I'm at the stage now of needing to make about a hundred copies of several of my mechanical gifs kits. There's a balance between spending time making the kits, and spending time making tools to make the making of kits faster. How much automation is right depends on the scale of operation.
We have settled on a system of making 20 copies of each kit at a time, mainly because that's how much table space we've got readily available. (This shows 20 Combination Lock kits nearly ready to be placed in their retail boxes.)
A couple days ago my photographer Nick suggested a simple device to semi-automate one of the problem steps: counting out a dozen or so small items. (For example, twelve #6 hex nuts for each Combination Lock kit, or 42 nuts for the nightmare Transaxle kit.) After some prototypes and design improvements, I've ended up with a device that lets me count and place twenty copies of a given number of items, quite efficiently, and with hopefully a very low error rate.
The first step is setting up 20 pill counting trays and adding the small parts (nuts, bolts, etc, anything that will fit in a 2" x 4" plastic bag). They are always laid out in a 4 x 5 grid, for consistency.
The parts counter is also arranged in a 4x5 grid, so it not only counts each individual group of parts, it also confirms that all 20 trays have gotten their dose of parts. A custom template slid in the top determines how many of what shape of object will be counted out. Here it's seen loaded with six springs in each of the 20 positions, for the Pin-Tumbler Lock kit.
Below we see it in action counting out seven #2 nuts, also for the Pin-Tumbler Lock kit. This is literally Koatie's first time using the new device: we both got much faster at it after a few passes!
Nuts are particularly well-suited for this kind of device, because they fall automatically into the holes in the template. We can fill it just by wiping a bunch of nuts over the top and then pouring off the excess. But the template seems to work well even for things that have to be placed one-by-one into the slots. For example, these pins for the Pin-Tumbler Lock don't fall into place, but it still faster and more reliable to manually place them into the slots, and then dump them out automatically.
If you're curious, here's the first step in the second stage of the assembly process: the larger acrylic pieces. Those are laid out on squares of bubble wrap, after being laser-cut. Here's a 32" x 48" sheet of about half the parts for 68 copies of the Pin-Tumbler Lock:
Well, I hope you're not bored with my endless details about manufacturing. It's a learning process, that's for sure.