful with, the OEM workers were not armed with the same awareness. This insight gap caused them to make more mistakes.
Building a better process
We had a meeting with the OEM managers to make a decision on who would be the one solving this problem because it was a gray area of responsibilities. The options were clear: either we change something in the design or we rely on the ability of the factory worker to be careful at certain parts.
Assembly will be the last touch point before the products get shipped and arrive in your hands. Whether the workers do a great job will determine the end quality of the products. Realizing that the only thing we could do at this stage to ensure the highest quality is to help design the process better, we took it upon ourselves to solve the problem.
Very quickly, we came up with a change in one of the plastic parts. The improvement made assembly more foolproof so that any worker would be able to get it right. We tested the change with the worker and had a very positive result. In fact, all the error was eliminated.
What this also means, unfortunately, is that we would need extra time to change the plastic tooling with the improved design for assembly. Our updated schedule as agreed by our OEM is the following:
- 40 machines ready by the end of August/start of September shipped to early unit testers.
- All Kickstarter, all Indiegogo, and some website units shipped out by the end of September
- All website units shipped out by the end of October
We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience caused. Our team has been very hard at work with one single hope for this update to show you boxes of finished goods.
Our last hope is for you to understand that we have tried and will continue to try our very best to fight on your behalf for this product. There are a lot of hands involved in manufacturing and many things could go wrong. Together, we have journeyed a long way – with tooling made, certification approved, shipping containers booked. The only thing missing in this complex chain is where it all comes together – assembly and quality control. Every minute of our time is spent polishing that. The only way to clear this minefield is to walk through them until there are no more surprises. We have come so far, solved so many problems and grown stronger through every problem solved. We will keep marching through until the products arrive in your hands. We appreciate all your continual effort as always!
On a more lighthearted note, we would conclude this update with this.
Have a wonderful week ahead everyone. Until next time!