January 2008

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.