Circuit Cubes: From China With Love


On July 27, 2017, Tenka Labs Engineering Product Manager Nick Raymond sent our team this dispatch from China, where he was living while overseeing the first run of our Circuit Cubes products. Recently graduated from UC Davis with his masters in engineering, Nick took the job over from Tenka Labs co-founder John Schuster, who had previously spent nearly six weeks in China. Our team worked with the Musical fabrication plant and their manager Kenny to ensure our product is produced to standards.

This is adapted from Nick's email.

Wanted to give you all an update on our progress here. Been a very productive few days!

Production is ramping up, and the Cubes look GREAT! John and Kenny did all the hard work these past weeks setting up things here in China, and the Musical team is now very knowledgeable about our Cubes and how they should function. This is a really important piece of the puzzle — and I can’t stress this enough — it has been equal parts teaching/engineering to get the Musical team familiar with our product and John has done a fantastic job making this happen.

Monday/ Tuesday July 24-25>>> Final Engineering Pilot (FEP) on the Motor and LED Cubes. This was the last step to fine-tune the assembly line and work with the QC team to ensure they would check the dimensions, quality, and function of each Cube according to our standards. There are approximately 15-20 steps to assemble each Cube, and five of those steps are checks to measure with calipers, perform a function test, and visually inspect as the Cube goes down the line. 

Production of the Battery Cube did not yet start. We were still waiting on a few parts.

 Bottom of LED Cube. The silk screen can have very fine details.

Bottom of LED Cube. The silk screen can have very fine details.

Wednesday July 26>>> Motor and LED Cube ramp-up. We doubled the number of production people working on these two Cubes. Started work on the Battery Cube.

Production Update, 5pm Wednesday:

Quality Checks (QC) - this is on the production line

Quality Assurance (QA) - additional checking, more critical, to approve before shipment and ensure QC is doing their job

• 4,000 each Motor and LED Cubes need QA.

• 800 Battery Cubes need QA.

This is before the evening shift took over. We are running AM and PM shifts.

I've been working with the assembly line managers to check the quality of the ultrasonic weld seam and ensure the Cubes function correctly. We use the WeChat app to send text messages to each other to communicate. The app has built-in Chinese <> English translation in real time! It is AMAZING.

So far it looks great. This is a very professional production line and I am really happy with the quality. No scratches or blemishes due to ultrasonic fixtures, and we switched to using double-sided tape to hold the metal shims in place to prevent any rattle noises. No more messy glue. The tape is TOY SAFE. Before the Cubes get welded together, we test that the circuit works correctly and that the magnets and shims are all in the correct location to ensure we do not weld a defective Cube. 

We started FEP on the Battery Cube today. I was at the line to help with inspection. By now all the QC people know the drill and we were up and running very quickly. The updated corner contacts that John worked on are working flawlessly. Very consistent shape and size - and best of all NO HAND MODIFICATION needed.

Each station along the assembly line is specialized to do a task. Jigs and fixtures were created to ensure each step is reliable and repeatable. This was done by Musical's team of Industrial Engineers, an entirely different team from the engineers that John and I work with to design the Cubes. 

 Custom fixtures help operator solder on LED component.

Custom fixtures help operator solder on LED component.

Each day, we use a laser to etch a "Day Code" into EACH Cube. This allows for traceability. Below is an example of the size and location, but note this was just a test. The real day code is almost invisible unless you look very closely. 

 Example of day code. We used a really HIGH power setting for testing so it would be visible.

Example of day code. We used a really HIGH power setting for testing so it would be visible.

WERCSMART. As I understand it, we are waiting for a battery safety certification from a third party. The background: One year ago, the Chinese government mandated that battery vendors go through third party verification to obtain this special safety certificate. This is in response to the big Samsung battery disaster. In the past, battery vendors just sold all kinds of batteries without much oversight or safety regulation. After the Samsung event, the government cracked down so now even kids’ toys with a coin cell battery must undergo this third party certification step to get formal documentation—and it seems this formal document is needed to complete WERCSMART. A year ago this was a much easier thing to obtain, apparently.

We are trying to expedite this process. I was told that best case is Friday, worst case is next Friday that the third party grants us this certificate. I do not know if this is ALL that is needed for WERCSMART, we still may need to complete the forms online? I'm not entirely up-to-date on this task, but wanted to share what little news I had. Again, no official ETA yet.

TEAM: I want you to know that I am very happy with the quality of the Cubes and the professional work here. I am really impressed and believe that we will be able to offer a fantastic product. It has not been easy and we sure as hell are not yet at the finish line, but please know that the Cubes are AWESOME. John and I are working feverishly to get the rest of the parts sent as quickly as possible and we will provide more details when we have them and will continue to keep TeamWork updated.

Thanks for reading,
Nick arrived back in the States on Aug. 1 and the maiden shipment of Circuit Cubes left for their first destination, the New York Museum of Modern Art's gift shop, on Aug. 7, 2017.

 Conference room away from home.

Conference room away from home.