limited production :: hand crafted :: high performance :: rechargeable :: premium flashlights
This is my blog about creating a startup LED flashlight business. I'm a designer, fabricator, and strategist and I'm passionate about making ideas real. I believe that products are about people, that they should be built to last, deliver real value, and that we need to do a better job than we have in the recent past.
Most of my career has been contract or freelance work and I've crafted products and strategies for both big international companies and startups. I also used to work in the "industry" fabricating special effects for film and TV, along with the occasional hot rod. Bottom line, I love making things.
I'm starting this blog so you can follow along, from day one, and see what it's like to start a business, or fail in the process. Only time will tell, but I hope you find this interesting enough to stay tuned, comment, link, like, tweet, and (most importantly) participate in turning this idea into something tangible and valuable.
For a good place to get started with general info about who, what, why, etc., check out the "Stickies" on the left side of the page. Thanks for stopping by and please don't hesitate to ask questions and get involved!
Please sign up for my email list to get updates and notifications for contests and giveaways!
Monday, February 28, 2011
Sunday, February 27, 2011
I'm starting on my first production run of 20 lights that will be serial numbers 1-20. I should have all the machining done and the next batch off to the plating company by the end of the week...but I'm basically sitting on my hands till I get more drivers.
|My bench during the pre-production build out|
To add to the fun, the aspheric lenses I've been using have been out of stock for about two months. I'm trying to find of if "out of stock" is a permanent condition or not. Fortunately I have a stable supply of LEDs and Boom reflectors...but I have to order them from Austraila which takes about two weeks. :)
Saturday, February 26, 2011
"Besides the mechanical aspect of light making, are you considering getting into or partnering with someone who can program to make the UI? I mean, the UI is really important nowadays."
I would love to have my own custom drivers made some day. I'm going to need to sell a fair number of lights before this is possible though. Ideally, custom drivers would be exactly the same size as the current drivers. They could be upgraded by the user, or sent back to me for an upgrade.
Unless you are a flashaholic you probably don't give much thought to flashlight UI (User Interface). The most common flashlight UI is an on/off button. However, we live in the age of micro controllers and the on/off button (or twisting action) becomes an access point and not just a simple switch.
|Apple knows good UI|
My philosophy is that simple is better. It's just a flashlight. In all, I think the current interface is very solid for a general purpose light. 3 modes and a simple switching scheme. Is it ideal? No. Does it work well? Yes. Who knows what the future holds though!
Friday, February 25, 2011
Somehow, over the last several years, I've totally let "standard" rechargeable batteries slip my mind. I have a well stocked drawer full of disposable alkaline batteries. I often buy the "big pack" of AA's when I see a good price...cause I'm smart right? Nope. So why doesn't my drawer contain exactly zero AA batteries because all of my AA devices are filled with rechargeable AA batteries and I don't need extras?
|Sanyo Eneloops are considered to be "best of breed" and will |
store 6 times longer than a typical NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) battery.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
|Blogger's web stats or good but if you install Google Analytics...even better|
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
|Ready to go and hoping for no damage on the other end of the process|
"Jason, What do you see as the "opportunity space" in this (lighting) market? Both in terms of "un-met user needs" and emerging "technological affordances" that are expanding the bounds of the possible?
It looks like you are pushing into both these areas. If you had greater resources, what additional capabilities would you like to have so you could develop further into the leading edge of this space?"
Hey Erik, I guess I've already answered some of your questions tangentially in other posts. However, I think an opportunity exists because of the combination of "unmet user needs" and "technological affordances." In other words, the technology is making it possible to meet new user needs.
Everything is a matter of perspective. Sometimes not having the technology makes it hard to see needs which that unknown (or simply new) technology might address. Take cars for example; when they first appeared on the road a lot of people were still asking, "why would you need to travel faster than a train or horse?" Just three or four years ago it was unfathomable that a single LED could produce over 750 lumens, let alone a small hand held light. I think we are just beginning to understand the possibilities.
The next factor, from an economic standpoint, is the cost/availability of that technology. Many markets follow the "sweet spot" example I'll give, and the LED lighting market is now in the sweet spot...in my opinion. They easiest example is the cell phone. There was a tipping point, in the past, that allowed the cell phone to become mainstream. I attribute this to the pure economics of, not only the final consumer cost, but the cost of the ancillary resources required to support the final product...network capacity, battery energy density, individual mobility, the internet, etc.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
"How is this more than just some batteries, an LED, and a switch stuck in a fancy housing? Now's your chance to talk about Lithium-Ion battery charging/balancing, constant-current LED drivers, brightness modes, etc!"
In many ways these lights are exactly what you describe, and assemblage of components. However, I think these lights are unique on two levels. One, I make every one by hand. Two, there are a lot of components out there in the world and I've selected the absolute best and integrated them into an incredibly optimized, high-performance system. The only way these lights will get better is when I have enough volume to justify designing and manufacturing the components I currently buy off the shelf.
|Exploded View: click the image for a super size version|
I've already posted on batteries and chargers so you can navigate to those links for more info. Suffice to say battery technology has come an incredibly long way in the last five years. Modern li-ion batteries have no memory and significant energy density. If it was a car it would have both a huge gas tank and tons of horsepower.
Modern batteries are also capable of extremely high current output when compared to standard alkaline batteries. LED lights that run on alkalines (most LED lights on the market) are low output because alkaline batteries simply can't deliver the current needed to motivate a high power LED into releasing its lumens.
Monday, February 21, 2011
I'm a little behind on the blog. Partly working faster than expected last week and partly slowed down by a sore throat this week. I spent most of the weekend working on a very simple site that will be a companion to the blog...the online store!
|A screen shot from the new landing page|
I'll be assembling them this week and offering them for sale. A portion of those lights are also getting sent out to my first round of "test users" so stay tuned!
Sunday, February 20, 2011
|Different stages of assembly from left to right:|
cap, boot, o-rings/spacers, and switch
Read on after the jump for some more detailed shots.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
"What are your adjacent markets? Do you plan on only doing flashlights even a few years out? Will you be expanding into other markets like theater lighting?"
The blanket answer to all of your questions is, "Who knows?" Okay, I actually have better answers for that...my adjacent markets. Honestly, anything that requires a light source. Some obvious choices are specialty applications like dive lights, bike lights, head lamps, and other standard stuff. Probably some money to be made there, but there is also a lot of competition.
|This is a smart-alecky graphical answer to the question of horizontal markets...|
but take a look at the larger image. It's actually incredibly fascinating. For one,
take note of China's population and how little lighting there is.
I have two parts that get pressed together for a semi-permanent assembly: the head and the copper sleeve that holds the LED driver circuit board. The press fit provides good electrical and thermal contact between the two parts. It's great once it's assembled...but how do you get it apart?
|A "press fit" is when two parts are pressed together that have dimensions|
that overlap very slightly. This can also be called an "interference fit."
Read on for more gruesome details...
Friday, February 18, 2011
"Who is your customer? Or customers? Have you profiled/interviewed the type of person you imagine using your product?"
The "yes" side actually explains why I got into this in the first place. The short version: about nine months ago I started working on an old project for a canister-style dive light targeted at the commercial/military/technical diving community. In order to get familiar with the in's and out's of light design and manufacturing I came up with a small prototype light. I started showing it to people and the response was almost universal: "Holy smokes, that is incredible, can I buy one?!"
Virtually no one has ever seen anything so bright in such a small package. I decided to go where the interest was and abandon dive lights (for the time being) and decided to focus on small hand held lights for every day use. I normally work on super niche products, so excitement from the general public was pretty catalyzing. That response is a lot more rewarding than the usual, "errr....riiiiight....that sounds nice." If it's dark out I don't even have to give a "product pitch," I just push a button on the end of this cylinder thingy.
|This is the light that got everything started|
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Unfortunately this requires about the most hand finishing as humanly possible. There are ways to make batch processing easier, like vibratory tumbling, but I'll need 3-4 tumblers to the tune of about $750 bucks each. Not exactly the cheap route. I'll have to give this some serious thought. I might also have to start out making lights that have less finishing involved until I can justify the capital expenditure.
|And an extra hour of hand finishing?...Check!|
The appearance of production batches will be varied and represent a constant evolution. I don't expect there will be a "final design" until the distant future. Being limited production, I'll be producing small batches of different designs. Some may be "one time only" and others might get repeated. This will be driven by both customer response and whatever I'm excited about at the moment.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
A few strategically placed lights made it incredibly easy to spot the remaining pieces of glass. You can't really see in the photos but the shards would sparkle like crazy. I once saw a similar method used to check the flatness of a granite surface plate but that used grains of salt and lasers...another story. Anyway, just thought I'd share because it is both novel and worked like a charm. Part of what makes it effective is the wide beam angle and the massive intensity. Thanks Lori!
Monday, February 14, 2011
I selected the Xtar MP1 charger because it's high quality.
Only one other charger compares, but it's twice the price and thrice as ugly.
Friday, February 11, 2011
"PS... Dark does suck. My question is... is "focused beam" the way to tackle the suckiness. Maybe "make a 5 foot diameter around me feel like the day"... Just a thought."
Thursday, February 10, 2011
"Was talking to Kingston tonight... he wants to get a flashlight for testing. Wanted to know how long the batteries last in the different power modes."
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Monday, February 7, 2011
"In your "DtD Update: surprising success!" post, the shot is the head, right? Does the head and the tailcap screw off? I'm interested in your heatsinking. The driver is on a copper "pole" of sorts, which isolates the driver, and will concentrate heat, and how is the heatsink for the LED itself? I see you are using 7135 linear drivers-how many? If a user decides to use 2xCR123s or RCRs, the 7135s will be putting out over 5 watts of heat!"
Yes, that's an image of the back of the head. Both the head and tailcap unscrew from the body.
|The driver in this photo is a Shiningbeam 1.4A driver|
You can check the Shiningbeam site for driver specs but I think it accepts a maximum of 6 volts, so you can use 2x CR123 (primary) batteries but you can not use 2x RCR123 (rechargeable) batteries. However, I'm not sure that CR123 primaries can handle that much current draw. Someone else might have to weigh in on that one!
This is really intended to be an 18650 light.
Kendall the CarpentryHero said...
"Will you make your flashlights with an upgradeable, replaceable Pill like a better version of the P60 and host idea. An upgradeable light even if I'm mailing it in for the upgrade ;-) ?"
|A section view of the light head. The walls of the copper |
sleeve are actually thicker than what is depicted here.
One of my primary design principles is "design for disassembly and repair." So yes, these lights will most definitely have the ability to be upgraded with newer LEDs or electronics. One reason I went with the MCBCB is that it makes it really easy for me to swap out LEDs.
Sunday, February 6, 2011
|Flashlight bodies hot off the CNC|
Friday, February 4, 2011
This Google Forms is my temporary "kludge" until I can figure out a real email list client. So if you sign up here I'll try and send out a weekly reminder of any new content. In the short term this will be an ugly text email. In the future it will be nice and pretty with photos and probably be entirely automated.
This blogging stuff actually takes a lot of time. It's stopped me before. I mean, who has time for this? So, if you sign up I'll know people are interested and that will motivate me to keep the content coming. Deal? Just follow this link and fill out the form!
Also, a shout out to Adam for setting it up, Thanks!
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
I haven't picked the testers yet but I'll make an announcement about the same time I complete final assembly of the lights, so stay tuned!
(if you want to get the chance to do cool things like test future designs, be sure and sign up for my email list!)
Anyway, back to nitty gritty. My saw stop worked great and I spent time cutting stock to length while the machine was running parts. I also have to deburr the edge on every part (one end) so that there isn't any interference when clamping the parts in the vise. We need everything to be nice and straight.
|Chicago Pneumatic right angle die grinder with an 80 grit abrasive disk|
and a bunch of parts waiting to be deburred.
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
|Prototype solution (left) and final solution (right)|