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Magnet Factory Update!

The injection molding process gets closer to production

By September 30, 2020 News

Just a quick update from the factory making the Magnets. They’re still cutting the “tool”, which is the manufacturing term for the steel mold that actually forms the plastic parts. If you’re not familiar with the injection molding process, as we weren’t when we started this, molten plastic is injected into the steel mold and allowed to cool. Then the two halves of the tool are pulled apart, and voilá, Magnet parts.

Tool Or Die

In actual practice it’s super tricky. Not every shape you can imagine can be molded by two halves that pull cleanly apart without interference. Ideally, the shape needs to be designed with that kind of symmetry in mind. Luckily for us, the Magnet is itself parts that pull apart, so it actually works pretty well for injection molding.

Still, the factory had to add sliders that poke through the mold to create the interior cavities that allow the parts to slide into each other, and this adds cost and complexity. Here’s a CAD screenshot of what the tool looks like. You can see parts floating in space in there, somewhere. It’s all a little bit voodoo to us but very cool:

Another X factor is that the tool is intentionally designed to make the parts fit together a little loosely at first. This is for fine-tuning purposes. If you think about how a mold works, it’s an inverse image of the object you’re making. If the cavities in the mold are a little too small, the part will be small, and the tolerances with any mating parts will be floppy. You can always cut away some steel in the tool to make the resulting object larger. But once you remove that steel, you can’t put it back. So you’d rather start with parts that are too skinny and make them fatter, rather than the other way around.

Updated Timeline

If the factory can finish cutting the mold in the next couple weeks, they can actually run a few units this month to see which dimensions are still too loose. After that, it’ll take a couple more weeks of shaving down the mold to get the parts fitting snugly without being too tight. By the middle of November the tool should be ready to start doing the actual production run, which they can ship to us toward the end of the year.

That means we may not actually get them until perhaps early January. Given that this is our first stab at making a physical product, we want to hand-check every Magnet and make sure they work before sending them off to you. How quickly we can do that is how quickly we get them in the mail.

So… our best guess right now is that we’re looking at the end of January to start shipping these. We know this a little later than we projected, and we apologize for that. But this simply due to the complexity of the process, most of which is unfortunately out of our hands. If that projection changes we’ll also let you know as soon as we know.

The next time we hear from the factory should be when the tool is done and they’re able to run a few test parts. If we get any photos we’ll send those along. Otherwise, our first contact with a real-life Magnet will likely be in November when they get the tolerances down and ship us a few of the final version. So we’re getting there.

Thanks again if you’ve backed the Magnet, and stay tuned for more. Won’t be long!