Lightning Fast - From IoT Concept to Pilot With Additive Manufacturing - On Demand Webinar
In this webinar, you'll learn about three innovations designed to speed up IoT device development. Building an IoT product requires skills across a wide range of disciplines. Get it right, and you launch a successful product. Get it wrong, and you’ll be dealing with cost overruns, faulty product, poor product market fit, and a host of other unpleasant issues.
In this webinar, we’ll discuss several innovative ideas that reduce time and risk in hardware product development. We’ll explain how you can get your IoT product to pilot phase much faster and cheaper than your competitors, which will buy you precious time and save you precious money.
In this video, you will learn:
- When to use advanced materials for 3D printing
- How to securely transport data with a System-on-Module
- How to gain control of project budgets
- How to minimize physical device construction risk
00:00 – Introducing Blues Wireless and Additive at Scale
02:34 – The Strings of Wireless IoT
03:56 – Introducing the Notecard
05:32 – Routing Data to Your Cloud with Notehub
07:24 – Design Considerations for IoT Device Prototypes
11:22 – Applications of 3D Printed Materials with Essentium
17:14 – Materials for 3D Printing Prototype Devices
27:23 – Wrap-Up
Webinar Transcript - Lightning Fast — From IoT Concept to Pilot With Additive Manufacturing
Speaker: Brandon Satrom - Vice President Developer Experience - Blues Wireless 00:00
Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening, everyone. Thanks so much for joining us today. Now, before we get started, if you end up having to drop or have connection issues of any kind, this webinar will be recorded and posted to our YouTube channel later this week. Speaking of YouTube, if you haven't yet, please do visit that channel and subscribe. We post a variety of content weekly, from webinar and event recordings to project videos, and our brand-new series Blues Wireless TV, where our very own Gabe Sanchez interviews members of the Blues team, customers, and leaders in the world of IoT. Now as we get started today, I wanted to introduce myself and my co-host for today's webinar. My name is Brandon Satrom, and I'm VP of Developer Experience here at Blues Wireless. I'm joined today by Madison Jones, Director of Additive at Scale. Now today, we're going to talk about prototype purgatory, that dreaded part of product development between a great idea and deploying your pilot to the field. Now often the reason this part of any product development effort tends to last so maddeningly long is because building an IoT project requires a mix of skills and capabilities, some of which we're comfortable with, depending on our backgrounds, and some we aren't.
Regardless of the skills we bring to bear, there are parts of the IoT product development process that are always fraught with risk and complexity, no matter who you are. This includes wireless connectivity between your sensors and your cloud applications; physical device construction, including the PCB components and enclosure; and how and when to leverage quick-term prototyping methods like 3D printing or additive manufacturing. Now, complexity comes up a lot in the IoT world. Every time I think about this kind of complexity, I think about a quote from Ray Ozzie, Blues Wireless founder and CEO. It's something that he said long before starting Blues, but it is just as relevant today as it was in the software world when he originally said it. That quote is “Complexity kills. It sucks the life out of developers, it makes products difficult to plan, build, and test.” I'm guessing that many of you have heard that one before, and even if you haven't, that it resonates with you. It certainly does with me. In today's webinar, we're going to cover three innovations in the IoT space that address this complexity and help you get to a pilot faster. I'm going to cover the first and then I'll hand things over to Madison to cover the second and third aspects today. Then we'll come back and wrap things up with some live Q&As. Please do add your questions into the chat as we go along, and we'll be sure to cover those at the end.
Speaker: Brandon 02:34
First, let's talk about the problem with wireless IoT connectivity, an area rife with landmines and potholes, or as I like to call them, the strings of wireless IoT. These are the things that we developers cannot control, which make our lives difficult. They slow us down, cut off choices, and provide unnecessary duplication of effort. There are a number of these things, but I've observed four that tend to come up time and time again: difficult-to-program modems, too narrow or too wide guardrails, pitfalls with device lifecycle management, and finally, security as an afterthought. If you ever had to program a connectivity module with cryptic AT commands, you've experienced the strings of wireless IoT. Same if you've ever been told that you had to adopt your IoT vendor’s entire ecosystem down to the MCU, programming language, and IDE just to get your project online. Or if you put off activating that cellular IoT device because you didn't want to start the meter on a monthly data plan, because you'd have to pay for it whether you used the product or not. Or if you're forced to embed keys and insert certificates into your firmware in order to get your sensors to send data into your cloud applications.
Speaker: Brandon 3:56
We know the strings of wireless IoT well at Blues Wireless, because we've lived them in our own projects, and it's why we created the Notecard and Notehub.io. Our goal was to cut those strings of wireless IoT and create a product and experience that is simple to start but can scale up with you as your products go from one to many devices. It starts with the Notecard, a low power cellular and GPS module with cellular IoT connectivity in over 135 countries. The device comes with 10 years and 500 MB of data baked into the cost of the device—no monthly data plans, no activation fees. The price is on the tin, as they say, so you don't have to worry about that ticking clock when you start your project. Instead of spending time learning the labyrinth of AT commands unique to every modem, you can use JSON with a Notecard to do everything from configuring a device to adding sensor data and more.
With the Notecard, you can go from unboxing to sending any data you wish to be allowed in minutes via a secure cellular connection. Every Notecard includes keys for making a secure connection to our cloud services baked into the device at the point of manufacture, so there's no error-prone key rotation, or cloud-provisioning process—just power the Notecard up and start sending data. It knows where to go to phone home. In this demo, what we're basically doing is configuring that Notecard and starting to send that arbitrary data again, using that 100% JSON API and seeing that data sync to our cloud service.
Speaker: Brandon 5:32
Now, as for where the Notecard phones home, that's the Notehub.io cloud service, which is ready and waiting for your project data once you bring your devices online. Notehub.io is designed to be a thin middleware layer between the Notecard and your cloud applications, so we make it easy to route data out to your cloud application provider of choice, whether it's a cloud platform like AWS, or Azure, or Google Cloud Platform, or even a visualization service like Ubidots, Datacake, or Losant. There's a powerful set of tools and utilities here, and it all starts with that close connection between the Notecard and the Notehub service. Once that data has landed in your cloud, it's ready for you to build visualizations, manage physical assets, and make critical business decisions faster. We know that for many of you, the whole reason that you're building these applications in the first place is to get those answers, to get those visualizations, so you can actually manage your business. All told, the Notecard and Notehub.io can save you weeks of development time getting your devices and your clouds speaking the same language so you can focus on your actual solution. For instance, measuring water quality around your water treatment facilities, measuring air quality at schools and public spaces, or monitoring physical assets, regardless of where they're located. The important point here is that it allows you to focus on your solution, your sensors, and your cloud application, not all of the middleware that needs to come between making those two things actually speak together. If you're interested in purchasing a Notecard for your next project, you can grab one today at shop.blues.io or SparkFun and coming soon from Digi-key as well. Keep an eye out for that in the next couple of months.
Speaker: Brandon 7:24
Now we've talked about the Notecard and Notehub, so hopefully it's become clear that the IoT connectivity piece of this, when it comes to actually getting your sensors connected to your cloud services online securely, easily, Notecard and Notehub should be an answer that we hope that you would consider. But that hardware and the cloud services piece of an IoT solution is really just one component. When you're going from the bench to a pilot site, you also have to consider your physical materials. For this next section, I'm going to hand things over to Madison Jones to talk about two more innovations that will help you get your pilots deployed faster. Take it away, Madison.
Speaker: Madison Jones - Director of Additive at Scale - Axle Box
Thanks Brandon and everyone in Blues Wireless for having us on today. My name is Madison Jones, and I'll be talking a little bit about Additive at Scale and our capabilities, and then I'd like to introduce a special guest at the end of the topic. Like Brandon mentioned, there are a variety of skills and capabilities needed to take a concept from the pilot phase and then eventually to high volume production. Many of the developers and inventors that we work with are great at analyzing the users’ needs, designing a solution, sometimes developing a software platform or prototyping with a breadboard, however, these end users or clients of these IoT solutions then ask for a specific list or a long list of specifications that can include power management or battery life. That's where maybe a plug-and-play solar panel or a micro-USB port can come in, and then comes the data intervals. They may want to send data every three seconds, every three minutes, or every three days. Then there's sensor integration, which requires a separate PCB for interfacing. Last but not least, an enclosure, and this enclosure may need a certain IP, or Ingress Protection, rating. Maybe it needs to be fireproof or go through third-party testing for a Class 1 Division 1 or Class 1 Division 2 UL-Listed enclosure that can withstand harmful vapors and chemicals. Then, these end users want to stair step or scale up the manufacturing to make sure that the IoT solution is viable, and that's where Additive at Scale comes in. Additive at Scale is an end-to-end solution provider that offers engineering services and scale-up manufacturing services, so we have an electrical engineering group who can do that custom sensor integration and business logic. They typically will handle most of the design and fabrication of the PCBs, some software, firmware, web app development, and more. Then our mechanical engineering group can move you from no enclosure or off-the-shelf enclosure to a custom ruggedized solution that meets your client's desired form factor and specifications, and this includes design and/or reverse engineering, additive manufacturing, bridge tooling, and high volume injection molding. In developing technologies, Additive at Scale often finds that it takes a village or collaboration to bring these products to market, and we do that by leveraging strategic partnerships. We view Blues Wireless as our IoT data partner with communications and a device-to-cloud data pump solution, aka the Notecard. There's one more technology that brings lightning-fast capabilities to our manufacturing that I'd like to talk about, and that's Essentium. So Essentium and Additive at Scale bring together high speed extrusion and a portfolio of advanced engineering-grade materials to quickly and cost effectively take your IoT solution from concept to pilot stage. With that, I'd like to introduce a subject matter expert at Essentium, Brandon Sweeney. Thanks for joining us today, Brandon, take it away.
Speaker: Brandon Sweeney - Executive Vice President for Materials Research and Development - Essentium 11:22
Thank you, Madison, for inviting Essentium to be part of this webinar. Madison and the team at Additive at Scale have been our partner since Essentium first introduced the HSE high speed extrusion 3D printer. We're always blown away with the innovative ways that they use our HSE printing technology to get their customer ideas to market quickly. It's very impressive. Again, my name is Brandon Sweeney. I'm the Executive Vice President for Materials Research and Development here at a Essentium. I did want to take a few minutes today to discuss some of our materials portfolio and the HSE 3D printer and how those two things can combine together to really enhance the capabilities of the factory floor and getting new ideas to market quickly and really being able to innovate and stay at the speed of relevancy for developing new products. Today, I'm going to be talking about kind of three main things out of our filament portfolio, and it's really focused around the applications. The first is prototyping. Prototyping is how 3D printing has been used historically, but we're going to be talking about the HSE and how it can prototype faster. We can print at higher speeds, and we can get higher quality at those speeds, so your ideas come to reality and fruition faster than legacy 3D printing technologies have been able to achieve. We're also able to work with functional materials for prototypes. Just because something is a prototype doesn't mean that it isn't functional, or it doesn't need to be weather tested outdoors or dropped and tested the way that the product is intended to be used. We're entering into a new era of functional prototyping by having the right materials at hand in order to go deeper and evaluate a new product integration.
The other one is tooling: Tooling is a huge part of manufacturing. It's the stuff that makes the stuff, whether that's injection-molded tooling, thermoforming for blister packaging on products, or if it's a little bit more custom in terms of sheet forming or carbon fiber layup and being able to make the tools that are necessary to get into more exotic high-performance materials. The tooling is really sometimes what drives cost and lead time for getting new ideas to market. We have 3D printed materials that really address those needs. The other one is ESD safe materials for functional prototyping on electronic devices. As we look around us to the products that we interact with more and more, there's just electronics embedded in everything. As a part of that manufacturing and assembly process, there were many steps along the way where the product could have been damaged by building up electrostatic discharge.
The primary way to mitigate that is having appropriate materials that are electrically conductive and static dissipative or groundable, so you can mitigate and kind of bleed off that static charge so you're not damaging devices while you're manufacturing them. We see a huge use case for 3D printed materials that have that functional property built into them for manufacturing processes, so we're going to be talking about some of those materials on our portfolio today. The first thing I wanted to touch on was the Essentium HSE 3D printing technology. This is really kind of our answer to “What does 3D printing on the factory floor look like from a hardware perspective?” We learned a lot of lessons from team members who spent their careers working in the semiconductor manufacturing and automated assembly industries, so our platform is really built around those lessons using closed loop servo systems. They're able to communicate and log information and records at very high speeds and are able to close the loop around the quality of your extrusion. We have full feedback on all of our servo systems for temperature, force, and position. We're bringing a lot more data to the process, which actually allows us to go even faster and produce higher quality parts than is traditionally possible with FDM material extrusion style 3D printing. So that's kind of the backbone of the Essentium printer technology, and then when we combine that with some of the functional materials in our portfolio, it just really unlocks this next generation of additive manufacturing capabilities that allow innovators and engineers and designers to bring their ideas to fruition by combining high-performance materials, and a high speed, closed loop, high performance 3D printing platform together that's able to work with those materials.
We're also an open materials platform, so we don't restrict our users on what kind of materials they can use on our printers. We have an outstanding portfolio built out at Essentium. We make all our own materials here in this building in Austin, Texas. Really, at the end of the day, we leave big choices in the hands of the customers. If they need to work with materials that aren't in our portfolio, they're free to do so, and they're free to source their own materials. We can guarantee a higher level of reliability and a better user experience with the materials we've developed because we've put a lot of data behind those, but we're also not going to restrict you from making your own choices.
Speaker: Brandon Sweeney
When it does come to materials, some of the things that I'm going to go over is just the way that we look at our materials portfolio. We do have some broad categories of materials, general purpose materials, flexible materials, high temperature materials, fiber reinforced materials, and then ESD safe materials. Those are high level groupings of each of our subset of materials that we offer. Sometimes there's kind of cross pollination between those two—we have flexible materials that are ESD safe, and we have fiber reinforced materials that are also high temperature rated. Those kind of synergistic capabilities unlock new applications by combining those core material functional properties. Today, I'm really going to be focused on general purpose, high temperature, and ESD safe materials, because I believe those have the most applicability to what we've seen some of the applications that Blues Wireless has for prototyping new designs and new circuit designs and housings and enclosures and tooling and fixturing for those applications.
When we think about our entire material portfolio, usually we're thinking about the polymer pyramid. This is a way to kind of organize ourselves in terms of at the base, you've got these commodity materials. These are really common materials that we're used to and interacting with every day. It's the polypropylene, the PLAs, polystyrene, this is like consumer-packaging level plastics. Generally, these are good for prototyping, they're good for very light duty use, but if you need to get more functional, if you need to do in-product testing, that's going to involve impact or weathering outdoors or higher temperatures or chemical resistance, that's when we start climbing the ladder of the performance pyramid. We use higher performance materials that have more robust and durable chemistry to them. We also acknowledge that as you go up that pyramid, generally the price goes up as well, so we only want to climb up as high as needed in order to get the functional material properties that we need so that we still have a solution that's cost effective.
When we look at the entire landscape for applications, we really think about this in terms of the verticals that we're going after. In 3D printing, we generally tend to focus on the indirect and the direct use cases for printed parts. Indirect just means that it's typically the stuff that makes the stuff. Tooling, jigs fixtures, masking, and you know, there's a big need for this and 3D printing really shines in this area. There’s definitely a lot of use cases where it’s direct as well, and that printed part is actually going to end up on the product. Our friends at Make Safe Tech and Madison and his team have really been able to show some really cool applications of working with high performance materials for drones and other end use parts where that printed part is actually going to go on to the finished component and it needs to survive impact and temperature and durability because that's the way the finished product is going to be used.
Then on these indirect methods, where we're doing the stuff that makes the stuff, we need to make sure that the parts are going to survive that manufacturing process, or meet a specification that makes it okay to use for that application. Like the ESD safe materials that aren't going to build up static charge and damage components while we're assembling them. With this same look at the kind of applications that we like to put 3D printed parts into, we can also kind of remap that to the materials that are applicable for this sector. When we think about tooling and materials that can survive injection molding conditions and replace aluminum, we're going to materials that can survive the temperature and are strong enough and hard enough to endure those injection molding conditions. So HTN-CF25, our high temp nylon with carbon fiber, more exotic materials like polyphenylene sulfide that's carbon fiber reinforced, peaks and packs that are carbon fiber reinforced, these kinds of materials are going to survive those conditions. More than, you know, your typical PLA or ABS materials. Those are not going to be functional for injection mold tooling, because they just don't survive those temperatures. If I'm just going to be prototyping a new design, and I need a housing that's going to hold a circuit board, and then I'm going to assemble that in there and try to seal it up so it stays weatherproof, something like ABS could totally work for that. Or if you need some better UV resistance, then our PCTG co-polyester is also outstanding for something that's going to survive some outdoor weather ability, but it's very low cost, tough, rugged, durable, and it’s going to survive a lot of different end use cases. For those applications, where I'm printing a housing or prototyping a new design, I'm doing some fit checking, maybe I want to iterate on my CAD and see how something's going to fit together. General Purpose materials are usually very good for that.
We can certainly print those on the HSE at very high speeds, but I will say that things get really interesting when we can push beyond that. You know, it's pretty common in the marketplace to print with PLA and ABS. Where we see a lot of interesting things with customers being able to unlock new use cases is when we're combining the speed of the HSE along with those functional properties. With that, we actually have a lot of high performance carbon fiber reinforced thermoplastics in our portfolio that just go beyond. The carbon fiber helps to stiffen up the polymer and gives it a lot of rigidity, a lot of impact resistance, creep resistance, so we can actually 3D print sheet metal forming tools, we can print injection molding tools, blow molding tools, thermoforming tools out of these high temperature carbon fiber reinforced thermoplastics. The carbon fiber that's in those polymers also helps to machine those components. If we need to do any kind of post processing, sanding, machining, and polishing of those components for injection mold tooling, it actually machines a lot better by having the carbon fiber in the polymer, and you get much better surface finishes.
It also increases the extended use temperature. The heat deflection temperature—that continuous use temperature—of the polymer is really extended by that reinforcement of the carbon fiber. It helps to really stiffen up the polymer at elevated temperatures. With our high temperature nylon with 25% carbon fiber that has a heat deflection temperature of 180 degrees Celsius, you can do 3D printing of mold cavities and we can do polypropylene and ABS and other kind of generic entry-level materials that are really common for new product designs. We can print those cavities for injection mold tooling. We have stuff that looks like this. This was an automotive sector application where we printed a tool and then finished it with a CNC mill. It has integrated water cooling channels in there, so we can get good cycle times out of it, and this is a fairly large tool for an automotive arm panel. So we're constantly innovating and developing new materials that are applicable for this kind of use case. We've got new materials coming out later this year that are directly targeted at higher temperature tooling materials, so stay tuned for further updates on those. When we get into ESD safe materials, we've got a whole line of materials that are modified with carbon nanotubes. This inherently gives that polymer electrical conductivity so that it can dissipate static charge, so it doesn't build up and damage sensitive electronic devices while they're being manufactured. Or if you're going to print a housing or an assembly for it, it can protect those components in their use case.
ESD safe materials, these are materials that are commonly used on the factory floor when assembling electronic components. There's a lot of standards around this. I can point you to other webinars that we have if you're interested in learning more. Really, it's all about having materials that have inherent electrical conductivity in them so they can dissipate static charge and not damage stuff. This fixture right here is designed to hold a circuit board while it's being manufactured so you can place components on it. It's ESD safe, so it doesn't transfer charge over to that circuit board material and damage the integrated circuits, which are sensitive to that. That's also useful for mitigating explosion risks, so if you're working around fuels, solvents, or industrial processing conditions. Mitigating static charge in those conditions is also very useful so they don't create dangerous conditions and ignite those with a static discharge event. So that's a quick overview of our materials portfolio. You can always head to our website at Essentium.com to learn more. I also just wanted to thank Madison for inviting us to this webinar. We hope that you enjoy the content. With that, I'll hand it back over to Madison to wrap us up.
Speaker: Madison 29:40
Thank you, Brandon Sweeney. That was very insightful. Appreciate your time. I’d like to reiterate or touch on a couple of those points that you discussed, and one of those is prototyping using those functional materials. I like to tell people that we aren't printing Pikachus and paperweights at Additive at Scale. We have applications in the drone industry, like you mentioned, the agricultural industry, the oil and gas industry, the public safety and defense industry, and more. One of these applications I'm really passionate about. As a matter of fact, Additive at Scale has recently been awarded an STTR phase one grant through the Air Force, and we're partnered with A&M University to do research on a new concept called Bridge Tooling. Bridge Tooling is using additive manufacturing with injection molding indirectly, and that's where we plan on 3D printing these cores and cavities that are used in the injection molding process, so we're not looking at 3D printing a whole mold, just the negative space or the core and cavity of that geometry, and we plan on getting 50 to 100 shots before we start seeing degradation or start losing dimensional accuracy on these inserts. This would save the client thousands of dollars and weeks if not months of lead times that are associated with typical steel molds or aluminum tools. So that's another application we're really excited and passionate to be working on at Additive at Scale, and a service we can be providing in Q1 of 2022. Again, if you're looking at connecting devices and doing sensor integration, I highly recommend Blues Wireless and their Notecards and Notecarriers that we frequently use. If you're considering indirect or direct additive manufacturing solutions, again, I recommend Essentium and their advanced portfolio of materials. Again, my name is Madison Jones, the Director of Additive at Scale. If you're looking to use our services, please email me at the email provided or find me on LinkedIn. Thanks again.
Speaker: Brandon Satrom
Thanks, Madison. Very informative. Now we're about to transition to a live Q&A for this next portion of the webinar, so please use that webinar Q&A interface to ask a question of me or Madison. If you prefer, you can reach me or Madison at the email addresses above. Please bear with us as we switch to that live Q&A mode—there might be a blip or two in the matrix.