After building a batch of production quality PlexiDrone units, DreamQii focused on refining manufacturing processes to support increased production rates, and reduced cost, without compromising quality. In concert with our manufacturing partners, we have accomplished this for PlexiDrone’s plastics, electronics, and sub-assemblies.
Solutions to DreamQii’s procurement issues (mentioned in our last update) have been overcome, validated, and productionized. Getting a product ready for high volume production required attention to small details that have major impacts on the end product, our customers, and our business…
9DOF IMU & Magnetometer
In our last update we disclosed that vendors DreamQii selected for supplying PlexiDrone’s 9 Degrees of Freedom (DOF) Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) and magnetometer, were unable to supply components in the volume and schedule needed to support DreamQii’s production plan.
Consequently, we took this opportunity to learn from the problem. We implemented hardware features that reduced the risk of experiencing similar supply chain delays in the future. DreamQii developers qualified and tested 2-3 replacement components for items identified as critical components for PlexiDrone’s Integrated Flight Controller Board (IFCB).
Improved System Performance
This supply chain issue caused an undesirable interruption to production. Furthermore, resolving the issue required dedicated engineering resources. However, this ultimately lead our team to implement sensors reserved for what would have been a derivative product.
This means increased data rates, finer resolution of sensor data, improved signal filtering, and built-in compensation for environmental changes. As a result, PlexiDrone’s flight stability was improved for even better automated hover and smoother control.
Added Safety & Supply Chain Security
In order to mitigate future supply chain issues, the DreamQii development team created a list of critical components. Each item on this critical components list has a pre-selected and qualified back-up component.
We took this one step further by adding compatibility to PlexiDrone’s IFCB that allows us to drop in back-up sensors without interrupting production. Most notably, this means that PlexiDrone can tolerate failure of primary sensors and immediately switch to the back-up while in flight. A third spot on the IFCB was added to mitigate supply chain issues.
Beyond DreamQii Design Approval
Preparing components for high volume production requires several stages of review and approval beyond the initial design specification. This approval process begins with an internal review of Design for Manufacturability (DFM) compliance (within our development team). After passing internal approval, we submit our designs for further review and approval by manufacturing partners. This tiered approach to design assurance helps eliminate issues before investing in production tooling.
Bonus: Click here for an actual DFM review completed by our tooling partners after all internal (DreamQii) design approvals were earned.
Tooling Design Approval
After component pass the DFM approval process, we move on to approving design details of the injection mold tooling. Descisions at this stage require economic analysis (i.e. family or separate tooling) and an understanding of how things like ejector locations will change the manufactured part.
Bonus: Click here for a sample tooling design review.
Cutting metal is the point of no return in manufacturing. If you’re going to cut metal, you had better be confident that the design is right! Each tool is good for 100,000 parts, so you’d better be happy with the results!
Our team spent hundreds of hours qualifying prototype components and developing design standards before investing in this stage. As a result, we had great confidence in the frozen designs. Ultimately these processes and knowledge base will be used to reduce costs of future development projects.
Completed Production Tooling
At this stage of development the smallest decisions take a lot of time and consideration to make. Achieving a specific performance requirement for a part can be compromised by the details of the injection mold process. If the temperatures, ejection speeds, cooling times, or gate locations, are not quite right, it can result in serious deficiencies in the final part.
It is the designer’s objective to compensate for these uncertainties in manufacturing with rigorous attention to DFM requirements and study of the manufacturing process. We’re happy to report that no production samples were ever rejected due to design errors.
Not Familiar with Injection Molding?
Before continuing on, take a break to watch this video. It’s a great little visualization of the injection molding process. If you’re not familiar with the process, the video provides a quick summary of key variables that impact the quality and performance of manufactured plastic components. This video is provided courtesy of the team at tronicarts 3D-Animations.
Approving DreamQii’s Production Samples
Every plastic component had to be inspected for imperfections in order to calibrate the injection mold process for mass production. This process is a rigorous exercise that included everything from cycle testing plastic snap-fits, to assuring the aesthetic requirements of surface finishes are met.
Any imperfections (sink marks, knit lines, excessive flash, texture inconsistencies, tolerance variations, deformation, etc.) must be documented and reported. Based on these inspections, the manufacturing process is fine tuned in order to attain compliance with our design specifications.
Qualifying Parts for Safe Flight at 600 FPS
Qualifying parts that are critical to flight safety is important to our customers and our business performance. Having said that, it also means we get to break things in super slow motion. PlexiDrone’s battery plastics had to be qualified for safe transport in addition to safe flight. Yes, this means we had to drop batteries from every probable orientation, and adjust designs until we believed they went just beyond our performance requirements.
Bonus: Click here for a sample cycle testing compliance summary of PlexiDrone’s detachable arm plastics. That sounds exciting!
Good Problems to Have
The image above shows a heat map of PlexiDrone sales worldwide. In total, DreamQii has sold PlexiDrone to customers in 97 countries. During the initial campaign, this number was closer to 70.
This is a logistical challenge as DreamQii imports sensitive goods (i.e. LiPo batteries) from suppliers around the world to support production. We then have to export these goods to 97 countries, each with potentially different import restrictions.
PlexiDrone is a new technology that falls under a sensitive ITAR classification. These export rules are not overly restrictive for the PlexiDrone line of products, but, they still require our attention and compliance.
DreamQii and its distribution partners must carefully monitor where our products are being sold. ITAR regulations help assure that sensitive technologies are not easily sold to parties that would misuse them.
Phone Number Collection
DreamQii’s primary shipping gateway (UPS) requires a phone number for each international delivery. PlexiDrone is manufactured in Canada, which means that any customers outside of Canada are considered international.
Our Customer Support team will be addressing this with an automated phone number collection process in our next update.