by Ed Parsons
Joyce has been a fiber and craft enthusiast most of her life and started hand-knitting seriously in 2017. She decided that she wanted to have a circular sock machine and master it. She found a gently used Erlbacher Speedster and began her journey. I did not participate but, as an engineer, I appreciated the mechanical design.
Joyce decided to attend the annual Erlbacher Homecoming in April 2022, and since we are both retired, I went with her. Frankly, I didn’t stay at the event the whole time, taking advantage to go visit an old friend about two hours away, and doing some other sightseeing. But, we met some wonderful people and I got an idea of how passionate the crankers are about their craft. Joyce learned a lot at the event and one thing we took away was that there seemed to be a lack of affordable cone winders. On the way back Joyce challenged me to design a cone winder for her – Challenge Accepted!
From the start, I was thinking about two different levels of winder: one that would require the person to manually guide the yarn onto the cone, and one that would do it more “automatically.” I hate to use the term automatic because yarn coming from a swift, or even a pre-wound ball, can be fickle at times, and I knew it was going to be challenging just to get to the point where the machine would do most of the guide work. Anyway, we tackled the manual winder first, since it was more straight-forward. I always kept it in the back of my mind, though, that the manual design would have to be usable in the automatic design.
I considered many different designs and got started pursuing a winder that would be controlled by a microcontroller, require programming, and would have lots of expansion capabilities. Cool, but boy was that overkill! I settled on a fairly simple design that used a 12-volt DC motor with a variable and reversible speed control unit. This used a simple 12-volt power supply. Most of the components were readily available on Amazon.
Then came the mechanics of an enclosure and how I was going to get that motor to turn a cone. I have had 3D printers for several years and decided that I could design the case however I wanted (within the bounds that it could be printed). I came up with a design that minimized the size of the enclosure, and had a printed cone holder that attached directly to the shaft of the motor. After construction of a couple of prototypes, it was apparent that having that heavy cone hanging on that poor little motor shaft was not going to be the best design. So, I revamped the design, made the case a little taller, and put a stainless-steel shaft with ball bearings mounted in the case to hold the cone holder. Then I printed some gears. Not only was the design much more robust, I had also gained some extra speed so the cone could spin faster.
A couple of things to note. First, although I am an engineer, I am not a mechanical nor electrical engineer. My degree is in industrial engineering, meaning I spent much of my career in manufacturing either doing project planning or developing production systems. I have always had a fondness for designing things and have spent time dabbling in electronics and programming.
Second, up to this point, I was still working under the challenge of building one cone winder for Joyce. However, coming from a manufacturing background, I was always thinking about how this could be produced for a wider market. As Joyce tested the cone winder, she was quite adamant that she thought we could sell these things. So much for retirement!
So now the pressure got turned up another notch. We decided to proceed with plans to start an LLC, develop an online store, and bring the Speedy Cone Winder™ to market. Joyce is the CEO and CFO and handles the website and marketing. I am the COO and chief designer and do most of the production.
Printers hard at work
Long story short, in the space between April and August of 2022, we designed a product, brought it quite successfully to market (we’re still learning), and have built and sold close to a hundred units, all over the United States and Canada. At the same time, we started development of the next phase of product – the Speedy Guide And Go™ – but that is a story for the next blog post.