The Next Generation
When we started to redesign the meteorite scalecube, we wanted a solid metal as base material. Not ferritic, as we had enough Fe-oxide on our Campos to look after, but some alloy that shared a melted and recrystallized past with the meteorites it would be on display with. Dur-aluminium as used in aircraft engineering seemed to be a good choice.
A 1 m by 10 x 10 mm bar of dur-aluminium was purchased, enough to produce some 90 cubes, the cut loss in mind. As we intended to manufacture only a single cube for our own need, we did not worry much about cut loss anyway.
A manufacturer was found who cut and polished a cube with tolerances less then +0.05 and – 0.01 mm. By this time, we still planned to apply a permanent black lacquer to the cube. This would have meant a compromise since the color would have bleached proportionally to light exposure. Depending on the intensity of use the cube would have slightly changed colors in time.
It was a fellow collector who advised us to use a reference safe method of coloring our cubes. Since the chosen material was an aluminium alloy, the anodizing technique could come into consideration. By applying a current to the cube, a 0.05 – 0.10 mm thin coating of aluminum oxide is grown out of the surface during anodizing and then becomes aluminum hydrate which is extremely hard. The porous nature of the anodized layer allows color pigments to be embedded in the coating.
This was a good plan but we had lost production costs slightly out of focus. Our anodized scalecube would have cost the fortune of 55 USD. Venture capital had to be raised, investors had to be won for our vision of a better cube. A post to the Metlist was placed, announcing a limited number of engraved cubes to a cut price. This instrument achieved overwhelming international response. Altogether, 48 pre-orders arrived, enough to carry on with what was now a multinational joint venture. A first serial of 40 cubes and a second of 50 was ordered and shipped across Germany to a second subcontractor for anodizing. This company had a lot of experience in coating aircraft fuselage, but the 10 mm scalecube took them to their limits.
The main problem was the size. To apply the electric current in the standard method, the aluminum part is normally hung on metal “racks” which are designed to hold many of the same parts spaced an even distance from one another. Then the racks are lowered into the diluted acid and water to permit the electric current to flow. While the anode of the electrical circuit is connected to the rack the stainless steel tank containing the dilution serves as the cathode. But how to attach ninety 10mm cubes to the anode? A special clamp system had to be designed to hold the cubes in position, thus leaving submilimeter sized blank spots on the contact points.
Identifying a skilled engraver and initiating him to the mystery of meteorite reference tools was among the most challenging tasks. Transferring the construction drawing that included all the metrics and relative positions of the graphic elements into the CNC program to operate the milling head was another. Loss through waste and a small experimental serial engraved by laser reduced the remaining serial to 72. A special chuck had to be made as the 10mm cube was too small to fit in the standard version. Defining a zero point for the micro navigation of the millhead was another challenge. While we were already preparing the IPO of our ambitious business, our engraver discovered that each of the 72 cubes he was in charge of had six surfaces of which each had to be clamped individually. He informed us that due to the ‘unexpected operating expenses’ prices per unit had to be renegotiated.
Finally, on September 9, 2005, we had the first prototype of the alpha serial engraved. Production costs were always a critical factor. Meteorites had to be sold to improve the liquidity of our venture and more than once our investors threatened to pull the plug to our enterprise.