Posted By Paul Kafasis on September 23rd, 2010
Way back when Rogue Amoeba was nearing its third birthday, we were excited to bring on our first employee – Mike Ash. On September 30th, we’ll celebrate our eighth birthday, which means Mike has been with Rogue Amoeba for five full years!
When I noticed this milestone approaching, I knew we should celebrate it somehow. We have a form of profit-sharing here, as well as annual bonuses and other gifts (iPads for all! Apple TVs for all!), but this occasion called for something a bit more special.
We wanted to give Mike something both useful and personalized. After kicking around some ideas, we settled on engraving a solid state drive (SSD), the ultra-fast, ultra-not-inexpensive new storage technology. To make things more interesting, we decided to do the engraving in-house. Co-founder and CTO Quentin describes the process:
To The Engraving Machine!
About a year ago I picked up a small bench-top CNC machine for making circuit boards and electronics enclosures. Configured correctly though, it can also do simple engraving.
The process starts with designing what you want to engrave as vector-based artwork. Naturally this task fell to Christa, who made the initial design in Adobe Illustrator. From that initial artwork I then generated tool path code (using Cut2) for the CNC machine to follow and do the engraving.
For the first prototype run, I used machinable wax to see how things looked:
If you look carefully, you’ll see that Ammo’s head hasn’t engraved correctly here. Engraving is a rather precise operation – this engraving was cutting only three thousandths of an inch of material out of the wax. Because the wax block was not held perfectly parallel to the engraving bit, by time the bit traveled to the top of Ammo’s head, it was no longer touching the block at all.
This posed a problem for engraving the SSD enclosure itself, as it would have to be held flat within two thousandths of an inch to get a good looking result. To hold the SSD within the required tolerance, it was disassembled and a custom fixture was made to hold it as flat as possible. Despite my best effort though, I could not achieve the required parallelism, and so engraving the SSD itself was abandoned.
Thus was hatched Plan B: engrave something simpler and then bolt it to the SSD. This provided the benefit of being much easier as well as making it possible to move the engraving to new hardware when the old drive went obsolete. As luck would have it, I had nice black anodized aluminum sheet metal, perfect for engraving:
The final plate required three more prototypes before all the bugs in the process worked out. Here you see the “Rogue Amoeba” logo being engraved on the final production run. The engraving bit is a 0.01″ 60 degree half round engraving bit, spun at 11,000 RPM, moving at 10 inches per minute. WD-40 is applied generously to both cool the bit and lubricant the cutting. Total machining time for the final run was around 45 minutes.
The Final Product
Once Quentin was done engraving, he attached the plate to the drive itself and sent it to Christa for final preparations:
Christa packaged up the drive along with the very pretty card expressing our thanks:
Mike received our token of appreciation yesterday, and got it set up. How did he like it? We’ll let his tweet answer that.
One More Time
We said it privately, but I’ll do it one more time here on the site. Thanks for five great years Mike, and here’s to many more to come!