Sunday, June 17, 2018

"They didn't say you couldn't."

  Hello again everyone.

  By now summer is in full swing and times are great for enjoying it all.

  Lots of odds and ends to report, as well as some comments found online by some smart people. Which will eventually lead back to the title.

  First some pictures showing that persistence eventually finds a way of making things work out. Perfection is always elusive, but good enough is not a bad consolation prize. What follows is the worlds rarest slot car. There is only one as far as I know on the planet.

  First test- not so good.

 
 
Better....
Better......
Better still.......

 
 
And getting to be acceptable.
 

 
This car took more effort than painting a real one. Along the way there were casualties.
 
 
 I begin designing the hood and bumpers in the morning.
 
So that is good news. I am curious to see how the tiny slot car market -with limited companies supporting it-  compares to the GIGANTIC gaming market with hundreds of vendors.
 
  But the gaming market is not going to be neglected for much longer. Some circumstances have forced my hand, and I am going to pay the cost to get my figures sculpted.
 
  My thoughts on this are to fund the first batch of sculpting myself, make those models to prove the concept. Then go to kick starter to pay for the rest of the sculpting for the entire bloody army.
 
 So there is that.
 
 Stop reading now if you have blood pressure problems..............................................
 
  Now, why the sudden activity? Well there is a book out called "Who Moved My Cheese". Companies make employees watch it about the time they are getting down sized. And simply put, times are changing.
 
"They did not say you couldn't".
 
  That saying comes from Smokey Yunick, a renowned race car builder from the 60's who literally bent every rule imaginable to win.
 
   I related previously about playing a game of WFB in which my opponent deployed his canon in the water. While the rules forbid MOVING in to the water they did not specifically forbid deploying in water. So we played a game with a canon floating like a cork firing away with sopping wet gun powder. 
 
  So how does this relate to the act of running a mail order business?
 
  In 2010 the US entered in to an agreement to foster greater economic opportunity for developing countries around the world. The idea was someone weaving baskets in the rain forest would be able to sell online and get preferred shipping rates. These are really good rates. A 4.4 pound package costs around $6 to ship globally. In comparison my international shipping has gotten to the point that an order of 2 packs of bases costs $22.50 to ship. International sales have vanished.
 
 "They did not say you couldn't".
 
  Well, among the places that signed up as "emerging" economies are Hong Kong and China. The result has been more and more sellers on Ebay and Amazon offering direct shipments to buyers with free shipping or extremely low cost shipping.  The USPS is required by treaty to deliver the packages and eat any loss. Except they can not keep losing money so they have to raise rates on domestic shippers. It does not take a PHD to see where this is heading.
 
"They did not say you couldn't".
 
  And it is even more interesting.  Smaller items frequently weight much less than 4.4 pounds. SO they are compiled in to bundles and shipped. Once they reach the US that bundle is torn open and poured in to the USPS system. And if you look at an average package of a single base weighing 3 ounces, a 4.4 pound package could contain 20 or more of those smaller packages.
 
  So imagine 20 of my packages shipped in one of these small bundles for $6, or me shipping 20 packages domestically at $3.50 each. The difference is a lot. I may get some discounts depending on my feedback and seller rating-but the standard starting rate is $3.50 and they are paying $.30.
 
"They did not say you couldn't".
 
  So I spent  a lot of time trying to figure out how people are coping with this. For a lot of E-bay sellers there is no solution. Just go out of business. They were doomed. Others are trying to make unique items. However, there are several stories about people simply having their products copied and sold alongside of the US based seller. For much less with free shipping.
 
"They didn't say you couldn't."
 
  So here is a solution that seems to work, from another online seller.
 
  "As an online merchant here in North America I have to send my inventory to a warehouse in China just to send it back the US. Costs me $15 which excludes labor to pick, pack, package and label to send the same packet down my street and only less than a $1 to have them pick, pack, package and label and ship from China. This basically means e-commerce in North America is as good as dead ! They also have compiled shipping which an alien concept for online merchants here in North America. Let say if you buy something on eBay or Amazon that weighs less than 1LBS, but you are still being charged the flat rate for 2.2lbs as you pay individual shipping to individual sellers which carriers like DHL, Fedex and UPS benefit. Not so in China they have warehouses and services that let you compiled all your purchases from different sellers until it reaches 2.2lbs before you authorize them to ship ...this is an awesome advantage that they have ! I am sure that the item you bought from eBay is from one of these service warehouses"
 
 
  So an American company is shipping stuff around the word twice just to take advantage of this E-packet treaty. You know something is wrong when you have to go to such lengths to deal with a government policy.
 
  The point is China is going to take over the market for generic items like bases. Accept it and adapt. Consumers love it, as I have for years been buying cheap stuff on E-bay with free shipping. It is not going away and is not going to change.
 
  Proxie Models has to change. So look for some new directions and some new focus on getting products out the door. It is good to have a reason to get moving.
 
  Anyhow, look for some more news as it comes available.
 
  Thanks to everyone who reads this and supports my efforts. It continues to be a grand adventure filled with learning and making really neat things.
 
 Have a great summer!
 
 
 resources below for more information.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Saturday, May 12, 2018

Everything looked OK, and then it came to an end.



   Just a quick update and some pics.

  Things in the shop are progressing well.

  The core of the car mold is done.



  And in to the tank to mate the surfaces up.


  Those hoses provide a flow of solution that displaces the metal that is getting pulverized with electricity. It also adds to the " Mad Scientist" feel of the shop to have a tank of liquid bubbling with arcs of electricity in it.

  Here are the assembled parts. There is still a great deal of shimming and adjusting to do before it gets tested.


   On the left is the top of the car, and on the right is the core and sides of the car. The steel wedges crush the sides in and hopefully create something resembling my old Mercury.

   The ACT machine is still down for parts so no progress on any minis. I ordered a breakout board from Amazon and had to wait 3 weeks for it to arrive from China. It promptly fried all of the driver boards and so I ordered replacements from E-bay and had to wait 3 weeks for them to arrive from China. They did not work at all so i ordered an integrated board and had to wait for that to arrive from China...................

  Another update as soon as the car mold gets tested. Good or bad it will get done. And even if it needs a bit of finishing the design and milling skills acquired by tackling it have been invaluable.

  I can not stress this enough to people- just do it and see what happens. For some reason people fear failure, but in reality there is no failure. You make it or you learn. Both of these are wins.



  Online sales are in a bit of a slump, perhaps due to increased shipping costs. The issue is complex and I wrote a very long explanation and then simply deleted it.  No one wants to hear someone whining about unfair shipping practices. It is what it is and we must prevail in spite of the challenge.  If you like you can read this-article about shipping problems

 

 But this is not going to keep working forever.  Being able to change and adapt is the only way to keep going. 

  Currently I am exploring a couple of options. Included is shifting in to a supplier position for small companies or looking in to entering the retail chain. I will keep you posted in a future update.

  Have a great spring everyone and enjoy the weather. 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Fake news..........creates fake conclusions.....................

  Well here is the latest news.

   Been working on standardizing things across the entire work flow. I am just too darn slow and have to take shortcuts wherever possible.  This means getting things that work and then sticking with what works. I have decided to make both CNC machines more compatible. They both run MACH 3 software but the drivers and settings are all different.
  Here is the newly organized workstation, with new Craigslist desk and wall mounted monitors. Note the sound bar beneath the shelf and sub at my feet. There are a LOT of speakers around the shop to blast music out. I recently discovered Scandinavian metal and so have the neighbors!  Novakon on the left, design station and PC gaming platform in the center, and ACT machine on the right.

  Those plastic tubs contain plastic mixed with incompatible colorant. I have to pick all those specks of orange out.....................................ughhh............

  Products are better organized thanks to some filing cabinets modified.


  The top contains various colorants. Previously things were stored in cardboard boxes originally used for Harley shifters. One perk of working there is I got hundreds of these really great boxes.
    The large Novakon- (curse this P.O.S.!!)  is actually doing OK.  The issue is it requires a 32 bit operating system and an older style printer cable.  I went as far as to caulk up the leaks, install a working E-stop button and limit switches, and a nifty light. It is going to get an automatic tool zero in the very near future.  how to   I purchased a government surplus Windows 7 PC with 32 bit operating system and install the MACH 3 software on it. So I have a complete back up system for both CNC machines in the even either computer fails. Both currently run Windows XP. I plan to keep going as long as possible on this antiquated system. As long as everything can keep working reasonably well it saves a lot of money.

  So in order to make things bulletproof, I want to make the ACT machine more reliable and standardized.  The standardized figure holding fixture has been made again. This time it looks very likely to work.



 The graphite block is held in the open rectangle and there are linear bearings with 8mm rods to allow the EDM machine to burn the image in to metal with out the binding up and face breaking that happened before. The action is smooth and effortless.

  So I need now to be able to make the electrodes without any more delays or crap breaking. This requires the ACT machine to run without a hitch. In order to iron out the wrinkles. Before starting I had to take an honest look at the machine. It was a hopeless nightmare of patches. The limit switched and E-stop did not work. (Safety? we can bypass that!) The spindle was controlled via the circuit breaker box on the other side of the shop, and so was the dust collector.

This is much nicer.

And here is more new wiring. Sometimes it is worth it to take some time and do things right. This is the VFD for the ACT machine. I was manually setting speeds but when the new system is in place the PC will control this.

 Which brings us to this little contraption.


 
  At first glance, this looks a bit confusing. But the bottom is the breakout board that interprets signals from the printer cable and turns them in to action. Go left, right, up down, etc. It also send input signals back to the computer.  E- stop, limit switch is reached, etc. This is what I needed to replace. It is going to be the same one used on the Novakon, since I have a notebook full of data on how and why things are wired.
 
  
 
 
  Using my tester, it seems that the 4 small boards taken out did not really do anything. I removed them, and bypassed the wiring. If they did not do anything, who needs them? So this is the new set up.
 
  Unfortunately, it burned out as soon as I applied power. Why? Well, it seems I should have tested the tester. I frequently buy things from Harbor Freight, and you get these neat free gifts. One of them is an electrical tester. Mine had a short in the one probe. Depending on how the wire was bent coming out it made contact or not. So, it was giving me fake news. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it did not. This thing only runs on 12V DC power, so it is not life threatening. I have better testers for 110 and 220 voltage thankfully. But it is extremely important to have reliable information when configuring complex wiring systems.
 
  Basing my decisions on this "fake news" meant the remaining components were not powered properly and died a tragic death at the hands of too much voltage. 24V instead of 12V.
 
  So, another $70 worth of boards are on the way and a new tester is in the shop.
 
   Some new stuff did got run. The Makerspace concept actually came to fruition. Dr. Oogan   link    made a mold and stopped by the shop to run some parts. We had some issues with color.
 
 
 
 
At one point we thought the Arburg had sprung a leak and was mixing water with the plastic. I took the entire thing apart and tested it with crack detecting penetrant. It turns out we just got a bad batch of colorant off E-bay.
 
 
  In the end his traffic cones were created with the proper color.
 
  The flying base adapter is done.
 
  It gave some practice with clear styrene. This is a little tricky and not really sure if this one will stay as a permanent product. The plastic is brittle and cracks under stress.


 The scrap rate is unacceptable so once these are sold out it may not be re-produced.

 
 
 I also finally finished the 100mm round base.
 

  This is the first mold specifically created to run on the new mega-die assembly. The one that allows me to vary the size of the metal blocks and offset them to allow the plastic to be injected from any point.  It was very tricky to set up for the first time. It is so large I did not plan on trying to fit chubby hands in to the tiny space required to attach it. It is just too far to reach to the middle.  In the end I welded extensions to the end of a couple of wrenches and it worked great.

  This success had been really a crucial stepping stone. At this point it really feels like this shop is capable of making anything. And that is just amazing.

  Usually when you get the feeling that things are going well reality has a way of letting you know how wrong you are.




  Sales are strange.  Currently it is not time to panic, but last week was the slowest week in over 3 years.

   I have been on some forums with other online sellers and many are facing some challenges. Both E-bay and Amazon have been trying to get me to pay more fees in exchange for better placement on search results. Many sellers are very suspicious of wild swings in sales numbers and blame it on deliberate hiding of listings or suppression due to this new "pay MORE" scheme. Others are equally upset about the free shipping from China that has simply killed their business. We all got things we would like to see changed, but have to just deal with things as best we can.

  I have listed some items on a sales platform called Bonanza based on suggestions from other sellers. I never heard of it but it seems some people are looking for a better alternative.

  The one blessing of slow sales is more time to work on other things. The whole lemons and lemon aide situation.

  So there is the status. I hope everyone keeps working on what ever motivates you and never give up. Be willing to help others without being used, and be grateful when someone can lend you hand.

  Have a great week. 

 



Monday, February 19, 2018

Quick update-

 
 
 
 
 
  Hi again, still sticking to some resolutions to keep posting. For better or for worse.  2 times a month.
 
   I am looking in to switching over to video updates. I made one youtube video and it was seen by over 100,000 people. This blog is read by about 20....................
 
 
  So here goes- finally got rid of that annoying blue screen saver. 
 
 
 
 
 
  It was not going to be stopping things for long. I was prepared to purchase an entire new machine, and I did buy a complete replacement computer and was in the process of installing the mother board when I noticed the cooling fan had come loose, breaking the seal with the CPU and causing over heating. How it is managed to overheat in my frigid workshop is a pretty amazing feat. But that is out of the way, a back up PC is standing by, things are running again and looking good.

 
 
 


  Here is a picture of just how fragile graphite is. My holding fixture flexed and this poor lass had her entire face broken off. Oh well, back to the drawing board.  Adjusting feeds and speeds is making an amazing difference in the speed at which these can be made. I have reduced the time it takes to just a few hours. And my process eliminates the need for artists and sculptors, which his a plus since none of them answer my e-mails anyhow.


   This car mold requires a LOT of metal to be removed.

 
But I am saving it and able to re-melt it in the amazing 1100 degree centigrade  crockpot.
 
 
 
   This thing really gets hot. Of all the various wounds and injuries I have had over the years I find pinches and burns to be the worst types. So being extra careful here.



  Here I a nifty little trick I learned online. By grinding all the teeth off of a saw blade it becomes a giant circular razor blade. And it cuts blue foam board with out making any dust. The black item is a 3D printed holding fixture to allow the cutting of perfect 4" hexagons. Make a 4" rip, nip the end off at 60 degrees, and then cut at your 4" stop. This create diamonds that fit in this tool. Slide the tool across the blade, flip the diamond and repeat. Perfect hexes.  I don't know why but the razor saw is somehow scarier than the one with teeth. Both will mangle you without mercy but something about the sharp edge freaks me out.




  Ok, have a good rest of the winter. Spring is on the way and life keeps renewing itself.

 


Monday, January 29, 2018

Book of Grudges

     Hi again.  I am in a bit of a melancholy and yet fiercely defiant mood this morning so please do not get offended. There is some good and bad news on all fronts.  The plan is to post every 2 weeks regardless if the only thing to say is " All is lost! Game over, game over!" or, " I am addicted to playing Tigers on the Hunt, no progress this month."

  There is a scene in the Firefly pilot episode where Zoe and Captain Reynolds are trying to conduct a business transaction in a canyon and the tactical situation is not at all good. Zoe says to Reynolds, "They will have the advantage over us."  And Captain Reynolds replies with a sense of resignation,  "They always do".





  And so it is.

     Ok, you may have noticed in a recent post the declaration that prices are not budging as long as I can possibly make that happen. Well, the post office just increased first class shipping to $3.50 minimum. I get a slight discount by printing online and if I keep my seller rating up on E-bay.

    But margins are thin enough on dirt cheap products and an extra $.50 added is pushing things even further.  There were a couple of options, from increasing prices per pack to adjusting shipping. The best solution for the customers was to increase shipping on the first pack only. It was the single pack buyers that are impacted me the most by this change.  I truly wish there was an option, but this is the absolute best that can be done.

  Now, of course the post office is happy to deliver products from China for free. No increase there.

  As Teddy Roosevelt said, "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."

  Now that Grudge is out of the way, let's look at number 2.

  Working Class York Maker Space is not going to happen. Not soon, and maybe not ever. Government regulations have groin stomped the life out of another dream.  Hey, its for your own good.

  How to resolve this problem?  There is another Makerspace I just found located in Dillsburg which is not that far away. Great place, more tech oriented and less dirt and flames. Still it was a fantastic find.
 
  So both problem number one and number 2 are sorted. Never give up.


  And finally Grudge 3.

  Novakon is dead again. I hate this machine with the white hot intensity of 10,000 suns. Gremlins are back again with a vengeance.

 
 
 
 
  Here it is stopped in the middle of a program. A lot of wasted hours. It has started to just randomly, after several hours, re-boot itself.
 
  So I changed the settings so it will not reboot and now it gives the blue screen of death. I have recorded the error codes and will be conducting my usual repair protocol. Keep buying new parts until the bad behavior stops. Awaiting some new RAM chips from E-bay and hope that will solve things. (why I have time to write today)
 
 
  And now for some good news. That is the way life is, conflict and then resolution.........at least on TV.
 
  There is a Chromecast on the TV in front of my painting desk and it allows viewing of You Tube while painting.  Watching Tabletop Minions has really inspired me and made me want to try out some new painting.
 
  I actually painted a few of the Reaper Bones models lying about.
 
  And still working on making some custom slot cars.
 Someday it would be great to own a real one, but this is at least a nice car to race around with at 1/24 scale. If I live long enough the price on used ones will drop until I can afford it.
 
And work is not all bad. Most mornings I wake up as happy as the drummer from Powerwolf as I look forward to what ever the day holds.
 
  By the time the day ends I am  feeling more like Lizzy Borden. Die gremlins, die!
 
 
 
 The drivers side car mold has a buddy now. It takes 9 pieces of metal to be cut to make the car body mold. 7 are done. More are required to make the hood, grill and bumpers but this part is the hardest and it will get done if I have to tear the entire PC out of the Novakon and replace it.

  The CAD designs are getting easier, and if this CNC machine would work more than 10% of the time Proxie Models would be as big as Google by now.
 
  Here are a couple of things designed and awaiting their turn on the mill.


 
 The second picture is of car #2 I would like to make. I had a real one a long time ago but a huge tree got in my way one night and it died a terrible death. I walked away somehow.........
 
 And, some more altered state of mind and changing of direction.
 
 The huge volume and quality pouring out of China via Kick Starter has caused me to turn away from trying to make models for the gaming industry. I stated this before and publicly.  Frankly, it seemed utterly pointless. The big companies can leverage their buying power to exploit the free shipping and cheap manufacturing from China.  Plus, it is time consuming and a lot of things can go wrong. It is easier to pick the low hanging fruit.  
 
  There are a couple of things I still plan to make for my own personal use, and also offer to others. It has occurred to me that there still might be a market for low priced items, as in $5-10 range. Because if you happen to have $10 and want to buy something in the table top hobby you are pretty much S.O.L.   Keep your eyes open and see if something new pops out soon.
 
  This week the archers actually got a little progress. This is pose 2 being shaped on the ACT machine.
  
On the ASL in minis front there is an interesting choice to be made.
 
 
These are locking hex holders to allow the construction of hex boards with easy to change configuration. GHQ makes some Styrofoam in 4" hexes and these locking devices will hold them in place.
 
  In the near future- (once the Novakon is working..............) these will be made in 3" and 4" sizes. This will allow for people to make some very nice 3D terrain boards without the hexes sliding about.
 
  You can use marble bathroom tiles, cardboard, or cut your own tiles out of wood. However, the ideal material I think would be 3/4" insulation board from Lowe's or similar. (blueboard) It is denser than Styrofoam and a little tougher. It can be cut easily with a hot knife to shape hills and whatever. 3/4" will allow for some epic 3D scenery.
 
  After the hex holders are done the idea is to run a kickstarter to purchase a laser cutter. I know where a used one is at and around $10,000 will secure it and pay for costs to pick it up and install it in the shop. It has dual lasers and will accept a 4 X 8 sheet of material. It is so large I will have to tear the wall out of my shop to get it installed.
 
  The kick starter will be for plastic holders, blueboard hexes, and cutting tools to shape your hills.
 
  If it funds it will save people a lot of work in making tables. If it does not fund, the plastic holders will still be available and I will just  cut my own and not purchase it or offer the hexes for sale.  The problem is that hexes are a pain to cut out by hand and some people do not have a truck to haul around large sheets of blue board.  This would be a big help to a lot of people.
 
   The pricing on this is going to be tricky, as it has to be cheap enough for someone to create a table for a reasonable cost. But not so cheap it loses money.
 
  This plan is not 100% decided.  I am not willing to put that kind of money out of pocket, which is why the thought of using kick starter came to mind. Essentially if I could get enough orders for plastic holders and blue board hexes for the machine to pay for itself I will do it.
 
 More details will emerge as my brain sorts it. Right now I seem to be having the biological equivalent of the blue screen of death in my head.
 
  Ok, there it is. 2018 and I am keeping my goals to write more stuff. And paint some stuff. And work on some stuff.
 
  So far so good.
 
Have a great day everyone.
 
 


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Mid January, resolve is cracking........................

  Just a quick update on some little things.

  The car is coming along. Broke the last ball mill and am awaiting another. Trying to squeeze in work between bitterly cold bouts. So far it is working. We went from 0 on Monday to 60 on Friday and back to 11 on Sunday. What a week. The 0 and 11 are weather, but the 60 is global warming and will require a new tax..................................

  On my last blog I declared I would be starting nothing new. That resolution has been sorely pressed, starting on January 2nd.

    I was informed I have a large credit at my local store................ Can you get me Advanced Squad Leader stuff?

  No. But look at this new Necromunda ................

  Can you get me Plastic Soldier Company stuff for my Squad Leader miniatures project?

 No, but have you seen the new 40K?................

  Perhaps some units for my old Warhammer armies, which would not be a violation of my oath. A new unit of 20 witch elves and 20 Sisters of Avelorn.  A small addition to the good and bad armies would be great................ Wow, even with free money it hurts to pay those prices.......................

  Oh well. Here are some pics of the Squad Leader to minis project and some pics of other people's take on it. It seems there are 2 schools of thought. First you can print out large map boards and play like that.  Hex Draw allows me to add custom textures so the maps can look more realistic.

 
 I spent (wasted) some time getting aerial tree photos and damaged road textures and neat wall graphics. And printed out with 4" hexes it looks pretty cool and the 15mm minis fit well in it. But it is still a printed map board.

 Second option is to make your own hex terrain.

  GHQ makes 4"Styrofoam hexes, which I owned a few of 20 years ago. I found them fragile and it was too easy to knock them about during play. Just google GHQ terrain maker and look at the images. Very neat stuff.

And this guy has developed a tool to cut the Styrofoam to matching angles.  hex cutter tool kit

There is an ASL in Miniatures Facebook group and the guys share ideas. one of the guys cuts his own hexes out of wood, which is the direction I am leaning. The printed maps look great, but it is just not the same.

 This is a recreation of board 78 by the founder of the group. He developed a really neat locking mechanism to hold the tiles in place. At this point that looks like the best option.


 So that is hobby stuff.

  The car parts are coming slowly in the mail. I have 100 axles, 100 gears and 100 motors already.  Pretty easy to see the problem, as cars have 2 axles each........Awaiting spacers to get dimensions to spec out the chassis.

The crock pot is here, and it melts metal so that is nice. Graphite is stockpiled and ready for use.

 I really need to clone myself...............................

 And final note- still no word from the York Makerspace.  If this falls through plans will be set back again. Not sure what is happening, some sort of red tape must be causing them to delay opening.  I can only hope things fall in to place and we have that place to meet and collaborate.

 Ok, that is my promised more frequent update with out a lot to really report on. More in 2 weeks.

 Stay warm folks!