Thursday, April 19, 2018

WatUR: How It's Made

PresURver
I'm almost ready to sell my new version of the Royal Game of Ur. Thanks to Chris Warnock and his computer controlled laser cutter I have very sharp cases and unique dice and stones that match my board.
Laser marked dice
Chris sends me the dice and stones after they're etched and I color in the lines one at a time by hand. The dice I do with gel enamel that I brush into the grooves then I wipe off the excess on scrap cardboard. (The inside of cereal boxes) Then I cure it under a UV lamp before going on to the next side.

The stones are a bit harder as they are double convex. I've experimented with a lot of different materials and methods and finally came up with a way that I'm going to keep to myself for now because it took me a really long time to come up with it and I'm not ready for somebody else to copy me.

I got quotes for custom molded dice but even at quantities of 2000 they are still more expensive than laser cutting blanks. And they would have rounded corners and not look as nice. I am determined to get my head in this repetitive task game and learn how to be fast at production work. So I only bought enough for the prototype boards I had for the first run.

The nylon fabric I use for the case comes on 60" wide rolls at over $9 a yard. I could only afford the raw materials to make 15 full sets in my first run. (I can't use fabric from the fabric store because it's folded and that fold will not come out of nylon. Only the 60" wide rolled fabric from industrial sources will work. The added advantage of this high priced fabric from Seattle is that it doesn't reek like all the fabric from JoAnn.)

I went through over 10 design iterations before I finalized the PresURver pattern that I sent to Chris for laser cutting. I heard about a new industrial standard process of bonding instead of sewing and wanted to try it out. Bonding is like gluing fabric together with a strip of adhesive between two pieces of fabric. It's heated under pressure to make the seam. I have some expensive bras that are bonded instead of sewn. It makes a smooth seam that doesn't chafe. I don't have the specialized expensive industrial machinery to do bonding fast and efficiently, but I can mimic the results using products for sale at my local craft store, namely Pellon EZ-Steam II. I can still peel it apart though, so it's just like basting. I still have to sew everywhere.
Laser cut star with bonding material
Chris cut circles of the sheet style EZ-Steam with the laser. Then he used a laser-cut template to locate them on rectangles of nylon ready to go in the laser bed. The laser cuts the outline of the star shape, sealing the edge of the nylon fabric with heat with the added security of the bonding material preventing any unraveling.

When the fabric gets back to me in the mail I apply the gold circle, also laser cut, to the back of the fabric. I have a special iron with no holes for steam that I use to bond the gold and black fabric. I made a two layer canvas mat for my Fireslate workbench so I can put all my weight on the iron to press the fabric together. I can only use low heat because it's nylon. I feel like the pressure is critical for this reason.

I mark the lines of the star on the front with a water soluble fabric pencil using a stencil pattern also cut with the laser. Then I sew the lines with 100% polyester outdoor rated heavy thread. I use a Singer 301 sewing machine from 1951 which makes exceptionally straight stitches.


I sew the 4 main star points first in one continuous line then go back and do the short points. As I finish each point I turn the piece over, pull the needle thread to the back with the bobbin thread and knot them. If I don't do it as I go the tails can get caught in the stitching for the next line and make a mess. I use the presser foot of the sewing machine to hold the fabric so I can use both hands to tie the knots. I got pretty fast by the last one. I could sew all the lines for a star in 12 minutes. Chris says this is absolutely not how he would execute this task, but it gives the results I want with the equipment I have. I don't think there is any embroidery machine that can do this exact thing if I wanted to scale up. Embroidering on the whole star would weaken the fabric enormously. I would likely have to redesign this feature for mass production.
Detail for finishing the back of the star
The final step for the front of the PresURver before assembly is adding the snap. I had Chris save the center circle of the star cut out with the EZ-Steam on it. The laser cut about a 2 mm hole in the center. I line this up with another laser cut hole and bond it on with the iron. The snap goes through this reinforced hole and is pressed in place with some special pliers. I rigged them to be a bench mount apparatus with a length of 3/4" PEX tubing heated and shoved on as a handle extender. 

The edges of the pocket and lining are finished with a single fold bonded with 1/2" EZ-Steam tape. Because they are heat cut the raw edge won't unravel. Both hems are sewn as well. There is an inner pocket for the rules on the lining that is prepped with the 1/4" EZ-Steam and sewn around all 4 sides.

I came up with a pretty handy way of making that folded hem even. I cut one side of a legal size manila folder to 1/2" less than the final width of the fabric. After I peel off the paper backing on the bonding tape I fold the edge down to meet the manila folder all the way across. I made these jigs for all the hems I had to do and it improved how straight and square they come out and make it faster. The EZ-Steam can be peeled up and repositioned before it's ironed. It's a nice way to get things really lined up just the way you want them. Nylon is so springy I don't think I could make this without the adhesive.

The rest of the PresURver is assembled with 1/4" EZ-Steam tape to hold everything together while I sew it. It also gives some stiffness to the edge of the case. I worry about clipping the corners of nylon for fear it will unravel and make a hole in the corner, but with the EZ-Steam I think it will hold up well, so I clip the corners then turn the case right side out. I insert closed cell foam rectangles between the outside and the lining as stiffeners before sewing the fold lines. The last step is to put in the other half of the snap. I fold the case closed and mark the spot for the snap with a white Scribe-All then burn a hole through with a soldering iron. Then I can crimp on the snap. If I just use an awl to punch the fabric it runs, making four lines shooting out along the grain of the fabric. Unacceptable.

In addition to the main case which holds the board there are separate pURses for the dice and stones plus a new gold one for the expansion. 
PresURver with board and pUrses
I did them each in a solid coordinating color. The pUrses have closed cell foam stiffeners and will float their contents individually. They also have color matched non-latex elastic. Finding non-latex elastic in three colors was unbelievably hard. I ordered from 4 different sources before I finally got all three colors of the same width and texture. I went with foldover elastic on these. I didn't like the line the fold made when used flat so I folded it over and sewed it with a double needle. This is a ridiculous extra step. If I go to quantity production I hope I can find a source of the satin faced so-called bra strap elastic that will work instead. I have finally gotten 3 yards each in 3/4". My next run of pURses may have that instead of this kind.  
Full contents of WatUR deluxe spread out
The black and white pURses hold the stones and dice and the yellow one is for ElabURation and FloURishes. These are two optional expansions that can be played together or separately. There are 30 acrylic gems and 5 small printed circuit boards duplicating designs on the main board. The acrylic gems were selected over glass to keep the weight of the complete game under 16 ounces. USPS First Class Package Service is the most affordable method of shipping but it is only for packages under a pound. This game can be shipped for under $5, but that is without insurance. I found these at JoAnn on clearance, plus I had a coupon. I had to wash them in dish soap and dry them on a mesh lawn chair in the sun to get that JoAnn smell off them. I have enough for all the cases I have. Next run, who knows. If I have to buy them online they are going to cost a lot more.

I have some custom woven labels in the design. The pURses have my brand, Beachton, sewn into them. My thinking is that anybody who loses some of their parts can google Beachton, find this website, and contact me for replacements. The main case has the name of the game and logo on the side. I bought both these custom labels online from the Dutch Label Shop in minuscule quantities. The price per piece is quite high, but it works with my goal of making high quality products without a giant investment up front. If I manage to sell these then I'll use that money to buy slightly more next time. And even more the next time, reducing the per-item cost with each subsequent increase in quantity. Will I ever make a profit? I doubt it. I'd be delighted if if I can recoup the expenses. My time will remain uncompensated for the foreseeable future. My goal of the year is to beat my lifelong difficulty with repetitive tasks. I've always been lousy at it. I have a hypothesis that only through muscle memory can you do a good job at repetitive tasks. I want to see if I can reach that point.

I also hope that everybody who buys this game will appreciate it as a unique and valuable experiment in design possibilities or as an art object that they will treasure and show off to their friends.

The boards are all ordered online from SeeedStudio in China. The ordering process couldn't be simpler. I upload a ZIP file of all the Gerber layers and it generates a quote automatically. There is no set-up charge. I pay for it with PayPal up front, including staggeringly expensive shipping. It takes about a week to make the boards and only 3 days to ship them to me. The board and FloURishes are like the woven labels. They scale down to small quantities while still allowing for full automation.

I would like to credit my board layout software too, since it was free. I used Osmond Cocoa for Mac. Their payment model makes it like a demo version until your board has a certain number of holes then you have to buy it. Since my board doesn't have any holes at all, free software. This is perfect for my minimum-cost-up-front business model. I had to do some real file format conversion gymnastics to import a DXF file at the right scale. Then I had to do a lot of careful editing to delete the lines it added to make every single curve in the design into a closed polygon. I think the results are very good though and I'm happy with this program. The Help files are excellent. I was able to learn the tools I needed and ignore all the actual features that a normal person would need to make a useable circuit board. I actually drew the cuneiform numbers on the FloURishes using the tools in the program, which is really really not made for that.

If anybody has read all the way to the end of this then you are exactly who I wrote it for and I don't need to explain why.