MakerSlide Update

I am going to choose a new supplier for MakerSlide tomorrow, after I have a final conversation with those on my short list.  I received all the quotes I had been waiting for, and they confirmed that they could extrude 6005 aluminium alloy.  6005 is mechanically identical to the 6105 alloy used by Bart Dring in the US, but more easily available in Europe.  It is stronger than the 6063 alloy commonly used for extrusion.  The old supplier used 6060, which is somewhere between 6063 and 6005 in strength.  6005 costs only pennies more than 6060 and 6063, but is harder to extrude, which is why not all mills can use it for the MakerSlide profile.

Where is the MakerSlide?

Before we got the last batch from our current supplier a few months ago, I spoke to them and told them about the quality issues we were seeing.  Besides the largely cosmetic issue of improperly rinsed holes, which caused them to fill with white gunk, a lot of the rail had dents, scratches and other small defects that made it unusable.  The supplier assured me that they would change their procedures and packaging methods, and that they’d make it so that the profile got to me undamaged.

In short, they didn’t.  The only improvement was that they rinsed the rail a little better: “only” about a quarter of it had white gunk, down from two-thirds.  The amount of damage from handling seemed to have stayed the same, or maybe even increased somewhat.  One third to one half of that batch was rejects, with the longer lengths being even worse (two-thirds bad in the 2 m lengths).  This meant there wasn’t enough good MakerSlide for the planned eShapeOko kits, and by the time I realized the extent of the problem, there wasn’t any left to tide us over until the next batch arrived.

The supplier then refused to accept another order.  They didn’t do it overtly, though: they simply stopped responding to email, set up and then cancelled meetings to talk about quality issues, said they would call back and never did, and so on.  Only many weeks later someone mentioned that they were reluctant to take another order because they weren’t confident they could meet our quality standards.  That was when I began looking for other potential suppliers, but I still hoped I would be able to order one last batch from them, to have something to offer, even if I had to carefully examine each length and dispose of half of it.

However, they kept dragging their feet, so I’ve given up on them.  I’m going to have to write off the cost of their extrusion die.

I now have several quotes from potential suppliers, and I have narrowed it down to a few that I like (not the lowest quotes).  I still need to get an updated quote from one of them and answers to a few more questions before I decide, but it looks like I will be able to get the ball rolling on a new die and a new batch of MakerSlide early next week.

All the potential new suppliers have several advantages over the existing one, which I’ll explain in anther blog post one of these days.

Unfortunately, with a new die needed and most extrusion mills being closed over the entire Christmas and New Year period, it will take at least two months before we’ll see the new MakerSlide.  I’m planning to make good use of this time:

  • Offer eShapeOko kits for sale without the rail (there has been some interest, especially from people who got their rail in Harry’s Ulule campaign).
  • Make improvements to the eShapeOko design.  Nothing spectacular — it already has many of the features of the upcoming Shapeoko 2.  The most notable exceptions are the really thick motor plates, and the inverted Z axis. Both have advantages as well as drawbacks.  In particular, the eShapeOko benefits much less from an inverted Z axis, so I’m still undecided on whether to adopt that or not.
  • Upgrade the stock management system, with the goal of being able to offer a “complete kit”: the mechanical kit plus motors, drivers, controller, power supply, cable, connectors, spindle, starter endmills, tools, and so on — everything needed to build and use the machine in one box (ideally with no soldering required).