Production Notes


Licensing and Production Notes03 Jun 2011 10:33 am

I’m happy to report that things are progressing well at Manzanita Micro. The Automated Test Equipment (ATE) is up and running in Kingston and we are busy setting up and training for production. Parts availability will make for a bit of a slow start so be sure to let Clarice at Manzanita Micro know if you are itching to get Zilla power in your vehicle!

Licensing and Production Notes25 Mar 2011 10:36 am

Zilla’s are coming back!

I am excited to announce that I am in talks with Manzanita Micro to bring the Zilla controller line back to life soon! We have agreed on the basics and now just need to finalize the details to get Zilla production, sales and support up and running at their facility in Kingston Washington.

It’s been a long time since I’ve updated this blog. My apologies for that.  I have been busy during that time communicating with and visiting a number of potential manufacturers for the Zilla. After the last fiasco, I admit I’ve been slow to move forward. I wanted to make sure I was working with someone who knows the EV market and also has the manufacturing experience necessary to build the Zilla properly. I’ve known Rich Rudman and the folks at Manzanita Micro for many years. Rich and I go back to the mid 1990’s as friends and sometimes friendly rivals. We often observed how similar our companies were. Now that Manzanita has expanded operations into a beautiful new facility and expanded staff to handle larger volumes (I admit, I was very impressed during my recent visit) it looks to me that they have the space and the ability to build Zilla controllers in good volumes. I’m looking forward to working with them to bring the Zilla back, and also I’m eager to get back to product development, maybe starting with improving the Hairball with new code and features.

Licensing and Production Notes29 Jun 2009 09:34 am

Since I am a bit slow to update the blog posts, I am trying out Twitter to see if I will be motivated to keep the smaller updates happening there.

You can follow us on Twitter at CafeElectric :

http://twitter.com/CafeElectric

-Otmar

Production Notes20 May 2009 10:43 pm

It’s been a while, so here is a little news from the EV list:

 

Andrew Wood-13 wrote:

They seem to have stopped manufacture for now, am i better off going
with Curtis?

 

Otmar replies:

The Zilla will return later this year.

My production crew has been busy finishing up the last orders that I accepted in September. Meanwhile my engineer Arthur and I are finishing the design changes needed for effective higher volume production. The automated test equipment that Arthur built will support volume production and has already increased the quality of Zillas going out the door. The improved Hairball code I’ve been working on ran today for the first time in my 914 and promises to increase reliability as well as make diagnostics easier.

I am in talks with a very qualified licensee, and although we have not signed any formal agreements yet, we seem to be finding common purpose and I expect things to be well established soon.

I apologize for the delay. My less than ideal health and my possibly unreasonable requirement for quality has not been conducive to moving faster on this path, but it is encouraging to see the transition coming to fruition.

The waiting list on our website continues to grow and I hope the new manufacturer will be contacting those of you on it soon.

Thank you all for your patience,

-Otmar-

Production Notes17 Feb 2009 11:08 am

Since we haven’t had a update in quite a while, there was a post on the EV list today that I decided to copy here with my response.

 

phil galati wrote:

For those of you who didn’t hear, or you may have all ready heard.
My sources have informed that Zilla has been purchased by an
undisclosed source and is up and running and in full production mode.

Phil Galati

   

My response was:

That’s great news!

But I have to say, it’s the first I’ve heard of it!
Be aware that your source is not very good.

I am still fully expecting to license the Zilla out. I am in talks with a few well qualified folks but have not chosen one yet.

The production of the last build is still progressing, unfortunately we had some hiccups in the last two months so we are behind our estimated completion dates. We are working hard on them and looking at options to speed the build up a bit so we can finish the remaining backorders in the next few months.

In the meantime, while the production workers toil and my engineer finishes the ATE (really cool automatic test equipment) I am getting time for upgrades and improvements. These were started for smoother manufacturing but are turning into feature improvements as well. The Hairball code is getting a major revamp/repair, I am working on a battery fuel gauge that I call the B-Meter and I’m again working on the lithium Zilla BMS. I feel it’s an exciting time and am looking forward to providing a more complete package for conversions soon.

Thanks for your patience.

-Otmar

Production Notes14 Oct 2008 05:36 pm

For licensing updates please follow this link. http://www.cafeelectricpress.com/blog/?cat=5

This is a temporary post that I will occasionally update with remaining positions in line available for ordering.

October 23, 2008,

We are sold out of all reservation slots.

Production Notes20 Aug 2008 12:06 am

I was hoping I could avoid this announcement.  I had hoped that one of the potential Zilla licensees would have sealed a deal by this time.  Alas, it is not to be and so today I announce that Cafe Electric is accepting its’ last orders.

I am fully expecting that a licensee will step up to the plate and pick up the exclusive license for building and selling Zillas. Hopefully this will happen before we finish delivering this last build and we will have a smooth uninterrupted supply of controllers, but I cannot guarantee it and therefore have to start this shutdown process.

Sometimes you have to look out for your own health first. This is one such case. Those close to me know that running a manufacturing operation has not done good things for my health. I saw this coming and so have been trying to license the Zilla design for over a year. Unfortunately business is business, deals take time, people drop out. Fully hashed out contracts just awaiting a signature and a check, where agreement seemed universal, rot like old tomatoes on the vine.

Back in May I marveled at what I was doing with my life and made a promise to myself.  That promise was an escape clause from my stress and related poor health. The agreement was this: If I didn’t have a signed license contract with check in hand by late August, I would “Dissolve the corporation in a pool of Margaritas” (thanks to Steely Dan for that line). That time has come.

I may not promise much, but I stand behind my promises and that goes for those made to myself as well as my customers. So as of today, Cafe Electric llc will be accepting a limited quantity of orders on very limited terms. We will be selling -HV and -EHV versions of both Z1K and Z2K models direct through our website. All units ordered will be built in the order received aside from minor batch variances as we switch back and forth between 1000 and 2000 amp models on the production line. The units already on order will be finished first in accordance with the priority in place when they were ordered. Units will be shipped as they are finished. I expect that barring any major production problems we will be able to ship the remaining orders in about 6 months. New orders will not qualify for any discounts, need to be paid in full including shipping up front within a week of placing the order online by check, money order or wire mailed to us (avoiding Paypal fees) and need to be placed through the Cafe Electric llc website. We will continue to offer contactors and fuses as long as stock holds since those require less planning, but controller orders need to be nailed down during this limited window so we can order all the remaining required custom parts and build until we have depleted that inventory.

Warranties will be honored and are still good from a year after delivery. Someone will stay available to provide any needed repairs, warranty or otherwise for at least that time. Of course this is only a worst case scenario since I expect that a licensee will be online and take over any support issues.

The future still looks bright. I fully expect that one of the potential licensees will be producing Zillas and I will get back to EV product design that I know and love. Those un-implemented features on the Hairball, battery monitors, DC-DC converters etc. could all be coming to market while someone else handles production. I of all people am best aware of the demand for the Zilla and the lack of any high quality alternatives, so I am confident that it will continue to be available.

If you know someone qualified who is interested in the license to build Zillas please have them get in contact with me. The startup costs for a license, inventory and equipment are under $1M, and earnings are expected to be reasonable for the investment with good growth potential. The licensee needs to be experienced in efficient production of electronics, have the ability to provide basic tech support to typical hobbyist customers, have the financial means and ability to run such a company and be interested in growing the market.  Since the technical support aspects are much less than full time but still require wide knowledge it may make sense if this was shared with some other EV company.

For those trying to contact me, be aware that late August and parts of September find me out of range of communication for several weeks. If I don’t reply immediately I may be out of range and will reply when I return.

-Otmar

Production Notes12 Jun 2008 10:15 pm

Things are looking better in production. We’ve been increasing volumes some to try to meet demand, which hasn’t helped that much since it seems demand is increasing to meet volumes. We have just started into the new year’s orders where HV and EHV models get some priority. Priority is our partial answer to requests from people wanting to pay more to get a Zilla faster, so we are building the more expensive ones as a higher percentage of production than the base model, insuring faster delivery. This policy has just started to take effect since orders before the change were still being built on the old priority. The last check shows that we are almost done with all but the latest Z2Ks on order, and some Z1K-HV’s are shipping that were only four months old. The Z1K-LV is still projected in the 6-7 month delivery time.

It has been satisfying to see that our primary boards are having all surface mount parts built on the pick and place robot. This is saving a significant amount of production time and allowing the assembly workers (who turned out great by the way) to get ahead on the things like power boards which we still do by hand. Additionally the automated test machine is making good progress. It now tests all the Hairballs that are built and saves quite a bit of hassle while doing a more thorough test than we were able to do by driving each one in a car.

In other news: Running this company in production has made me well aware that although I may be a decent designer of controllers, I’m not well suited to running and growing a production company. This is partially shown by my resistance to grow production as quickly as an astute business person would do, and also has shown up with what the stress has done to my personal health. For that reason I am looking for an appropriate licensee who can take over production and free my time for developing more products. I am in talks with a few people who may turn out to have the resources, experience and quality required to meet my standards. Hopefully we’ll have some news within a few months leading to a production arrangement that can meet customer demand.

Once again, thank you for your patience

-Otmar

Production Notes27 Jan 2008 11:57 am

Many of your are naturally curious about one key question. If you were to order a controller today, how long would it take to get?

The short answer is four to six months.

Longer answer: Much has changed, but our shipping estimates are still the same. Last night I finished updating the Zen Cart online shopping. As a result, Paypal orders over $1000 are not being dropped anymore, and there is much more on the website that will have to wait bit, such as updating the FAQ and adding sections on EV component info. This web site took quite a bit of my own time, but that has not impacted the production schedule much. What has impacted production was losing my two production assembly workers in the last month. We will miss them as one moves on to grad school and the other out of town and on to a wonderful marriage. I can’t blame either one of them for moving on, but they will be missed here. We are trying out two new production workers at this time, James and Adam. They seem to be learning the basics of Zilla assembly very well and I expect that in a month or two they’ll be building complete controllers with confidence and care.

As for increasing capacity, two major things are happening. First of all, Arthur continues to develop the automated testing equipment. Last week we used the machine to test a batch of sixty solar charge controllers that I designed for a non-profit remote village lighting project. Secondly, I used the charge controller project as an excuse to spend a few days learning to run the Quad IVc pick and place machine. Sure, it would have been faster to build those by hand, but now I’m setting the machine up to run a couple hundred control boards and the gate driver redesign for automated assembly is next. Here is a video of one of the first sets of boards made on the machine:

I’m sorry about the poor sound quality. For some reason Youtube has trouble converting the sound on my Quicktime video uploads and I don’t consider chasing that issue worthy of my time at this point. Part of the problem may be the loud air compressor in the background, providing vacuum to hold the PC board in place on the machine.
In the video you see the machine sitting back in our prototype machining area, as I bring the camera in you’ll see the head assembly placing parts on a panel of ten solar boards. Around the left side of the machine are the part feeders that hold the reels of parts (often 5000 parts on a reel) and feed a new part ready for pickup every time one is removed. It’s a fascinating machine to watch and it sure build boards quickly once it is set up.

A few more steps are required to make the board. Before the boards are put on the assembly machine they need solder paste on the lands (where the parts solder on the board) so that the parts can be soldered after placement. I put the paste on manually with a syringe this time but at three minutes for a small board it is much too time consuming. I’ve ordered a stencil for the next batch of boards which will make the process much more accurate and faster. It’s a lot like doing silkscreen, but the screen is cut out of thin stainless steel. After the parts are placed, the boards are inspected for any missing or out of place parts and then put in a reflow oven to melt the solder. Our reflow oven cost us $11.95 at the Goodwill. It’s a nice convection toaster oven and it has enough power to follow the recommended reflow temperature profile well. Unfortunately the inside is only 12 inches wide. I’m already building a better one. The new one has a larger oven that can take boards up to 13.5″ long and will have the temperature controlled by a nifty controller called the Reflower oven controller.

That’s the update for today. It’s snowing here and very pretty outside.

-Otmar

Production Notes21 Jan 2008 09:21 pm

This weekend I sorted through over two thousand spammed comments to pull out the five or ten that were valid and replied to those requiring replies. I’m very sorry for the screw up.

-Otmar

Production Notes20 Jan 2008 04:37 am

Comments have been turned on again and I fixed the email so it should inform me when they show up. I’ve installed a simple math test plugin that should reduce spam quite a bit. All comments will still be held for moderation so the blog itself will be free of spam and trolls. We’ll give it a try and see how it goes.

There are still thousands of comments in the moderation queue, and a few of those are not spam. I will try to fish some of them out. If they have the words Zilla or Controller in them then they will be easy to find. Others, I’m not so sure about.

-Otmar

Production Notes18 Jan 2008 06:44 pm

The new site initiation went pretty well at first: Pages were showing up as expected and friends were writing in to report minor bugs and a number of tipos. Our first order went without a hitch. Paypal and the shopping cart were happy to work together. It was looking pretty rosy.

Then a Paypal payment arrived without a order, and another one did the same thing. No funds were missing. We were able to contact the customers , get the item information and properly enter the orders. No electrons were harmed in the process. But this was not right. Much analysis and speculation followed. We were unable to repeat the problem on our own orders. A few minor syntaxes were fixed, logging was turned on and more test orders were made. Everything just kept working properly. Now it is a day later. Several of our own and customers orders have gone through without a hitch and we hope and expect that the problem is fixed for good. We will keep the logging on and monitor it carefully.

Production Notes17 Jan 2008 11:45 am

Since you are reading this, I must have managed to transfer CafeElectric.com to the new faster web host. Goodbye Dreamhost, hello Hostmonster! We’ll miss the green energy hosting, but a shop that works seems more important. We’ll just offset the carbon credits directly instead. Besides, a provider called Hostmonster seems more appropriate for hosting the home of the Zilla! I like Hostmonster so far, if you are looking for hosting please check them out through the link at the bottom of the main pages.
You’ve probably already noticed the new look and navigation on the left side of the site (no, not on this blog, back on the main site). No more searching through the Zilla information page two levels down just to find the owners manual. I hope you like it.

We now have an online shop where you can buy parts and accessories, order Zillas, and securely pay for them through Paypal using a credit card or a Paypal account. You can also pay by check as in the past, but now you get a 3% discount for doing that. Most prices have gone up some to adjust for the credit card tax, inflation and the weaker dollar. One exception is the Z1K-LV which is now less expensive with the cash discount than it was. We held its base price at $1975.

The main reason I am building controllers is to allow more people to get conversions on the road. To that end I decided to reduce the profit on the Z1K-LV even more (counting overhead it’s probably negative now) in order to allow those on a budget to still make conversions. However, people on a budget will have to have good scheduling skills as well since the Z1K-LV now has the same production volumes as the other more expensive models. With the somewhat higher demand for the Z1K-LV, this means that the lead times for them will be longer than the more expensive ones that are subsidizing production costs.

About comments: I noticed in the move that there are 3000 comments awaiting approval for the blog. 99.9% of them are spam and I doubt I’ll have time to find the few real ones. I’m sorry about this, and I may still get to them someday. For now I’ve disabled comments to stop the flow. I hope to install some security to allow comments again in the near future.

There is still more to come on the new site. I have a outline for a purely informational section with descriptions of common parts used in an electric car conversion with my biased opinions about the various options. I hope to find time in the next few months to fill that in and bring it up live.

Grab a cup of tea and have a look around the site. I hope you like what you find, and even if you don’t I hope to hear what you think of it. Please use the Contact Us link on the main site.

-Otmar

Production Notes11 Jan 2008 04:37 pm

It’s Friday the 11th of January and our new website is almost ready to go live. Actually the site is ready but our web hosting provider seems unable to provide decent response times for the new shop. My hope is that before mid next week we will go live with the new site with a new provider. When we go live you’ll be able to see the new pricing. Most items went up in price a little, but we managed to keep the standard Z1K-LV Zillla package at a MSRP of $1975.00. Actually, if you take into account the discount for prepayment, the price on that model went down. In exchange for the low pricing on the LV model, the other more expensive models will be getting a higher priority in manufacturing. That way if someone is in a big hurry, they can always upgrade to the HV model and get it faster. (after our current backlog is cleared)
I’ll post again to let you all know when the new site is live.

Thank you for your patience.

-Otmar

Production Notes21 Dec 2007 11:49 pm

Just a quick update: On the 14th of December Cafe Electric commenced holiday shutdown.

While the production employees are on vacation, Mandi and I have been doing inventory and reviewing financial data from the past year. We will be analyzing the current profit/loss situation in light of this years higher production volumes with increasing material and labor costs. So far it looks like we’re hanging in there reasonably well with the increases efficiency of higher volume helping to offset the current high inflation and devaluation of the dollar. Still, I do expect to have to increase prices some in January but as usual I will try to minimize that. I really don’t like making conversions more expensive. We are also forecasting for the new year while making plans to reduce the backlogs further toward our goal of actually having controllers in stock. What a concept! To assist in that, we may once again be hiring more help. Let me be clear: We are not looking for engineers or engineers in training, nor part time workers. We are looking for extremely meticulous and reliable friendly Buddha-like people who can build controllers day in and day out. Someone smart who can get things done. Although a knack for how to best use a screwdriver can be helpful, no technical experience is required. Patience and good eyes are helpful. If you know someone appropriate, please have them email in their resume.
During the shutdown we are not accepting any new orders until the new prices are announced. I am currently performing a long overdue update to the website. I expect the new site to be live early January with much information which hopefully will be easier to find. With any luck new shopping options will also be up and running with the new price schedule.

That’s it for now,
-Otmar

Production Notes11 Nov 2007 09:59 pm

Much has happen in the many months since my last post. I apologize for taking so long to post a update.

Mostly we’ve been cranking out new Zilla production at a good pace and slowly catching up on the backorders. At last check we were backordered 4 months and reeling in orders. Orders have been increasing some due to the current high demand for EV conversions, but our production is also gaining capacity and things are running smoother than ever.

The most significant recent change has been bringing on some more help. In June Mandi joined Carrie and Jack in production to manage the daily needs of the business. She has been very helpful in keeping everything running smoothly and planning ahead so we don’t end up short on parts. This has freed up more of my time to work on development which I prefer. Now when you email orders into the office, Mandi is the one who takes care of those as well as planning, purchasing and dealing with the myriad of daily issues that arise in any small business.

The most recent addition to the team is Arthur who joined us in October. Arthur is a engineer with whom I worked ten years ago and I feel fortunate for managing to coax him away from Tesla Motors to come work on fun design projects up here at Cafe Electric. His first project is the Automated Test Equipment (ATE) unit that will automate the testing of Zillas and their subassemblies. Once again, the goal is to free up more of my time (and now his, since I’m making him do the testing) for new design projects.

So, you may ask, what am I doing with all this free design time?
First off, I’ve moved development to my living room at home. The former living room has been outfitted with the requisite huge workbench, proper test gear, monster computers (mostly Mac of course) and a good entertainment system. The production shop never had a real prototype area and I find it hard to do development in any production shop. They just don’t coexist well. Plus, there’s no food near the production shop and I need to snack constantly when being creative.
Secondly, I continued the testing of the latest rev of the Zilla control board, and it was just about ready when the crisis of the “Quiet Zilla” hit.

The “Quiet Zilla Problem”. We’re having a bit of a problem with a few Zillas suddenly refusing to communicate with the Hairball and throwing a 1132 error. This tends to happen on units running near the high voltage limit and often cars that had either ground leaks or serious motor fireball incidents. I have seen about six of these, and in each case the integrated DC-DC converters which isolate power to the gate drivers had blown their input stage and shorted the main regulated supply bus in the controller. Fortunately the repair is a relatively easy fix of replacing the DC-DC converters. Still I was very concerned that I didn’t know why the units were failing in the first place. I tested all sorts of parameters and found that we were within the supposed design limits for the parts. Fortunately a recent post by Lee Hart on the EVTech list suggested that this style of DC-DC could likely suffer from design issues which keep it from meeting the data sheet specification for isolation. To make a long story short, that turned out to be our problem (Thanks Lee!) and I’ve spent the last week designing my own DC-DC module to replace it. I expect to test the first one with our own transformer design (with reliable isolation this time!) later this week. If it works well we’ll get some production units built. Due to this problem I’ve put a hold on shipping all Z2K’s and EHV Z1K’s until I can implement the fix. In the best case that will still take a few weeks, but I do hope to be able to ship them before the end of the year. At this time is seems the failure mode is benign, but I still need to check if this was a factor in the one catastrophic failure we had of a new power section at the PIR races (edit: It wasn’t). If the DC-DC failure was involved in that then I may need to instigate a partial recall to avoid major silicon carnage, but so far it looks like the “just in case” protection zeners in the design are doing their job to protect the main power section.

For those of you looking for a update on the Tri-Zilla, nothing is happening. I drive it every now and then and wish I had time to dedicate to it, but for now it’s production first, then enabling lithium battery use, and then maybe the Tri-Zilla. Don’t hold your breath. Besides, we still need a good affordable motor to make it practical, so no hurry there.

That’s it for tonight, I hope you all have a great Holiday season!
-Otmar

Production Notes18 Mar 2007 10:40 am

Things have been very busy at the Cafe Electric shop.
The good news is we we shipped about 15 controllers in the last month, on the other hand we took orders for more than that in the same time frame. Jack and Carrie have been doing a great job building controllers while I scramble to manage orders and procure parts in time to keep them working. There are the usual problems with late deliveries and sources drying up requiring me to find new ones, but aside from the fact that I waited a bit too long to place the order for more machined copper we’re doing pretty well. For now we still have another months worth of parts and after that we’ll be stockpiling subassemblies until the copper is ready.

The Quad pick and place robot arrived on time and is quietly waiting in the corner for me to finish the new designs and program it. I’ve been so busy keeping the shop rolling that I’ve had little time to redesign the main PC boards to work with available parts and be optimized for the Quad. We have enough of the obsolete parts for about a month of production, and then we’ll be stuck if the new boards are not ready. I have finished the control board, am about halfway done with the gate drivers and then can attack the Hairball.

In other news, my friends at Peak Moment TV released a interview that they recorded back in June. I’m very happy with how it turned out, you can see it here if you like: Interview with Otmar

Thanks again for all of your patience,

-Otmar

Production Notes23 Jan 2007 07:43 pm

The increased flow of new orders is not letting up. If anything it’s getting worse as more people discover the joys of owning a EV. The increase in Z2K orders without a corresponding increase in Z1Ks shows me that a number of people are switching away from Z1K’s to Curtis controllers. I can’t blame them for that; 6 months is a long time to wait for a controller. Still I do feel bad that people have to suffer with a Curtis when they really want a Zilla. For that reason and because I’ve decided that this upward trend may be a longer term upswing, I’m taking steps to speed things up at the shop while trying to keep our costs reasonable.

First I should review. Everything has been going as planned in the last month. Carrie built sub-assemblies while I took a much needed break in warmer weather. I came back to a smooth running shop with piles of stuffed PC boards awaiting test. I expect we can assemble and test a mixed batch of both 1000 and 2000 Amp Zillas this week. This should have us shipping orders placed up to mid August of last year.

As for speeding things up, two events are on the horizon:

First off, we have a new assistant starting Monday. With any luck Jack will turn out to be as helpful as he seems and we’ll be speeding through production. At least until the Fall when he runs off to grad school. I’m hoping that he will help us reel in the backorders faster than ever.

The other action that I hope will help speed things up is that I’ve ordered a used pick and place machine to automate our surface mount PC board assembly. This is not exactly low cost, but I believe it will pay for itself within a few years. The machine is a Quad IVc from the mid 1990’s and with the ability to place 6000 components per hour should be able to handle all of our SMT assembly needs.

On the other side things the news is not all rosy. There are a couple of parts on the Hairball and Zilla that have recently become obsolete with no alternates. As a result I will have to re-layout the PC boards. While I am doing that I’ll be sure to optimize the design for use on the new Quad. I just hope I can complete the new designs and testing before we run out of the critical parts.

So, that’s the latest. Thanks again for your patience.

-Otmar

Production Notes21 Dec 2006 10:02 pm

Happy winters Solstice to everyone! (or whatever you like to celebrate)
Here at Cafe Electric eight more Z2K’s passed all tests with flying colors. That’s a nice relief and seems to confirm that our assembly problems are behind us.  We’re just starting inventory now. After year end accounting I’ll be out of town for a couple weeks. The plan is that Carrie will continue to build Z1K’s targeted for assembly late January and the current batch of Z2Ks will ship as soon as I’m back in the shop. That should be mid January at the latest.

If you are trying to reach me and I don’t respond, it may be a week or so since some of the places I need to visit don’t have phone or internet access.
I hope you all have a wonderful and safe new year,

-Otmar

Production Notes14 Dec 2006 11:31 am

Hello All,
The fiscal year is coming to close, and shortly we’ll be halting shipping so we can get the books all straightened out and do inventory.
We built one Z2K with the new assembly tricks on Monday and it passed all tests with flying colors, including the EHV ones at about 400 Volts. You know I was seriously flinching when first touching the accelerator on that extra high voltage test! Since then I’ve been abusing it for days just to make sure everything is perfect. So with the confidence of that one working perfectly we are building a few more Z2Ks.

Unfortunately, due to the shortcomings of a very poor bookkeeping program we won’t be able to ship any more product this year unless it already is paid in full. This because Quickbooks, although relatively cheap, is a pretty poor excuse for a bookkeeping program in that it has a terrible time with cash vs accrual reporting. Plus, it doesn’t tell you what data it is using for the reports, very frustrating. As a result, I always have to make my cash and accrual entries be equal at the end of the year. So if you were hoping to still get a Z2K this year, and were one of the next batch, you can blame the delay on Quickbooks.

If you were in the batch of Z2K’s that were last targeted to go out in October we should manage to get three shipped this month and the rest of those will go out mid January.

That’s all for now, got to get back to building Z2K’s.
-Otmar

Production Notes06 Dec 2006 04:55 pm

Hello All,

I apologize for the long delay in posting, I guess it took a while to recover from that fun birthday party. 🙂
All kidding aside, things are looking better at Cafe Electric.

Although the plating on the Z2K parts has not been completely ruled out as a small factor, I have focused my attention to the part finish on the copper. As a result I switched to assembling Z1K’s whose copper parts had better machining. With the new micro-ohm meter for conformation we were able to build many good Zillas. This makes me feel a lot better! We’ve shipped seven Z1K’s since the first of December and expect to ship another eleven units in the next week. This means we will fill orders that were placed late June and before. We still have a large backorder of Z1K’s to build next year, but it feels good to be getting some out.

With the learning gained while building the Z1K’s, I intend to have another look at the Z2Ks next week. I’m hoping that after machining some surfaces and using all the tricks learned with the Z1Ks we’ll get them to test with perfect scores and be ready for shipping Z2Ks once again.

So, as to delivery times, I’ll make some guesses: If you ordered a Z1K before June 26th, it should go out in the next week. The rest will be built next year. Those ordered before August I hope to ship in January. The later ones will come after that.
Z2K’s schedule will depend on the results of next weeks tests. I’ll try to post an update after that time. There is a very large backorder for them as well so I hope to have that process nailed down soon.

As production ramps up again (and the orders keep pouring in) I realize that we could use one more good helper. We’re looking for someone local, meticulous, smart but not a engineer or engineer wannabe, who is reliable, can get things done and who values hard work for a good cause over money (this since we start people at $8/hr and work up from there). If you know of someone, please have them send me a resume in .pdf format.

As always, many thanks for your patience.

-Otmar

Production Notes13 Nov 2006 11:41 pm

Hello All,
It’s been two weeks since Carbon Black Monday and all is not yet well at the Cafe Electric shop.

In the time that has passed I have built a clean room with HEPA filtration, a new clean workbench, super fine grease filters and a new clean workbench surface. I’ve cleaned and reassembled one of the Z2K’s and then ran it through a number of tests which are not yet encouraging. I’ve scratched my head a lot. I took mental breaks by hiking in the rain and even beating air molecules into submission around the local CVO traffic pattern. I’ve been investigating the tin plating process on the copper bus bars which is currently a prime suspect for our troubles. Tin plating is one of the processes that changed with the move to local Oregon suppliers. This has been on my mind especially since my first thought of dirt contamination did not turn out to be the problem. Plating houses have a reputation of being sloppy, and I am just realizing how lucky I was to have Hy-Tech plating in San Carlos when I was down in Kalifornia. They sure knew what they were doing down there. Unfortunately it’s a bit tough to carry half a ton of copper to California for plating.

Today some good progress was made when I built a micro-Ohm-meter (utilizing as probes olive skewers from our local and fancy “Ink Well Home Store”) which is allowing me to check the contact integrity of many power parts (while theoretically in parallel with very heavy copper) after final assembly. This was previously not possible with the tools I had. This test has shown that despite the clean room issues which I resolved, the problem which caused the Z2K to fail still exists and I have more research to do.

In the meantime, the 13 remaining Z2k’s are being disassembled and cleaned (by my assistant who is doing a wonderful job) for reassembly when I do find the cause of our current problem.
It is both good and bad news that until I resolve this issue, I can not ship any controllers. This is just the type of thing that could show up as a long term reliability problem even if the controller does pass bench testing. The good news is that I won’t let you get such a potentially unreliable controller. The bad news of course it that I do not know when we will begin shipping product again. As a result the Z1K’s that I hoped to start shipping in two days are on hold until the problem is resolved. All the parts are still waiting on the shelf for final assembly. If we are lucky then it will only take a few more days to resolve the issue. In that case I could start shipping March orders for Z1K’s in December right after the Z2Ks go out. If we are not lucky then it will take longer, could be weeks, or months. I’m sure hoping it’s not months!

So, that’s the latest from the very wet Willamette Valley in Oregon. I’m sorry I don’t have better news. I’ll send another update after I turn 40. 🙂 Don’t worry, that’s in less than a week.

-Otmar

Production Notes31 Oct 2006 04:26 pm

Monday was not the best day to be at the Cafe Electric shop.

Unless, that is, you happen enjoy loud noises and great balls of plasma. It’s not a lot of fun when it’s a brand new Z2K turning into a charred mess. I guess it was bound to happen someday and yesterday turned out to be the day of the first catastrophic failure of a Zilla power section. There’s not much left in the black mass that used to be a Z2K. Looking at it reminds me of people who whine that todays controllers are not user serviceable. When you look at what less than one second of plasma can do to a controller (yes, the Hairball did it’s job and shut it down less than 1/2 second after detecting the failure) you see that trying to salvage half of it would be more work than building new.

It all started when a controller was throwing error codes, but only while in extra high voltage testing (somewhere over 370V) and only when currents were over 1800 amps. This is just the type of problem that is rather annoying to diagnose since reproducing it requires power levels that boil large amounts of water rather quickly and make the person testing (that’s me) very nervous. It was after having fixed what I thought was a potential cause of the problem, and hooking it up to a full pack with 400+ volts on it for a retest that the unit decided to self destruct. Yes, it was loud.
There is some good news out of all of this. The postmortem analysis did show a definitive cause of the problem and it was a slip up of mine that I made during the critical final assembly process. Live and learn. Unfortunately this will cause at least a week of delay in the schedule as I disassemble and verify the integrity of the remaining 13 Z2K’s in this batch. Not something I’m much looking forward to.
On other news, the Hairballs for these units are built and awaiting test.
That’s it for today.
-Otmar

Production Notes20 Oct 2006 11:12 am

Hello All,
It’s Friday the 20th and I figure it’s time for a production update:
Good news: The new assistant here at Cafe Electric is working out very well. It sure helps to have someone capable and detail oriented doing nothing but production for eight hours a day. It’s much better than one burnt out guy trying to run the company and do production at the same time. As I write this she’s doing a final cleaning and inspection on Z2K power boards and after writing this I’ll head out back and start the final assembly process for the current batch of fourteen Z2K controllers. It’s interesting to think that last year we shipped ten Z2Ks and this year we will ship twenty five. We probably would have had even more orders if the delivery times were reasonable. No wonder it’s been hard to keep up. This batch will fill all but a couple of the Z2K’s on order. Sorry Steve Clunn, your last one and one Tango controller will have to wait. So we are catching up.

Once those Z2K power sections are tested, we’ll assemble and test Hairballs for them and ship. I expect those to ship no later than mid November. As much as I like to give optimistic news, there are still forty Z1K’s on back order. The oldest of those is from 3.8.06. I truly apologize for the delay, that was right about when the machinist problems started to surface. We’ll be building those in the sequence that they were ordered as soon as the Z2K’s ship. Fifteen power board sets are built for those (the hard part) so those first ones will go quickly. I expect that we should be able to fill at least half of the forty Z1K backorders before the end of the year, hopefully more. My dream is to have them all filled this year, but I’m not promising anything since we all know how issues crop up to delay matters. Beyond that it’s a bit hard to think. It’s been so long since I was caught up that I’m not used to it. I suppose we’ll order up another fifty sets of Z1K machined parts (thankfully after many problems I’ve found a great machinist in the next town over) and build more Z1K’s.

On other news, I’ve reviewed costing on the LV controller models and I think we can keep our price where it is so long as we still maintain a high proportion of HV and EHV orders. So for now I’ll list them on the web as available again.

Since my last blog entry a few people have graciously offered services from assembly houses located large distances from here. I guess they didn’t actually read my last blog entry, so let me clarify a bit here: Once I manage to get all the parts properly supplied, there is really not much labor in building a Zilla. A few hours of it (per controller) is the kind of thing that a assembly house could do without extensive training and elaborate setup. For those items I would welcome good a assembly house to do the work. But even if the assembly was done at no cost to me it would not justify me going out of state for it. By the time I travel to evaluate them, slog through the specification and quote process, deal with the fact that it seems they can’t read the simple instructions that I give, I find I might as well have just soldered up the boards myself. So, if you know of a reasonably priced assembly house that is efficient at batches of 50 to 100 pieces *In Oregon* then I’d sure love to hear about them.

As for the other half of the assembly process, I should address that a bit since what is involved is not common knowledge. The Zilla power sections have two inherent benefits due to their unique design. First they are smaller for a given power, and second they are lower cost for a given power than ones made using industry standard techniques. To obtain these benefits I had to use assembly techniques that are not standard in the industry. In addition to the special design, I have made equipment for preparing the power part surfaces and for testing parts so they can be sorted into batches to allow these benefits. But misplace one part while matching them and Bang! you’ve blown a controller. Also, the final assembly process is very critical and must be done just so. One bit of dirt in the wrong place and you have a unreliable controller. Unfortunately, there are many ways to compromise the assembly and the result of each one is a blown controller. So there are a number of operations involved in building and assembling the power section that I am very careful about. The Zilla still holds a unheard of reliability record for this industry and I intend to keep it that way. In addition to the design, I attribute the high reliability to my careful control of the assembly process. To farm out that part of the assembly would take extensive training in order to insure reliability. I’m not against farming it out, it’s just that it’s not a simple thing to do and it will require a long term commitment from a very unusual partner to make it worthwhile.

That’s all for now.
-Otmar

Production Notes06 Oct 2006 08:17 pm

Hello,

It’s my first blog post here. My plan is to outline the current production situation at Cafe Electric and provide updates as they happen.

At this point I am building controllers ordered in February of 2006. Quite a backlog, I know. The good news is that all the major parts needed to fill the backlog are finally here in the shop; copper, silicon, custom made shunts, hard to get op-amps are all in stock ready for assembly and test. Today I am working on a large pile of Z2K controllers. Once those are built, I’ll be building Hairballs to match. With any luck (don’t hold me to it, it seems things often come up) they will be done by the end of this month (October). This will cover all Z2Ks ordered up to early September. After that, I’ll start on the backlog of Z1K orders.

My original plan included contracting out the simpler PC board stuffing to a local shop. Unfortunately the local assembly house wants a surprisingly large amount of money to build them. As a result, I’m stuffing the boards myself. If you know of a excellent assembly house in Oregon, I’d love to hear about it, but please, they need to be a “known good” place and in Oregon. It’s not worth my time for me to go into the extended evaluation routine involved with checking a new place out, and with my annual quantities of about one hundred units it just doesn’t make sense to send them overseas. In the end I’d rather sit down and solder than check out another questionable assembly house.

This week I started training a new assistant. So far everything looks good and I’m optimistic this will speed up production. Hopefully I’ll post more on this later.

Some people have come up with some well meaning suggestions such as Cafe Electric providing Zilla kits or having people come help solder for a weekend. Although I appreciate the concern, the truth is that I have considered these and many more options. I just laugh at the kit suggestions. I could probably offer kits at about twice the price of the controller fully built, and I would have to hire a couple more people to provide support to those valiantly trying to make it run while frustrated by all the smoke coming out. People don’t seem to get the fact that it takes months for me to teach someone to build these controllers, even one on one. It’s not particularly easy, it’s not simple like building a VCR or a laptop computer.

So, it’s the end of my first post this Friday. I’ll be doing some engineering over the weekend and then it’s back to production on Monday.

Oh, and this comment thing,,,, I have to approve them so don’t be offended if they never show up. I’m trying to build controllers here.

Be well, and thanks for your patience.
-Otmar