Special Edition Update: Beyond the initial design
Over the past week, we have received a flurry of comments and feedback, both positive and negative, over the revised delivery schedule of your Kickstarter rewards. We enjoy being a part of this very diverse and dynamic community and we appreciate all of your comments. Our company philosophy has always been to listen to our users, respect their opinions and engage in a proper conversation. As many EPOC customers know, our senior management team are very active members of the EPOC user community forum and we have been able to learn of your requirements and improve performance in areas that matter to our users. We are always willing to learn from our community and in this case we are learning a lot! We (Emotiv and our community together) are pioneering a new class of products and inventing the field as we go along. It’s a very exciting if occasionally bumpy ride!
We would like to respond to some of your comments and provide more information about the significant efforts that our team has put into designing and manufacturing the Insight over the past several months. We have kept the community informed with monthly updates and will continue to do so. As a special edition report, we’ve decided to share a lot more detail of the process involved so far.
As many of you are aware, backing a Kickstarter project is not the same as going out and buying a finished product at a retail store. As Backers, you are supporting projects to help them come to life and as creators, we offer rewards in order to thank you, our backers, for your support. As outlined in the Kickstarter Guidelines, the Estimated Delivery Date listed on each reward is not a promise to fulfill by that date, but was our estimate of when we hoped to fulfill by.
Despite our best efforts to deliver the rewards to you by the estimated delivery dates, we ran into some unexpected setbacks. This was brought about by our desire to improve the product and deliver above and beyond our initial design. We greatly appreciate your support and patience and we thank the overwhelming number of Backers who have expressed their support through private messages.
Product improvements above & beyond our initial design
Most significantly, a major design decision was made about the signal processing chain. We discovered in the course of our initial testing that the signals were influenced by electrostatic pickup, particularly in very dry environments. This effect arises from the polymer sensors which require very high input impedance amplifiers to collect reliable signals (30 times larger than the saline sensors for EPOC).
Passive vs Active sensors
We originally planned to place all of the detection electronics on the main circuit board, with individual shielded wires passing out to each sensor through the individual arms. Our original headset design simply involved embedding the wires in a channel inside each arm and hold it in place with an adhesive decal. We were assured this could be prototyped in 30 days – this was the basis for our original timeline. The product we envisioned would have some aesthetic compromises, but was expected to perform functionally.
Unfortunately, whilst the detection circuit worked perfectly well in our laboratory, in other test environments we discovered an unacceptably high level of interference from nearby charged objects, especially in very dry conditions. We took the decision to completely redesign the front end electronics to locate the amplifiers immediately adjacent to each sensor (“active amplifiers”), and to mount the amplifiers on a flexible circuit board to speed assembly and testing. Active sensor amplifiers are often found in very high-end clinical systems and introduce greater electronic and manufacturing cost to the Insight. Despite these additional costs, we chose to design this feature into all of our Insight units. We are committed to delivering a product that sets a new standard in quality & reliability for this industry.
Embedded wires in a channel vs injection overmolding
For reliability and environmental isolation we decided to encapsulate the amplifier circuits inside the injection molding for each sensor arm. Our initial injection molding vendor assured us that they would be able to manage the process by attaching the flexible PCB (FPC) to a copper strip which was then over-molded in a single shot process.
After a long redesign process, we invested a considerable amount of cash and time into tooling the rear Pz arm in January in order to prove the concept. The tools took around 8 weeks to create and a further few weeks to make any test parts. Initial parts were functional but unfortunately the copper strip and FPC moved around significantly in the tool during the shot and in many cases broke through the surface of the finished part in several locations. Due to the substantial investment in both time and money in the tooling, we made many attempts to rectify the situation by adding retaining pins and changing the tooling, however we did not manage to retain the strips well enough over the shortest arm length to convince ourselves that the method would work for the longer arms.
A distinct advantage of the injection overmolding process is that we can improve the durability and robustness of the sensor connectors. This means that you can easily swap out the polymer sensors for different users and replace old sensors for new ones. This additional feature enhances the usability and durability of the Insight.
New feature: replaceable sensors
Manufacturing & production challenges
We learned a great deal from the exercise, including how to overmold a fully loaded flexible circuit board through an injection shot close to the melting temperature of the solder, but we had to decide the current process would not be feasible and that our current vendor was unable to help us to overcome the remaining challenges. Our vendor is a highly regarded mainstream molding house and they have produced excellent results for our industrial design partner in the past, but they do not have the specialised expertise or experience required to achieve our requirements in this case.
We wrote off the injection tooling and restarted the design concept based on a 2-shot process, where the copper strip is removed from the equation and the flex PCB is inserted into the tool midway through a two-shot process, while the plastic is still hot from the first shot.
This method will retain the benefits of a single shot overmold, where the inner and outer halves of the part are welded together and will not split apart during normal use, but allows us to fabricate a perfect holder for the FPC on the outer edge of the first shot.
It took many weeks to re-engineer the arm design, while we searched for an appropriate partner. We were assisted in our search by several of our Backers who have experience with injection molding and we are very grateful for their help.
We finally located a suitable vendor as a result of an extensive screening process and we arranged a site visit in order to verify their credentials. We have worked closely with the new vendor to refine the tooling and part designs for ease of manufacture in their particular machines, and they have commenced the manufacturing process for tooling of the rear Pz arm.
As we explained in the May update, it is far too risky and expensive to commit to the process for the remaining arms until we have some confidence in the outcome – and we fully expect to learn a great deal from this exercise before we tackle the more complex longer arms.
So why the overall delay? Every tooling iteration takes a minimum of 8 weeks to first shots, and several more weeks to tune the tools and make changes to the process to improve the outcomes.
Typically the cycle is a little under 3 months from issuing tooling designs to evaluating the parts. Following an unsuccessful trial, it can take another 1-2 months to re-engineer the design to accommodate the changes and address the problems. We issued initial tooling designs in January, we are now at the end of May having commenced our second tooling trial for the Pz arm, a cycle time of 4 months.
New Delivery Forecasts
We have allowed some extra time in our delivery schedule for unexpected delays within the process. We plan to have the remaining engineering work done for the rest of the headset and arms by the time we have validated the current method for Pz – around early July. Allowing a little time for the assessment and design modifications arising from the Pz trial, we expect to release tooling designs for the remaining parts of the Insight by the end of July, which means we will have production-ready parts in late September if all goes to plan.
It is not possible to pass these parts to our manufacturing house and expect them to start producing headsets immediately – they need some time to train their staff, develop assembly procedures, build specialised jigs, design and test QC and QA procedures and learn how to assemble and commission the Insight headsets to the highest standards.
We will be fully primed with inventory and off tool sample parts for the manufacturer to start the process. Backers who supported the First Edition, limited first-run Insight, can expect to receive their units 6-10 weeks after the availability of production-ready parts.
Conservatively it will take our manufacturers 2-3 months (including the limited first run) to be able to produce the 4000 or so, high quality final production units for Kickstarter backers.
Rest assured, we are totally dedicated and committed to this project. This is our dream and you’ve been a big part of supporting us to create something that is unique, ground breaking and sets a new standard in Brainwear. Our team is working diligently to deliver on this promise.
We thank you for your ongoing support