Thursday, 2 July 2009

Behind the scenes

Surprise! Re-organising my Royal Mail delivery for the Saturday did work! My order from Makerbot arrived in a box labelled "merchandise", signed (or rather printed as before) Zach. This one is lined with bubble wrap. US postage was paid on 19th May, HMRC added their customs charge label dated 01 June. For those interested, customs charges are due for import into the EU when the value is over £18 for a purchase. The VAT I paid on this parcel was £8.66.
I am amazed by the tiny size of the boards - assembling these is going to be a truly fiddly job.

I have spent a couple of weeks looking at parts, and trying to minimize postage and packing costs to get the electronic components sourced in the UK. Some parts I just could not find, so I had to check what type of size etc they were to find equivalents. Once again, I have been very grateful for all the input from the reprap forum, where several people advised me on UK electronics suppliers and how to select substitutes, and even came up with substitutes for me where I'd drawn a blank.

I've learnt that
  • P&P can make a significant contribution to costs if you're only purchasing a couple of parts
  • you can search for manufacturer's component numbers on many sites
  • some technical customer service help is efficient (see below) - yes, really
  • on-site searches aren't much cop - sometimes you can get to other options using Google and the supplier's name
  • the same goes for the forum
  • sometimes it is cheaper overall to buy 25 of an expensive component, with specifications greater than the original specified part, than 100 of the cheaper part
  • even online retailers have a few sites where you can pick up parts yourself = no P&P
  • this is getting even more expensive than I imagined!
I was still looking for solder paste. I have decided to have lead-free (well, I am an environmental scientist, after all). The favoured one, and the one to which I was pointed weeks ago, is still out of stock. There were few options at Farnell, but one didn't have its soldering temperature, not even on the technical details pdf. I went to the manufacturer's website, but still nothing. So I emailed Farnell. Firstly, they acknwledged my email, then emailed to say they didn't know and that they would contact the company. Then they emailed me back with a response the same day! That's what I call good customer service. (Oh, Virgin, Virgin, you've a thing or two to learn!)
I am putting together a spreadsheet of original specifications, replacement part sourced in the UK and its specifications and supplier, and current prices. I need to cycle out to Maplin and RS to pick up a few items, but otherwise all parts are from Farnell or RapidOnline.

I have also taken the top of the B&Q workbench apart, because it really wasn't working - love the height, but... Discovered that the two horizontal arms supporting the wooden tops were not parallel - at all - so the winding/latching mechanisms were strained at silly angles and could not work smoothly. The two aforementioned arms are held by two uprights, which I shall call stilts. The only part orienting the stilts was a bar between them. Unfortunately for me, the bar caused the stilts to be angled in slightly, thereby pushing the upper arms together at one end and apart at the other. The bar turned out to be too short by about a cm. I have removed this bar, and re-assembled without it. Only one clip is being a nuisance now, but that might be because its slide has lost its coating with how it was wedging before.

The other thing I've been investigating (see? Lots going on in the background) is making files for 3D objects. Again, someone on the forum pointed me to software (FREE! or expensive, depending on the version) called David, for turning your 3D objects into scans to build up a 3D image file. Hmmm, interesting. There are a couple of good examples, even with the free version. I have been reading around their forum, too. Seems like another encouraging, friendly, forum with lots of good advice. What, three good fora? Wow!

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