Precision Spin Tops (for ages 9 - 99)

This idea originated with my kids who are always playing with Bey Blades - a spinning top of Japanese origin featuring whiz-bang pop-out features, mechanical string and spring launchers... but, not a lot of spin for the buck. Mind you, all the kids have one, and they come with playing cards, an established game with international instructions, and an entire animated cartoon series... Bah. Gimmicks :-)

I have a long-term vision for what this product will look like: a specific trademark-able shape, laser-etched lettering, an array of sizes and colors, and over time even different shapes and configurations. Eventually, I'll have to seal them into hermetic plastic packaging, and, though I am hopeful this product will sell on its own merits, I may introduce a few gimmicks of my own to add perceptual value.

Prototype 1

Slide #1 & 2: I fashioned the first prototype in a short evening. Ugly as sin I know, but I just wanted to bang out something before bedtime. I built it from three pieces - the top part comprising the crown (the part one twirls with one's finger), stem, and shoulder, the middle part fancifully denoted by the International Spin Top Society as "the body", and finally, the third part being the tip. My tip consists of two parts - the bottom, waist, whatever... I'll think of a name, and finally, the actual tip.

The prototype was machined, press-fitted together and given a whirl - my best throw achieved 2 minutes 15 seconds before the body touched down on the the surface of the glass table. Excited at the prospect that it so easily out-spun my kids Bey-Blades, I thought I'd see what they thought of the toy and asked them to give it a twirl; they could barely make it turn. I anticipated as much as it was too tall, too-top-heavy. Next time will be better.

Prototype 2

For the next prototype, I took my time and leveraged what I had learned about press-fitting from the previous design. I approached the raw material assembly differently and set out to create a solid piece. This time, I could hold onto the stem's raw material to machine the body and tip, then turn it around and use the newly machined body (now perfectly concentric with the tip) in a step-chuck to machine the crown, stem, and shoulder. I also picked up a symmetric knurling tool and crushed it from either side to prevent it from bending which was a big improvement over the QCTP side-cutter knurling tool I used previously. The shoulder and tip are still a little rough, being done on the manual lathe, but this will all clean up nicely when done on the CHNC1. Most importantly, I machined it much closer to the to the envisioned design and as such, it performed exceptionally well.

My best spin on this new model lasted for 5 minutes, 20 seconds! In fact, I could give it a big twirl, or even a moderate twirl, and it still outperformed its predecessor by more than double the time. I decided to polish the surface to see if I could reduce the drag, and not surprisingly, it made a wee improvement to bring the top's longest time to 5 minutes 33 seconds. For the next version, I will eliminate the cross-hatch knurls in favour of smooth radial groove-knurls, polish it even more, and I'll reduce the tip radius to increase stability and lower surface friction.

Tip Design

I'm still at odds with what precisely to do for the tip design. I've had this idea of using 52100 chrome balls for the tip, but it depends on how finicky press fitting them will be. As a backup plan, I have 3/16" hardened and ground dowel pins that I'll first machine, then press-fit into the tip. The designs I have right now are egg-shaped. My brother suggests a hollow grind to reduce the surface contact area, but I argue that every kid's mother would just love to see this toy engrave a little path in her nice kitchen table and reasoned a perfectly sharp tip is not practical... I'll keep the point small, but a radius will still be necessary.

Next Steps

Aug 15, 2013: Next, I've cut 10 sets of blanks and will write some code to put these up on the Hardinge CHNC1. Just waiting for a 3" step-chuck closer and collet, then I'll tool up the lathe and run a small batch. I'll update this when I'm all set up and ready to go.

Dealer Inquiries?

Incidentally, if you're reading this and you'd like to pre-order in minimum quantities of 100, the MSRP target is $19.99 for the finished, anodized product with perhaps some minor variance for shelf-ready hermetically sealed packaging. I can also tailor the inscription to suit a corporate name, logo, or other annular design as you may desire. Please inquire within.

Update
Sep 23, 2013: Tooling has been acquired, step chuck bored, code written, and simulations simulated. Pictures added.

TODO
Dry runs. Lots of them. I'm coming very close (.025) to within the chuck surface, so don't want to mess that up.

Update
I know this is late, but I wanted to throw in this update that I totally forgot about:
Oct 18th, 2013: While out for a walk during lunch, a conversation came up in respect of what I'm going to call this product - a number of names were thrown out, but one specific name stuck and suddenly seemed like the greatest of all: Spinny-Doo. I checked the domain, and it was available, so I went for it and registered it on Hover right there from the sidewalk. Gotta love mobile devices :-)

Installed another Drupal instance and laid out a very simple website template. Nothing fancy... just a couple of pictures of the product with simple PayPal buttons (no monthly fees), a nice marketing blurb, contact page, etc. Will add more as I go.

Update
Oct 18th, 2013: I've produced the first set of machine-finished prototypes and will run a larger production run (~100 is my goal) this weekend. I've also finished the new website - www.spinny-doo.com - to show off my finished product, and for the moment, what the product will look like when fully anodized and laser-marked. Note: The product itself is real, but has been false-colored and "marked" using GIMP to simulate what an actual finished product will look like.

I had a recent request from a company in California to brand these tops using their logo and slogan. He asked for 250 units to start. I've been asked by friends of the family, colleagues at work, and now corporations for these spinning tops. Time to start producing!

Investigations into an anodizing line show about $1000 investment in a 7-gal HDPE bucket line with 12 phases including degreasing, de-ox/de-smut, anodize,dye,seal, and an optional strip (de-anodize) phase, each with a corresponding rinse, either heated, or bubbled as the process requires. It's a tough call, considering each run of anodizing will cost $200, it look more promising to create my own anodizing and do product in batches of 50 at a time. For now, I'd like to produce at least one batch and have them anodized without investing in chemistry and mechanical apparatus. This will become more important as the demand for other colors increases.

Finally, I'm looking for a YAG-based, galvo-head marking system. CO2 systems are possible, but I like the idea of using YAG since the wavelength can also mark bare aluminum whereas CO2 just (or mostly) bounces off. But that's a different conversation...

Update

Oct 20th, 2013: I finally started production and produced the first set of 10. If I didn't have to work an emergency all weekend long at my day job, I'd have done more. I've contacted a local company to do the anodizing for this initial production run. They're a smaller shop, possibly even implementers of the Caswell home-anodizing kit, so with some luck, they'll do my batch of 100 and run 10 separate colors during the color phase. Fingers crossed.

Oct 23rd, 2013: Anodizers would NOT - I repeat - NOT do multiple colors in the same batch. Though they are the cheapest at $160 per batch of 100, I can only do one color at a time. Decided instead to build my own anodizing line. I previously thought of building a big tree that would hold 50 Spinny-Doo at a time, requiring a 7-gallon bucket to hold both the tree, and a screw-plug type heater (still need to find a bulkhead for that.) Instead, I modified the design to make it smaller, holding 30 at a time and now it will fit in a 5-gallon pail. Total system cost so far for chemicals is nearing $600, but with buckets, heaters, etc., it'll be around the $1000 mark.

Oct 30th, 2013: Suffered a catastrophic failure in my CHNC1's X-axis.

Siemens 1HU5040-0AF02-Z

Bought a motor from an ebay store called "Dock Guys". They stated, 'This is a very nice motor in great condition and it is fully guaranteed." The motor was listed for $500, and they readily accepted my offer of $350. When I got it and was finally able to check it out, I took the caps and brushes off to see a nice clean set of bars. Instead, I saw tons carbon dust, and it just kept coming out! I opened the motor to find tons of dust and some oil. There must have been thousands of hours on that motor during which it was never cleaned. And, one of the bearings was shot (crunchy as it turned), AND, the front bearing bracket was broken in half, AND the rotor was all rusted... Well, anyway... I got some money back on that one. I pulled the busted bearing off, swapped the rotor, pushed on good bearings and bracket, and popped it into my existing motor's housing. Didn't even have to unwire it from the machine :-) Turned back on the lathe but it still kept on giving faults. After some further diagnosis, the drive amp was shot, and a semiconductor fuse (read short-protection) fuse was blown. Swapped out those parts too, but I'm not out of the woods let. Still getting DAU-limit reached messaes. Need to check out if the X-axis ballscrew and bearings are ok. I'm on the road to recovery, but not there yet.

Siemens 1HU5040-0AF02-Z Siemens 1HU5040-0AF02-Z
Siemens 1HU5040-0AF02-Z

Nov 27th, 2013 Picked up a Motoman SK6 robot - will use this to load/unload parts from the lathe. The shop is too small for a barfeeder, so robotic loading is the next best thing, and way cooler, obviously. I'll post pictures later when this is up and running. While I was there, inspecting my robot and getting a tutorial from the guys over at Yaskawa Motoman Canada, one of the managers there asked me to product 50 Spinny-Doo's with the Yaskawa logo laser-marked on the surface. I better start getting that lathe fixed!

Dec 1st, 2013 My day job has been brutal - I've put in 62.5, 72, 79, and 54h work weeks this past month. I've been struggling to find time even to get to my garage, let alone fix the lathe. Fortunately, today, Sunday, was my day... no work, no kids, nothing. I took the bellows of the rear of the X to take a gander at the ball-screw. Beautiful, and wet with oil. Whew. Took the motor back off and turned the ball screw with an allen key from the little access panel at the front and it was smooth as butter. Took the motor apart, checked for alignment problems, then put the ammeter in line with a DC power supply. Turned the motor on, and cranked down the bolts holding the casing, looking for an increase in current while preloading. It seems there is no preloading on these motors. Even with the casing cranked really tight, the current did not increase. Finally - I put the motor back in, closed up the lathe, turned it on, and homed/jogged my X-axis. Boy, am I glad that's over.

I also picked up a step-down transformer to siphon power from my lathe's 230V and feed it to the robot's MRC control at 208V. Plugged it in, and played with it a little. Can't do much until I bolt it to the floor, lest it tip over. Once that's done, I want to see how fast it can move.

Yaskawa Motoman MRC Yaskawa Motoman SK6

This weekend, I'm going to crank up the heat in the garage and spend the entire weekend making Spinny-Doos. People keep ordering - friends, colleagues at work, companies, even had a couple of orders from Saudi Arabia and Malaysia! Gotta keep up with the demand.

Feb 19th, 2014
I've been back in business for a while and have sold a lot of Spinny-Doos all over the world. My day job has been incredibly unforgiving, and with the holidays, family, etc., I've not had a lot of time to progress other than to sell these precision tops. I've recently purchased a pair of Lumonics LightWriter XL (50W YAG Galvo) Lasers, and am slowly getting them ready. They didn't survive the trip from California to Toronto because of the cold - the closed-loop cooling system froze and shattered the water filtration system. Fortunately, those parts are cheap and easy to replace. If the heat exchangers test poorly, then perhaps more expensive.

RIght now, I'm steadily trying to increase sales by driving ads through Google. SEO is the other play, trying to get Spinny-Doo.com to the top of Google's list. It's tough though. Strangely, this website - and this page, in particular, gets higher rankings than the main Spinny-Doo main page, more than likely due to the mixture of keywords and verbosity. Well, I'm working on it.

For now, one last plug to the Spinny-Doo Precision Spinning Top website. Go there, please! Check it out. Like it. Share it. Buy a Spinny-Doo :-)

To be continued.