Many charging stations have no place to “plug-in” the plug when it is not in use - they just let it hang there. This allows dirt, insects, rain or snow to get into the electrical contacts of the plug. Other charging stations DO have such an inlet, but often people want to keep the station and the plug at 2 different places like in a garage and at the driveway. This is where my product fits in. It is an inexpensive plastic inlet, so no need to buy an actual inlet with pins and everything. How did I create this? It was the only option when I first started nearly 2 years ago… which, if I can interest you, brings me to the story of open source.
It all began in 2011 when there were only 40 Nissan Leaf electric vehicles allotted for sale to the public in Canada. I got one of these 40. Frustrated with the high costs of home charging stations, I decided to make my own. This required some experimentation and curbing the fear of failure. A key strategy to curb that fear is to mitigate costs of experimentation. In order to test my charging station, I needed to plug it into an inlet but didn’t want to start with the one on my car! Buying an inlet that was capable of charging a car was overkill and expensive, as I only needed to test. By that time, the end of 2012, I was already an active user of 3D printing. Surely someone had created a J1772 inlet that I could find, download and print. To my disappointment, I found nothing useful and free in any library of cad drawings anywhere. Frustrated and annoyed yet again at the lack of progress and the proprietary nature of OEMs, I decided to reverse engineer the inlet on my car. I used open-source software to create a 3D image of the inlet.
In February 2013, I published my J1772 inlet to the Thingiverse (Universe of Things, hosted by makerbot, a home-use 3D printer company.) It was free to download and use non-commercially. I had got what I wanted because I made it using an open-source 3D printer, but I didn’t realize that I created something that would have a life of its own. http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:53586
Over the next few months I found other people looking for something to perform the function of simply hanging the charger plug on the wall. I pointed them to my thing and moved on. In September of 2013, someone contacted me asking how much they could pay for me to print out my dummy inlet and mail it to them. Not being one to say “no” to money, I obliged. This trend seemed to catch on. People got hold of me asking to make variations of shape and colour. I didn’t advertise, I only had some contact information on the Thingiverse pages I created for each variation. By the end of the same month, I was motivated to sign up for a “myevblog” for the chance to win a prize. Here I could share my story and host a sales page for the 3D printed parts.
I had a few variations of 3D printed parts but requests to create modifications subsided leaving one particular variation as the one most people wanted. This was the version that had a hood to cover the plug, and a hook to hold a coiled cable. This is why I say that this project took a life of its own — it evolved into what it is today, with very little input from me, other than many hours of design and fabrication.
Fast forward 6 months and I am attempting to see how much work it is to fabricate 100 units within a month. This sort of failed, but in a good way. 100 units is too much for 3D printing, but not nearly enough for injection molding. So I found a seemingly half-way point — cast urethane resin. This involves 3D printing a master version and making a silicone mold around it. After removing the master copy, I pour a mixture of liquid resin (like epoxy) into the mold and let it harden. After it is cured, I pop it out and repeat. Sounds easy, but it is a messy process and a basement apartment is not conducive to this practice.
After demonstrating that there is a demand for these things - interesting what posting a photo of a desk full of them does - an acquaintance of mine began talking about injection molding and making it happen with a modest investment. This process took much longer than I would have liked. Once again, the same pattern of disappointment and frustration occurred as the tool makers could not use the same files I had used for 3D printing. They had to start from scratch and the process to get a final die took over 6 months. But it is finally done and everyone gets what they want.
So now I am committed to something that, 2 years ago, I never expected or intended. But it has been fun and a great learning experience. And now I’m just getting started. For availability and more information please check out my blog http://erroneus.myevblog.com.