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Video Popup Factory Demo at Solid Conference 2015 (Video 1 of 2) 9

With rapid, low-cost "maker" tools including 3-D printers, low-volume circuit board etching and populating equipment, and lots of outsourcing to independent designers and engineers rather than having everyone on staff, it is easier every year to make Internet of Things things -- and many other electronic, mechanical, and electro-mechanical devices, too. Formlabs was the company that did the demo at O'Reilly's 2015 Solid Conference for Slashdot's Timothy Lord that he made into this two-part video (second part coming soon) to give you an idea of what's happening in this fast-moving field. Please note that these videos are not an endorsement of Formlabs. There are many companies doing similar things these days. Please feel free to mention your favorite in the comments (below).

Slashdot: So David, we are standing here at something that’s labeled the Pop-Up Factory. Can you explain what you mean by Pop-Up Factory? What are we looking at here?

Dave: Oh, it is exactly what it sounds like. It is a pop-up, one-time only installation of live manufacturing equipment. We are showing attendees of the Solid Conference what it looks like to actually take a pile of bare components and circuit boards and convert them into functioning Internet-of-Things devices. So let’s walk through it right now and I will show what are the equipment we are using in this. So the electronics start over here at the solder stenciling station. And what happens here is that we have these circuit boards and they are put into this stencil and we have solder paste which is little teeny tiny microscopic balls of solder suspended in flux and you squeegee it over this stencil and it makes individual little squares of solder paste on every single pad of the electronic board.

So then, in the next step, we can go over to the pick and place machine, load it in the pick and place machine, which is loaded with these spools of components, and there is a head that goes through and picks up all the little resistors, capacitors, other electronic components and puts them on to the blobs of solder which are just placed. It is an automated process. This is a smaller version of this type of machine, but this is the type of technology that is used to assemble pretty much all majorly available electronic equipment.

Then on to the next step, there are a couple of parts which can’t be placed by the pick and place machine such as one of these one that I can grab, oh we have one coming out right now, is it hot, got it, okay, awesome, alright, we have fresh circuit boards fresh out of the oven. So this is, once we have placed the components, so this one has to be placed by hand actually, so we place all the surface mount components and we put them into this reflow oven it is kind of like a pizza oven which bakes it, melts the solder paste and then attaches the components to the board.

After that, we have a through-hole component which is the battery clip, that Danny is soldering on here, and that has to be soldered on by hand. Each and every of one of these is soldered on by hand. That’s actually not a very uncommon process, even in very large quantity runs of parts.
Oftentimes in factories, you will have someone who is doing some kind of hand soldering or hand reworks because it turns out it is really difficult to make a machine which will automatically place a through hole component and solder it in.

Then after that comes the programming step. We have this test jig here, there is nothing in it now, but the way that that works is when you want put things through and actually load the software that will power the brains of the thing, you put it into the test jig. And so it actually just goes in here, and if we are running it, we can put this down, and then push a button on the computer to flash the firmware. And then it will be done. And then after that, it is placed down to the assembly line, where we do the final assembly of both injection molded as well as 3-D printed enclosure shells. Put in the batteries and then they are ready for distributing to users in programming of specific profiles.

Slashdot: Now the thing you are doing here, specifically is an Internet-of-Things kind of device. Talk about what it is doing.

Dave: Yes. So what it is doing is it helps start conversations between conference attendees. So we have people with these bags like Jack over here, handing out wrist bands to the attendees of the conference. You get a wrist band and they help you go through a very quick app on the tablet where you enter in like topics of interest to you, so you know like hardware hacking, software, like business development, you know, Internet-of-things, or whatever, and type that in. You hold up your wrist band to the programmer, it flashes your preferences, and then when you go around the conference, that lights up when you get close to someone who shares similar interests. It can help facilitate a conversation.

Slashdot: And the details of that aren’t really what this is quite about though, it is more about condensing into one short stretch all these processes. How much different is this from what we call the real world, where someone makes the device right now?

Dave: Difference in... excuse me?

Slashdot: How different is this from, let’s say the reality in 2015 if someone says I have an idea and turn it into something, you’d go to China, and you wouldn’t have everything in one line or one row like this.

Dave: Yeah. So I mean what’s interesting about this Pop-Up Factory, is that, I am just a curator of the Solid Conference. Marcelo is a designer who has an office with like three or four people in it, but we are able to basically spin up the production of this whole thing, from prototype to production of like 1500 units in just about two months. Because we are experimenting with radical dynamic allocation of resources and taking other companies who do different parts of the product development process and have modularized this.

So we can use them on demand. So instead of having to employ an army of injection mold engineers, hardware, electronics developers, circuit board assembly peopleWe called up Seeed Studio who has an office here in San Francisco and one in China and they said, great, we will help you source parts, we will get your circuits made. We called up ANT Wireless. They provide a module which includes the wireless bits as well as the microcontroller, which are difficult things to electrical engineer, but we can just put that on a circuit board and hook up an LED to it and focus on making nice user interactions. You know, we called up Proto Labs who has this amazing design tool that you can upload your designs to, and it analyzes the mold flow for you and they have an engineer call you and they have got processors where they can whip out a mold really really fast. They help us make the injection molded part. And then we have Formlabs with this small 3D-printers here, actually making these computationally generated and unique enclosure so people can actually customize their own Internet-of-Things device. And each one of them is a unique one in the series, because it was computationally generated.

But we were able to churn out enough of them like, I think, we are doing about 500 at this show. So people can actually kind of choose their own adventure. So it is much more about like helping people who come to the conference think less about their devices as this monolithic box which does something very specific and kind of expanding their minds into thinking about how all of our devices are basically made from the same stuff and by the same processes. It is just kind of remixes. And you can take stuff apart, put it back together again in different ways and we want to give people the experience of understanding how that works by putting this Pop-Up Factory in at Solid.

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Popup Factory Demo at Solid Conference 2015 (Video 1 of 2)

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