TL;DR: direct link to the dUltimate Questionnaire - YOUR opinion counts!
* Link updated on 2021-8-6 to second questionnaire!
Recently I've been showing you guys what the idea is behind the dUltimate design, how the design started, and where the prototypes are now.
Today, just like every other day for the past few months, I have been hard at work at making the dUltimate dice design a reality for all of us. I've been massively overwhelmed by the enthusiasm in the comments and more than 3300 (!!!) people clicked the notify button on Kickstarter. That is truly amazing to see! Thank you!!
So where are we now? Well, we're almost there:
Unfortunately this 'tiny' step of "finalizing manufacturing details" turns out to be much more difficult.
"Why?", you might ask.
Short answer: I want to deliver a perfect product to you and I do not like to make concessions.
I spend some extra time now to assure a product will be delivered as smooth and swift as possible after a successful Kickstarter campaign.
The long answer ("Why is it difficult to make?")
This will get a tiny bit technical, but I will try to explain it such that anyone can follow.
First I wondered how standard dice are made. Turns out almost all standard dice are mass produced by use of injection molding, rock tumbling, and barrel painting.
Injection molding in general
Injection molding is the process in which hot molten plastic gets pushed into a mold and is allowed to cool and solidify in the mold. This way the plastic fills the inside of the mold and all details in the mold is transferred to the plastic product. This process is usually fast and you only have to pay a relative small sum for each part (machine time + material used.) However, injection molding requires you to have a very detailed and accuracy mold. That's were the big bucks have to be spend and that's why injection molding is only interesting when you're producing at least 1.000 - 10.000 parts.
Injection molding dUltimate dice
Injection molding the dUltimate design is a whole different beast. Suddenly, the limitations of injection molding become visible. I will not bore you with every detail, but the most pronounced ones are draft, shrinkage, sinkmarks, and voids.
After a the plastic is injected and has solidified in the mold the mold needs to open and release the part. For most simple products a two-part mold is sufficient to release the product. If however the product cannot be released in a two-part mold due to negative drafted surfaces, then the mold needs to consist of more parts or the design must be changed to allow for release from the mold.
In this case we're talking about a dice. I cannot change the angles of the dice surface, because that would alter the fairness of the dice. So it would require more parts to make up a mold. How many? Of the 50+ specialized injection molding companies from the Netherlands that I have contacted they either told me that it was impossible, or came up with a crazy SIX-part mold to make it all work. Using such an approach yields a cost price far exceeding anything realistic for a dice...
Like almost anything plastic expands when it is hot and shrinks when it cools down. The numbers for shrinkage are well researched and defined for most materials. Still they create problems that we often cannot fix in the way we want to, the most common being sinkmarks.
Sinksmarks are a result of change of speed in which the molten plastic solidifies. If a surface has even thickness it will solidify and shrink evenly if controlled properly. If however there was a huge lump of material behind the surface at some point, then that lump will take much longer to cool down and solidify. As a result, this lump will pull all the surrounding material closer because it wants to shrink while cooling down. Sinkmarks can be often be seen on large and/or cheap plastic products and are an absolute nightmare for dice, because we want to have a flat surface on which the die can rest.
If you thought sinkmarks are bad, try voids. Due to the exact same effects of shrinkage as described above, when trying to mold a very solid product, the material can actually form vacuum pockets on the inside!!
I have actually cut open multiple dice and dice samples to review this, and they all showed the exact same thing: big ugly voids that will result in an uneven and unbalanced die.
Rock tumbling is pretty much what the name implies. Products, after they've been produced, are placed in a big spinning cilinder with a tumbling medium like rocks. Then the products will bounce around with the rocks which causes all the blemishes like scratches and cut marks that are on the product to disappear and become polished. That sounds great, right? Well.. it also rounds of the edges of products. This is why almost all standard six sided dice have round edges.
Now back to the dUltimate again. If I were to rock tumble the dUltimate then the edges will be rounded resulting in a ball. The faces are already too small to handle rounding. Also, the process of rock tumbling is not 100% controlled, meaning that one side could lose more material than the other resulting in an unbalanced product. The last thing I want is an unbalanced unusable ball, so rock tumbling has to be avoided as much as possible.
Barrel painting, or any other mass painting technique, is usually a quick way to paint the valleys of a product quickly and efficiently. Imagine how much time it would take to have to paint every pip on a d6 by hand for 1.000.000 dice?! Thus they throw all the products in a big vat and add some paint. The paint will get on many parts of the product, but due to the polished finish of the product it will not stick to the outside faces very well and easily wipe off. This step can be done in many ways too, but is most often done by another round in the rock tumbler...
Other dice production techniques
Besides injection molding there is also the option of resin casting, metal casting, and a few other more 'artisan' techniques. These techniques are perfect for very low quantities from 1 - 1.000 because they don't require an expensive mold like injection molding does. The downside is that most of the production steps are done by hand and thus have a much higher cost per piece. For these techniques it is also not uncommon to use the rock tumbling or barrel painting techniques discussed above. So there are many requirements and restrictions that we are dealing with here for such a seemingly simple mechanical product.
Right now I have two distinct options for producing dUltimate dice: a very specialized plastic casting process and the well known metal casting process.
It is possible for me to develop and offer them both, but since both will use different molds it will be risky to buy a mold only to have a few products made from them. It is a complete waste if I spend a lot of time and money to develop both products if you are only interested in one of them!
That's why I've made a questionnaire to ask for YOUR opinion.
So without further ado, please follow this link:
dUltimate questionnaire - YOUR opinion counts!
* Link updated on 2021-8-6 to second questionnaire!
I will post the initial results in a week or so and hopefully we'll be able to focus the design in one of these two directions.
If there are any further questions or comments feel free to let me know!