Lasso: The Road to Manufacture

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Chief Technical Officer Phil Sanders details the lead up to Lasso’s mass production and release to the market
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Currently Lasso is deep in the final stages of prototype development and testing to prove both the proprietary Lasso hardware and software along with the typically industrial hardware that has been miniaturised for domestic application.

Once the technology has been proven both individually and as part of an integrated system in the prototype appliance, the development will move into the pilot phase where lessons learned from the prototype development will be used to optimise the appliance in regards to performance, footprint reduction and regulatory compliance. After this optimisation approximately 120 Lasso units will be built to be placed in individual homes within a defined pilot area for six to nine months to further test, optimise and prove the viability of both the new appliance and collection system in a real-world situation prior to mass production.

A prototype of a totally new appliance is an expensive undertaking. When an established appliance manufacturer develops a new product, it is usually based on an existing platform but with new features or technology added so only those new features or technology are fabricated from scratch and then fitted to the existing platform. The Lasso is a totally new platform so almost every aspect of the prototype needed to be developed and fabricated from scratch which is an expensive and time-consuming process.

If the pilot units were constructed in the same way as the prototype the cost per unit would be prohibitively high, so we need to look to establishing a small pilot plant where the economy of scale can be applied in some degree to reduce the cost per unit of the field trial appliances.

A small scale or pilot production plant differs slightly from true mass production as it relies more on labour for certain operations where mass production would be typically look to automation. However, this labour-intensive aspect of small-scale production allows the plant to be established quicker and require significantly less capital investment than traditional mass production.

The pilot plant will follow the same principles required to mass produce the Lasso where a main chassis would move sequentially past a number of work stations where components or sub-assemblies are fitted to the main appliance with a final QC test to confirm build quality, functionality and electrical safety. Where mass production would make extensive use of conveyors to move a product along a production line a pilot plant could mount the product on a dolly and manually wheel it from work station to work station.

In the same way the pilot plant would reflect aspects of mass production, the manufacture of many of the individual components would use techniques based in mass production. Rather than one-off fabrications for the prototype or fully hardened tooling for mass production, the pilot plant can take advantage of lower cost silicon, sintered or aluminium tooling which can be used to produce limited numbers of production representative parts at a fraction of the tooling cost of mass production and a lower component cost than fabrication.

By applying these and other adapted manufacturing techniques, Lasso will be able to produce production representative pilot units at an acceptable unit cost.

The pilot or field trial phase of any new development is essential for the success of the mass-produced unit. Initial product testing by Engineers in a controlled environment is essential for checking performance, repeatability and reliability, but after that nothing highlights aspects of an appliance that require optimising, whether hardware or software, quite like placing a unit in a home where its functionality needs to integrate seamlessly and support that home’s daily operations whilst its operation is user friendly enough that non-engineers are willing and able to interact with the unit almost intuitively. Whilst on trial, feedback from these trial households will be used to upgrade, optimise and debug the Lasso appliance ready for the final step of mass production and release to the market.

Phil Sanders

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