This has been fun:
This is The Public Radio's manufacturing process development cell, and with it I've built and shipped hundreds of lil' mason jar radios over the past month.
As I wrote in The Prepared recently:
TPR is a side project, and the vast majority of our process development this summer was done either on my kitchen table or on my desk, which had been pushed over to the side of what was once my office to make room for our baby's play room. But as the complexity of what I was doing increased, and as I accumulated stacks of cardboard boxes and started really tripping over all of the ethernet cable, I finally admitted that I needed to move myself into the basement and set up a proper assembly station.
In retrospect I was silly for waiting so long to make the move, and despite the low ceiling and the lack of natural light and the hum of the dehumidifier it's clearly a superior workspace. This is partly because I can implement a bit of maker time there, but mostly because it helps my empathy towards the folks *actually* doing our manufacturing.
The hard part is knowing just how much of the work I need to do. And to be honest, I know that my own sense of empathy grows in proportion to my tendency to think that I've figured out the right way to do the thing, which is not something I like to bring into a relationship with a contractor. I prefer to delegate completely; to trust everyone in the process to bring full responsibility over their domains. I'm working on it; it's a process :)
A few additional notes:
- Making customized-to-order products is *hard;* anyone telling you otherwise is either inexperienced or has some ulterior motive. We've put a *ton* of time into our order management and manufacturing operations systems (s/o to Gabe for the former and the whole team at Tulip for the latter), and there are still a lot of edge cases and error checks that I want to build out. It's either "you need humans with judgement on the assembly line at all times" or "you need to think through every single problem that someone would use judgement for and build its decision tree into your manufacturing system." It's *hard.*
- I've always been a stickler about workplace organization, but setting up an assembly cell (where tasks are discrete rather than general and will be performed thousands of times each) brings up ergonomic issues that I have never had to confront. Of particular frustration is basic stuff like the way that countertop height interacts with stool height (and, optionally, footrest height).
- If you're responsible for maintaining your product's (in our case, physical + digital) manufacturing tools, you should expect to be intimately involved in building thousands of units before handing the process over to someone who isn't a competent troubleshooter themselves. We needed to ramp up quickly, and rolled out to our CM a bit prematurely; the upshot is that Tulip an be updated on the fly and the majority of our physical infrastructure is purchased from McMaster-Carr and Amazon.
- Torque limited electric screwdrivers are great. Also, stackable/hangable parts bins. If anyone has experience/tips for easy + affordable conveyor or onramp/offramp systems, LMK ;)
Since writing the above, we've come over the hump and are now focused on holiday orders. This has required a lot of energy, and has largely sapped my ability to post updates here regularly. BUT never fear! We're posting semi-regular updates on The Prepared's podcast, and will have a bunch more interesting stuff to share soon :)
In the meantime, enjoy this twelve minute video of me building TPR boxes: