The Fan Ce Blog

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September has arrived and whilst we have built some finished goods stock of all models we will be making up components on the lathes. A shame that the local recycled metal yards have no suitable scrap aluminium to convert – the last of the scrap bar stock was converted in August with good results.

So this morning we took delivery of several hundreds pounds worth of new bar stock – having had the practice on the scrap material – the processing of decent quality material should be fairly straight forward. The main difference is that at 3000mm length & 3600mm I was not going to be able to get this into the workshop and feed it  into the saw. The supplier offered two free handling cuts per stock bar.  At 1500mm long the half lengths are far easier to maneuver – a few minutes at the saw and each length was cut down to 500mm ready for turning down the diameter to the required size for the fan hubs.

The longer lengths of 76mm diameter bar stock for the base discs still weigh a fair amount and as such will require some considerable care in handling the cutting down to 15mm blank lengths. Every dent on the outer girth requires more machining off to give a clean finish.  The heat generated on the band saw without coolant is fine for the initial 15 minutes of cutting after which the stock length is too hot to hold without gloves – slow and steady with two lengths alternating every 10 minutes gets over the issue of heat.

Despite all the handling issues it still works out far more cost effective for the conversion of the bar stock into blanks rather than buying in pre-cut or finished components – the production volumes being in the hundreds rather than the 1000’s at this stage to minimize the cash required for the business.

The New Website !
Well work is underway. A little later than I had hoped falling as it does at a a time when the schools start up again and school runs, homework etc etc eat into the available time. I foresee some late nights and weekends playing catch up.

I have in mind to video some of the production work and include sequences on the website and here within this blog to provide a perspective of the micro business …… just need a digital video camera for a few days ….

Nice to see the existing website interest picking up for the season – sales for Sept’ are ahead of Augusts already, encouraging and rewarding to see the investment funds slowly being replaced.

Now where can I get my hands on a Nikon DSLR with video facility ?

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Getting Ready for the new Season

It is the start of August, the days remain warm and last night was the first one to fall below 10degrees since the ‘summer’ – a couple of orders have arrived and been fulfilled from the stock.

 Dilemma time – How many Fans will we sell this season ?

  • The same as last year, more or less ?
  • Is the next day service really adding customers or just cost to the business ?
  • Do we add to, Reduce or maintain the existing range of products ?

From a business point of view, the results for last year were encouraging, sustainable going forward as the Capital Outlay has been made and pretty near re-paid. The stock position is ‘ok’ given last years sales for the 3rd qtr. But maybe sales will increase.. maybe not ?

The Remaining Question – Do we want to carry on with this little project of ours ? We have pretty much resolved the product manufacturing issues and can manufacture far in excess of demand at its expected level. Supply of components has settled down and other than a few ‘postage’ cost increases the cost base is much as it was.

All in all, “If” sales are as last year, the business will perform well as the fixed overhead costs remain unchanged and the depreciation will be recovered within a further 100 unit sales.

So, we will see how the next season progresses and work on similar volume of sales as last year, having resolved most of the issues encountered last year we can increase output pretty quickly.

In order to make the project a little more ‘slick’ we have invested in a new website which we hope to have on line in the next 6 weeks. To coincide with this, some new branding and product support (instructions etc) will be brought together.

Stock of the ‘Black Krome’ variants have been produced all be it in limited numbers – sold on a first come first served basis as last year.

Some further component production required to provide a cushion for any increase in order intake and then it should be a ‘smooth’ ride to January.

Development of new variants has taken a back seat much of the year as development work was completed to remove production bottle necks, seeing how each added option has increased the stock required we are now looking only to add products for different applications rather than ‘ premium / economy range etc. As with all things this may change at any time 🙂

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Where did the last 6 months go ?

It is now the end of June.

Sales began to slow end of March gave a quick spurt again in April and then steady through May & June … so seasonal yes but not dropping to zero which is what I had expected come the thaw !

My thoughts have now turned to building stock of the lower cost components in advance of what I hope to see as a busy Autumn / Winter season. The plan being to build the sub-assembly stock and then order the more expensive parts in medium sized batches to complete a minimum stock holding and avoid the delays experienced in the last year. That being said, no orders were cancelled or lost as far as I am aware as a result of my not having  stock….but then would I know ?

A couple of developments underway, the first being to get on line with the manufacture of the fan hubs from bar stock and complete the cost reduction of the base production. Both projects involve cutting the bar stock to length prior to turning out the product on my metal lathe.

Having spent a few hrs cutting 3″ diameter aluminium bar into 15mm disk blanks for the bases and then hrs cleaning out the swarf from my large vertical bandsaw. I decided to look into the options for alternative methods of cutting the stock. Additional Capital expenditure on new kit was to be avoided as reserves were being held of working capital / stock – low cost used bits of kit were of dubious reliability and borderline scary in use – YouTube research to the rescue – I found video footage of a DIY metal hacksaws big enough for my requirements and small enough for my budget.

The downside of this £60 investment is the huge under estimation of time required to complete the manufacture of the various parts required…. some of which I am still making on the lathe & by hand. That being said, the learning experience has been great and I now have a entire new section of working skills to use words I am unable to put into print for fear of offense.   The years I spent hustling a department of engineers to get a move on …. I can only now really appreciate the fact that certain things just take time when its a one off !

Of course the low budget precluded my buying much in the way of new bar stock to size, so the local steel scrap yard has become a new favorite trip – exchanging bags of separated metal swarf for new lumps of rusty metal to convert into more swarf !

The new power hacksaw, is currently awaiting my finishing the vice and then base stand and electric cut off switch . The good thing is that it is already cutting the steel parts from bar stock for me to then turn or file to size etc. Whilst not likely to be faster than the bandsaw, it will be less expensive to run (£1 per blade v’s £35 for a start) with its 250w motor instead of the 1750w bandsaw drive – importantly, once set off, it will cut through and then stop without supervision leaving me to work … well once I finish the electrics’  – whereas the bandsaw required my hold the bar stock under pressure against the blade throughout the cut – hot hands (no coolent) and quite hard work after an hour.

This lot will enable me to recover the lost margin from the postage hike by Royal Mail and the international postage for the TEG units, saving as it should best part of a £5 per fan assembly.

Pictures to follow.
But these are the two I like most of all :-

This because it just looks under control, however, getting hold of a suitable reduction gearbox proved troublesome – at £65 plus for a well used 3phase motor an dworm gearbox or lots of work making pulleys etc. So I went for this, not least because I could buy a set of plans to later ignore !

The chap is quick to reply to email and offers online support. Not one of lifes talkers if the videos are anything to go by. His other videos are very well put together and a good source of ‘how to’ as have been those from Tubal Cain on all things machine shop. The following video solved a problem for me of cutting very low angle tapers by accident. It was driving me mad.

I have to say, the accent helps soothe the troubles away.

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Jan 2013
Well its getting near to the anniversary of the first trials of my DIY Ecofan (which yes I know is a registered trademark of the nice chaps in Canada full marks for that) – but at the time of my trials I had no idea I would be going into production.

The festive season at the end of 2012 was busy with orders still arriving on the 25th & 26 and over the New Year.

As things stand I am up to date with all orders, but painfully low on stock of the Fan-C, awaiting new supplies next week.

Meanwhile, new supplies of our little drive unit have …shall we say disappointed: supplied without tapped holes as can be seen in the image below. Whats more is the holes are too large to be tapped out and the case metal too thin to up a size. I am now awaiting news from the supplier to see if he can exchange for the correct units.

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As I type, the snow is frozen outside and the workshop a little below freezing point 🙂 I notice the hens snigger everytime I walk past wrapped up for assembly whilst they sit snug in feather coats !

Website hits continue to roll on with the weekends being most productive, small dips on evenings when the BBC run something new and interesting for a change.

More to follow when I hear from the motor supplier.

Happy New Year, hope you have a good 2013 and thanks for reading this Blog – please leave some comments 🙂
Mat.

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The cat, ‘Tiddler’ providing a mouse mat facility as I process orders, it is a family business after all !

The Christmas Season

So December kicked in and all geared up with stock of each product I was positive all was covered.   That lasted approx 10 days into December, stock has gone out and re-orders placed for product – especially the coolers. Fortunately the stock of bases and hubs has held out well – looking back the investment in a good volume ahead of the game was a wise / lucky … one.

I will take a look back at sales volumes over the last 6 months to see how the growth has been. It may provide an indication of the potential for next years season. I suspect demand to fall post xmas, but then it has exceeded my predictions month on month from the outset. My worries of cash being tied up well into the new year are lessoned as the additional sales volumes have provided some timely working capital and refilled the coffers …. a bit – it may almost be sustainable on its own 🙂

Sub assemblies of drives & mount brackets are ready to go and with the exception of a couple  of dozen fan hub disks which require turning, stove top fan-c and fan-ce volumes can be turned on as soon as the coolers arrive later today or tomorrow. Next is the TEGs which we will have to re-order due to the 2-3 week lead time. We may run out just ahead of xmas we may not.

We managed to secure a further dozen chrome coolers (the Black Chrome units) for Fan-C production – which is good as NONE of the coating companies have come back with a quote following my requests and calls. Staggering, just staggering. Seams the recession may have left fewer companies but those left are too busy to follow up leads or the assumption is it would be too difficult and not worth the bother.

So next plan of attack is to try to see if I can get a local ‘like minded’ individual to undertake the investment in a DIY coating facility, similar to that used for the gold plating everything from iphones to pens etc. How to find one is another matter. I would undertake this myself, but space constraints and other ventures preclude my developing this area. If we can’t resolve this they will be dropped from the portfolio – shame given its been such a popular product.

New Product Development has been slow, other commitments have taken their toll on progressing the prototypes and to be honest, I wanted a break from Fans for  a few days. Having a couple of commissions in the wings for Oak Bowls I took the opportunity to clear the lathe for a few days creative work. More orders followed as I posted images across social media so a couple of days work is now a week.

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Time for wrapping and packing , then off to the postoffice with last nights orders. Then back to the lathe.

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Up until now all the bases have been made from purchased precut billets of aluminium which are then machined by the subcontractor or since last month myself. Having got new quotes for finished bases to the new drawings; I decided that I should undertake the machining myself on the Boxford AUD ..

Having purchased 1500mm of 75mm diameter Aluminium bar stock from a scrap metal merchant (via a very nice chap called Keith !) a couple of weeks back (a real deal providing I could either cut it down myself or borrow a sawing unit to do it at little cost) I set about setting up my  Wadkin C6 bandsaw to try a few test cuts….

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How I wished mine looked like this – alas I rebuilt mine from a scrapped unit out of a skip at a factory closure, no table, blade guides or fence. But for free what could I say ?

It now sports a 600 x 900mm x 30mm thick solid steel table, a set of decent guides and shares a fence with my old startrite table saw. It also runs a single phase 2kw motor and has a very dented set of guards thanks to the skip entry and exit ! A rather effective blade guard fashioned from Ali’ chequer plate completes the unit.

What I needed to do was to guide a 1500mm by c25kg length of bar stock under the saw in such a way that it would cut true, not spin the bar, twist the cut or result in my losing finger tips etc. I decided to build up a sled jig which would allow me to both clamp the bar to a fence, run it along the guide dado in the bandsaw table and also an additional guide down the saw table free side.

First cut was 550 mm off the end of the bar – to make things a little less long for handling.  The next question was that of saw blade selection. A couple of years back I came across Ian John  – Store Owner at Tuff Saws  http://tuffsaws.co.uk/ 

Now Ian is one of those guys that you know he knows what he is talking about and can trust. I have purchased quite a few bandsaw blades from Ian in the past and can only say that every last one has been perfect for the job in hand be it cutting up big heavy Oak wet logs or air dried oak cabinet joints. So I dropped Ian an email Sunday lunch time, I got a reply a couple of hours later … get the idea 🙂

I ordered a 4 tpi super hard carbon blade on his recommendation. Meanwhile I searched the workshop for a pack of old blades I dug out of the skip and found an unused 8tpi carbon steel blade which whilst 3/4inch wide looked like it would do the job to get things started while I awaited Tuff Saws best.

I vacuumed out all the saw dust form the saw behind the doors, striped and cleaned the blade guides and lubed with the new oil can for the Boxford 🙂 All set up; guides adjusted and blade tensioned and running true to the sled face,  I cut the bar stock – nice and steady with light thumb pressure. Noise asside which was not great but different to the wood cutting noise, all went quite well…

The bar in two I checked the cut ends with an engineers square – less than 0.3mm deviation from true – perfect for minimum facing up on the lathe, less scrap and time at the lathe. I adjusted the length stop and then set the shorter length of bar stock up for the first disk cut. 30 disks later and all well except for my getting a numb thumb from the vibration.  I varied cutting pressure and didn’t get much difference in speed but lots of heat and more deviation so kept things slow and steady – I will finish the short length cuts in the morning and then re-clean the saw down to ensure the aluminium particles go into the scrap bin, then its on with the turning.

Meanwhile, sales continue to hold up with the HT modifications proving to have opened up the market. 

Investment has now been fully recovered and at last materials are being purchased from revenue streams rather than continual cash injections to meet the growing demand from stock. I expect that there will be a further demand blip ahead of the festive season followed by a slowing down for the end of the cold season … but who knows for sure ?

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Mid September we took the plunge to invest in some equipment to help speed up the prototype production of fan hubs and bases not only for the HT version but also the two new products being developed in the background … top secret couldn’t possibly tell you more at this time without then killing you !

Having searched for what would provide the best degree of flexibility within the available floor space (5ft x 3ft of workshop floor) I plumbed for a centre lathe. Then it was down to either  a new chinese unit from Chester Machine Tools or something from the used market.  The key feature for my mind was to have a powered cross feed to enable me to make good clean facing cuts on the bases – this sealed the fate of the Chester units as the footprints were too large as was the price tag.  I got a small degree of satisfaction when I discovered an old English make and on line forum for owners / users http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BoxfordLathe-UserGroup/

My Boxford AUD, purchased via ebay from a School in Sandbach took 6 lads to lift it into the workshop after my virtually stripping all down to lesson the load.  It now sports a bright red coat of paint, single to three phase inverter and I have stripped down and rebuilt the cross slide, saddle assembly to ensure smooth cross cutting.  Having not used a metal lathe since I was 15yrs old and doing Metalwork O Level at a Grammer School – it was surprising how much I could recall (very little !) The wood turning of the last 5 years has helped to a degree as far as tool grinding etc. 

A new Chinese 125mm dia’ chuck was purchased, as the 100mm chuck wouldn’t open to take the 75 m base blanks for machining.  The frustrating thing was that the new chuck only just takes them with the jaws sticking out 18mm !  So I looked and found a used 5″ Bernard & Pratt 3 jaw scroll chuck – lovely bit of kit unfortunately on the wrong backplate for my lathe – so then we had to make a new backplate from a part machined blank.  This was proper engineering,  working to 0.0005″ for a fit !  I managed after a few hours to get the location plate boss machined into the chuck backing plate.  Then all that was required was to drill and tap through the chuck body M8 – a tight fit through the old imperial holes but when complete it runs true as a nut on the Boxford – where-as the 4 jaw scroll chuck from RDG which cost twice the price of the used B&S runs out of true … quite a bit – something I will try to resolve when time permits

To finish things off, a spare set of inside/outside jaws and some soft jaws also from ebay . Oh , then of course there was the cutting tooling, quick change tool posts, spanners, allen keys etc etc and Oil Can…. all that was left was to learn how to turn …. and determine what the final design of the HT Fan-Ce base would be. Now I had ample time to make samples for testing.

Having now turned a lot of  bases from sawn billets and machined all of the older bases into the new design it all seams to be going fine (kiss of death). I should add, we purchased a milling bracket, collet set and tooling to ‘get the job done right’ !

Quite a chunk of additional investment over and above the outlay for the lathe & power conversion. But its 75% paid back already so no bad thing !

Sales in October were strong – well over the total sold from the start of the year through to Sept’. November is looking good, as the HT base and some dircet mails to previously found clients looking for a HT version have all resulted in sales. The additional costs, + VAT and recovery of postage costs not previously allowed for have resulted in a substantial price hike – which with the increase in sales numbers has taken my by surprise – economics A level I’m sure sugguested higher prices push demand down – unless we have now entered the real of  ‘good of ostentation’ !

It has not been all good news, we have had a few returns – notable of which was one set of charred remains which were returned apparently not the result of the fan being exposed to temperatures over 200 degrees C.  The fan blades were gone, the copper work looked like that of a twenty year old immersion heater – the soldered tips had migrated – the TEG cooked even the Teflon coated wires had melted. Quite a sad mess – ALL the returns are as a result of high temperature exposure and the resultant TEG failure. With the exception of the Charred remains, all units have been repaired and returned at cost – clients picking up the bill for the new TEG and my changing the base to the new HT version as a preventative measure.

As I type, another order for a Fan-Ce Black HT has been paid for – leaving me out of stock when they arrive already !

Nice position to be in though.

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Nov 6th 2012

Time has wizzed by since the last post / update.

Having made various versions of base profiles and designs to overcome the excessive heat exposure on some stove tops and having thrown the towel in on a few occasions .. or rather toys out the pram !
After quite a few months we found a solution which was both effective and cost efficient.

Armed with pages of data (well a dvd anyway) logged from thermocouples recording both hot plate temperature and base top temperatures (TEG exposure Temp), Fan RPM and motor voltage and current , Tony Gospel arrived at our premises to repeat the tests and put the project to bed with a successful result.

First problem was moving the 600 mm x 600 mm Steel Hot Plate into  safe position within the workshop – quite a heavy lump of equipment. Once installed on heat proof materials with plenty of head room and free air around the unit was brought upto temperature.  Now anyone that knows the workshop knows its not heated – so the 6 degree C air temperature was not helping with the heating up !  After a couple of hours the plate had just about managed 395 degrees – however initial tests of the same fan assembly were concerning as they HT base did not appear to be preventing the TEG exposure exceeding 210 degrees.

We were troubled to say the least ? why with all the same equipment and test subjects were the results repeated in the Lab in Nottingham not repeating here ?  Trying to salvage the day, we set up the Hot Plate to 350 degrees C which it held quite happily, we tested multiple base samples / fan combinations to ensure that normal manufacturing tolerances were proven. The net result, well not the 400 degree C exposure we wanted but at 350 degrees C the TEG exposure was 190 degrees C.

In our view this would cover the vast majority of Stove Top Plate Temperatures. After the heating kit had cooled sufficiently to handle it was loaded up and Tony left me to convert the stock of Fan-C & Fan-Ce over to the new HT  base design….. once i had made the first batch.

As of November 1st, all products shipped have been HT versions. Additional improvements include High Temperature adhesive for fan blade to hub & drive plus grub screw amongst others.

Meanwhile, we have managed to secure a stock of the popular Black Fan-C bodies and these have sold as fast as i make them up. The Fan-Ce in black on the other hand is a rare beast and attracts a premium when the units become available – the additional costs in building these special order products will soon preclude sales….. or maybe not ? The current units of which I have two pre-ordered at just shy of £200 and a third to hold as stock.

It is a shame I have as yet drawn a blank when it comes to finding a nickel chrome plating service prepared to undertake the operation – a new search must now be high on the list of things to do, in order to supply this niche market with a select product.

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This image taken by Tony Gospel from the Environmental Technology Centre University of Nottingham shows a Fan-C airflow test underway.  The results demonstrated upto 200 cu mtr/hr at full speed, not bad for a small stove top fan  under 6″ tall. If I recall that Hot Plate burnt out after testing and a new larger unit was purchased for the test program – thankfully I never had to pay the bill.

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August Already !

This was my deadline for getting stock together in time for the September ‘rush’ or autumnal season when I believe order volumes will increase… well the date by which I had to decide if I was going to invest in the parts and materials to make the stock.

Never one to shy away from an ‘acceptable’  risk where I believe there will be a suitable return, I have pumped cash into the business and placed orders sufficient to meet my expected demand.  Ok so not exactly scientific in approach for forecasting etc. But a considered approach all the same.
Worst case scenario – I am left with stock which may take some time to sell – but even at current levels this will only be 6 months – surely clients will buy more in the winter than the summer months ?

The ‘Add’ campaign has been extended in duration and reach – now covering most of northern Europe – I figure if I can reach Australia via the Navitron (see earlier posts) site then Norway, Denmark, etc should be pretty simple.

Started sending out inquiries for some specialist coating to determine the options for a ‘bespoke service’ – to develop a specific range for Trade not available on-line. In such way I hope that retail outlets will then set their own price in accordance with my Trade price to them and not shy away due to low margins competing with on line prices. Who knows ?

Managed to destroy my first TEG module whilst assembling a special fan – the fragile ceramic case cracked and whilst the unit still operated it was not right so the fan was taken apart and the unit replaced with a little less vigor when tightening the clamping screws. Frustrating given the component costs and wasted time. Lets hope its a lesson I remember 🙂

Am now on the lookout for some nice colored cherry for the central fan disks – the last batch has been used up / scrapped due to shake running through the sections.  Most of my remaining stock is still drying out and lacks the range of colors I like to see.  I have some pretty looking yew so may in fact try this as an alternative.

Must add some new images as the blog is looking a bit text and more text at present.

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