We are thrilled to have been chosen for this honor. We are one of only 10 companies in the “Invention” category. Here’s the cover of the magazine, which also links to the article:
We launched Touchfire as a company on July 11th. Here is the press release. This marked the beginning of general availability of Touchfire. We have gotten some great product reviews:
Plus Touchfire users are starting to chime in. Here are two recent user reviews:
Do you have some feedback for us? We’d love to hear from you – send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will get back to you right away.
Cheers! And thank you SO MUCH for all of your support over these months!
Steve and Brad
We are on track for shipping out your reserved Touchfires at the end of this month or the first week of July. As we said in our last update, the biggest issue we had to face was replacing all of our magnets. Well, the new magnets arrived yesterday; hooray!
Our factory is now running 24/7 making Touchfire keyboards. Right now we are making Touchfires for our Kickstarter backers. We will start making your Touchfires as soon as these are done. Here’s a picture of the clean room; notice that there are now large volume production tanks of liquid silicone attached to the injection molding machine instead of the small prototyping canisters seen in previous updates.
You can also see Touchfire storage cases being made on the other side of the room.
Now that the magnets are in, our factory can set up the assembly line to install the magnets and magnet labels into the keyboards. We’ve been busy working with the factory, building assembly and test jigs, developing quality assurance protocols, pack out procedures, etc, etc. This coming week will be devoted to getting everything set up and running smoothly. We should be running in high gear the week of June 25th.
Our First Production Run Will Be Black Touchfires
At this point, we think the most important thing is to start shipping Touchfires as soon as we possibly can. It turns out that making large production runs of both white and black Touchfires would have delayed our launch even further. So we decided to follow in the tradition of the first iPhone and iPad and only make Touchfire in black for our first large production run. Here is what a black Touchfire looks like on a white iPad:
The next email you will be getting from us will be when we are ready to ship out your Touchfire. We will ask you to choose a shipping option and then finalize your order. And we will then ship out your order.
Thank you for sticking with us over the last few months. It has been quite a journey, and we are incredibly excited to be getting Touchfire into your hands shortly.
Steve and Brad
The Good News: We signed off on Touchfire going into volume production; hooray! Our factory will start making Touchfires next week.
The Bad News: We had to order tens of thousands of new magnets, and it will be about 4 weeks before they get here.
More Good News: By the time the magnets arrive, the factory will have made a lot of Touchfires!
Even More Good News: We were able to come up with a single version of Touchfire that works for all generations of iPads. In fact, we were forced to….
The Full Story
Getting Touchfire into production has been a wild ride, but the last few weeks have been the wildest of all.
Touchfire Released To Production
Our factory did a test production run a few weeks ago:
Which was very exciting. But to our horror, we found that our magnets no longer fit in the completed keyboards.
The sidewalls of the magnet receptacles were now too small by anywhere from two thousands of an inch to six thousands of an inch on each side. To give you a perspective on how big this is, a human hair is four thousands of an inch on average:
These variations are not visible to the naked eye. They occurred this time because we had to place the chin and ears on the opposite side of the keypad tool in our last revision. The chin and ears expand and contract in small, hard to predict ways as they undergo the heat and pressure of the silicone keyboard molding process.
We are very happy with every other aspect of the design, so we have decided not to make any more changes to our molds. We tried all sorts of material and production variations to solve this problem. But none of them worked.
So we ended up having to order new magnets. The samples came in today, and they fit great. So we gave the go-ahead to our magnet supplier to make 80,000 magnets. And then we released Touchfire for production in our Los Angeles factory. Needless to say, this was a big day!
Our factory will now send our tools out for Teflon coating and anodization to get them ready for mass production. This will take about a week. And then they will dive into making lots of Touchfires. Three shifts a day, seven days a week.
The magnets will arrive in 4-5 weeks. At which point our factory will have made all the Touchfires. They will then insert the magnets, seal up the magnet wells, and ship you your Touchfire. So, we are looking at shipping out your Touchfires around the end of June.
iPad 3, Revisited
We bought two iPad 3’s to test Touchfire on, and as we previously reported, quickly discovered that the polarity of the speaker magnet was reversed between the iPad 3 and the iPad 2. We switched the polarity of some of the magnets in Touchfire to match, resulting in a Touchfire version for iPad 2 and a different version for iPad 3.
A few weeks ago, a friend came by with their new iPad 3 and we put Touchfire on it for a test drive. OMG! The speaker magnet in this iPad 3 was the same polarity as an iPad 2. What was going on here?
We headed out to the Apple stores in the Seattle area with Touchfires in hand, and tested about 40 iPad 3s. We found that the iPad 3 speaker magnet polarity was completely random. This is pretty unusual for an Apple product, and it was feeling like a catastrophe for us. The iPad 3 version of Touchfire was dead unless we could find a way to make one version of Touchfire work for all iPads. So we went to work.
We tried micro-Velcro, suction tape, etc. as alternatives for retracting Touchfire. But nothing worked as well as magnets. And then we hit on the answer. If we changed the size and power of the affected magnets in the chin, we could have a balanced solution that worked with both polarities of speaker magnets. And since we were ordering new magnets anyway, this solution would work out.
So, there will now be just one version of Touchfire for all three generations of iPads.
As always, thank you so much for hanging in there with us. Touchfires will be rolling off the assembly line at last!
Steve & Brad
Touchfire will be coming in two models – one for the iPad 2 and one for the iPad 3. Both of these models will also work with the iPad 1.
We are finally on the other side of getting Touchfire ready for mass production, and have dealt with some interesting and challenging issues along the way. Here’s a recap of what’s been happening over the last few months.
Touchfire is composed of a soft, flexible keypad area connected to some hard pieces we call the ears and the chin. The chin is the main structural component of Touchfire. It provides rigidity, holds several magnets and anchors Touchfire in place on the iPad.
The keypad area of Touchfire has been unchanged since January, when we made our first production test run. We are very happy with how the keys work, and that portion of the design has been completely frozen. The keypad is the heart of Touchfire, so we were thrilled to see how quickly it came together. This led us to believe that getting the rest of the design into production would also go relatively smoothly. Not quite what happened
The keypad is made out of silicone, and we were originally planning on making the chin and ears out of a hard version of silicone as well. That worked great for the ears, but we could never get the chin stiff enough. So in February we switched to a specially engineered injection-molded plastic that our manufacturer suggested.
This turned out to be a wonderful material, very tough and durable, and it generally goes back to its original shape when bent.
But changing material means a change to the manufacturing process; we have to build new chin and ear molds and modify the keypad mold to accommodate them. This takes us to mid-February.
We are back down at the factory, ready to try it all out. We spent a couple of weeks debugging, optimizing the flow of material through our molds and fixing cosmetic issues. Everything looks great, except … our magnets in the chin and ears aren’t as strong as they should be. What’s going on here?
It turns out that the thermal conditions of our new manufacturing process are affecting our magnets, which don’t like too much heat. We are going to have to come up with a different approach for incorporating our magnets into Touchfire.
Brad redesigns the chin and ears to accommodate this, and we send the molds back to the mold maker for rework.
We now have pockets in the chin and ears for the magnets to go into. But we need to seal those pockets. We create some tiny covers that do the trick. Brad makes some hand sketches, Steve takes them to a local die maker, and we have finished prototype dies a day later.
They work great. Now all we need is a manufacturer who can make a lot of them in a short time. Luckily, we were already working with a company called Seal Methods, which is making the stickers that go on the back of our cover clips. We head on over to Seal, only a 15 minute drive from the factory. No problem; Seal can manufacture the tooling for our covers and be in production in less than a week.
Fast forward to mid-March. The molds are back, we are down at the factory again, ready to make our next trial run. And we have just gotten an iPad 3. All indications are that it will work fine with Touchfire, since the screen didn’t change at all and the iPad 3 uses the same Smart Cover as the iPad 2.
Surprise! Apple made a change that nobody else seems to have picked up on – they reversed the magnetic polarity of the iPad 3’s speaker magnet. This causes Touchfire to twist on an iPad 3. What are we going to do about this? We sit down and try and figure it out.
It turns out that all we have to do was reverse the polarity of some of our magnets to accommodate the iPad 3. We will need to have people specifically order the iPad 3 version, but no other changes. And the iPad 1 will work with either version. Hooray!
However, we did find another problem with the design; during the molding process silicone is leaking into the magnet pockets. Grrr! So we head off to our mold maker, Kingson Mold and Machine, to discuss.
Kinsgon is a pretty amazing operation. Kingson has rows and rows of these enormous machines growling away.
As always, they are very helpful, working with us to devise a fix. Our molds are once again in their shop.
Which brings us to today. We are hopeful that these final changes are the last ones that we’ll have to make. After the molds come back from Kingson we will test them out and get them textured (texturing adds the final finish to the parts). And then we will finally get into full production.
Thank you so much for bearing with us as we work through getting Touchfire into production!
Hello, everyone! Steve and Brad here, with a Touchfire update.
Manufacturing and Shipping Update
Right now we are in the final stages of getting Touchfire into mass production. All of our molds have been delivered to our factory, and we are in the process of debugging them. Touchfire is manufactured in a clean room.
Here is a short video showing the very first test runs of our silicone keyboard part (Brad is narrating):
Brad did finally manage to get into the clean room; here he is with one of the first test parts:
Here is one side of one of the molds used to make Touchfire:
Debugging the tooling is going well, but we aren’t quite there yet; we probably have another week or so to go.
Once we have reached the point where are running at full production, we will know a very important metric – how many Touchfires we can make each day. We will then be able to give you an accurate estimate of when your Touchfire will be shipping. We have to first fulfill our Kickstarter backers, but then we will start fulfilling your reservations.
When we know when we will be able to ship your Touchfire, we will send you an email with your gift certificate code. You will then apply your gift certificate to your purchase, select a shipping method, and finalize your order.
We thank you for bearing with us as we get Touchfire into production!
Touchfire – Now Made in the USA
When we first started looking for a manufacturer, we tried pretty hard to manufacture Touchfire in the US, but ultimately couldn’t find a US manufacturer who would give us a reasonable bid or a reasonable timeline. So we moved forward with manufacturing Touchfire in Asia, where something like 95% of iPad accessories are made today. We were pretty far down that road.
We were in the middle of our Kickstarter campaign at that point, which meant publishing updates that anyone in the world could read. Right about the time we were racing to beat Chinese New Year in February, a fellow named Rod Trujillo sent us an urgent message; he needed to talk with us right away. It turns out Rod is the CEO of a US manufacturer that specializes in challenging silicone projects. He said: “We can make Touchfire, and we can compete with any Chinese manufacturer”.
Rod’s company, International Rubber Products, is in Los Angeles; we flew down to Southern California to check it out. The most critical first step in manufacturing is to get tooling made. An important aspect of our trip involved meeting with the tool builders. Our first visit took place during the week between Christmas and New Year. The tooling engineers were on vacation that week. But Rod convinced them to come back early to meet with us. People were flying in from all over. After several hours of technical discussion, the tooling company agreed to make our tools in half their normal time. The fastest turnaround we’ve ever seen.
We now had a very difficult decision to make. Stick with the Chinese manufacturer who we had been iterating the tooling design with, or take a huge leap of faith and put our eggs into a US basket. We decided to give the go-ahead to US tooling, but kept going in China. This was a costly decision financially, but we felt that if there was a possibility of making Touchfire in America, it was worth it.
The tool builder came through with the mold for the keyboard in record time. That is what we showed you in Update 14. And that is when we decided to pull back from China and fully commit to building Touchfire in the USA.
The last month and a half have been a mad dash to the finish line. We’ve had to put together an entire supply chain for all the parts of Touchfire – cover clips, sticker pads, packaging, etc. Since we’d gone so far down the road in China, we had a very good idea of what each component should cost. Piece by piece, we’ve found that if you work hard and if you find the right partners (or if they find you), it is now possible to make an iPad accessory in the US that is as competitive as doing it in Asia.
So, we invited USA Today to come down to Rod’s factory and check out what we were up to. They published this awesome article, which also ended up on the front page of the print edition:
Steve and Brad