Here is a summary of the various at-risk components of New55 film with comments. It will be interesting to see how these ratings change over time, as I expect they will. In general, mechanical aspects such as joining, cutting, edging, die cuts, and assembly are less risky than materials-intensive component sourcing, particularly those involving outside coating services. We know or will know most of what we need for these outside services, but have to be concerned about their schedules, which are slower than we would like. More details as follows so you will know what the parts are and what they do.
I've listed these in order of assembly, a bit like an indented bill of materials. Maybe I should post the product configuration tree here somewhere. In any case...
The Sleeve Assembly. This contains the Receiver sheet which has several parts, the stop tab, end tab and printing. It has to be stable yet easily peelable, light tight, and axially stiff enough to allow easy insertion into the 545 holder. And as we have advertised, it should produce less "Polatrash" than its predecessor.
Status: Some parts done, several in development
Risk: Moderate mechanical risk, high materials risk.
The Receiver Sheet is the place where a positive image is formed in the dark during processing. It has to have the right stiffness, be totally lightproof, compatible with film emulsions, since it may be in contact with a dry emulsion for a long time, water tight, and most importantly of all, it has to have the nano-enabled structure upon it for a good neutral (not yellow or brown!) toned DTR image to be produced in a couple of minutes. Nobody manufactures it today so we have to make it, and there are several parts that we have to bring together to cause that to happen.
Status: New design developed by New55
Risk: High. This is the highest risk component of the project and is quite complex.
The Base is paper, of a certain thickness, width etc. that serves as the support for some 8 other layers of materials. Polaroid didn't use this construction, but if they did, the material supplier they used would have stopped making the material anyway. In fact all the paper materials used by Polaroid in the sheet films are gone. All of them are out of production. So we have had to start again from scratch, and have succeeded in designing and obtaining something we think is better, less costly, more modern in character, and environmentally sane. I like it.
Status: We have it
The Laminate in this case is the opacification layer, which is something we invented, and the polymer overcoat layer. Together these form a very strong and dimensionally stable web for further processing, one that is not likely to shrink or swell over time, or develop a curl. We have an excellent Base and Laminate, and it gives us great confidence that we can, at the very least, keep film from fogging by light or by chemicals such as silicones which are used in many "black" papers.
Status: We have it
The Bridge is an additional coat that seals the Base and Laminate making them impervious and less susceptible to excess water absorption during coating steps and user processing. It has to be a material that will support the next coat.
Status: Not prototyped yet
Risk: Moderately high
"Image" is what we call the layer that is white and has the glossy surface you see. In actuality, this layer is fairly complex, has to have an exact pH and pH over time characteristic, and have a high whiteness. It also has to have a nanostructure that is particular to the DTR process and image quality requirements learned from the photonics fields, and therefore requires specialized services which we do not have, currently.
Status: We know who uses it in their papers, and it begins with a "K".
Risk: High. BUT - if we can get this coating, in a reasonable time, we'll have made a big advance.
The Nucleation Layer is where the black and grey tones of the positive image are developed and held for eternity or at least for a long time. We have formulated our own modern Nucleation Layer and now have to find a resource to apply it. It is very clever and reduces the complexity (as if this isn't complex enough) of the manufacturing steps vs what Polaroid used to do with thirty vendors, three shifts and 137 people in two large buildings filled with coating equipment. Ted and I invented this new less complicated nucleation system, and it works. Now that we know what to do, making a couple is no big deal, but scaling this up is a fairly big deal.
Status: We invented this, it works, and we think it can be commercialized
Cost: High. This layer uses very expensive materials in small quantities, but it adds up.
Risk: High. Even though we know how to do this, it has never been commercialized.
The Release Layer is the very topmost layer and it keeps the reagent from sticking and making a mess. We have to find someone able to do this, or do it ourselves. It isn't all that complex but this layer can impart a brown or yellow tone to the positive, which looks awful. So we want to avoid that.
Status: We think this is important but doable
The Cover might also be called The Back of the Sleeve Assembly. Its job is to keep the assembly light tight and form a thin cover for parts to slide. We have designed The Cover to mimic the operation of our Base and Laminate, only thinner, to keep the total thickness within the limits of the 545 holder. The Cover works very well, looks nicer than anything Polaroid used for its sheet film, and it seals the light out like no tomorrow, so hooray for The Cover!
Status: We have it here and it works well
The Stop Tab is a piece of thick paper that prevents you from pulling The Sleeve all the way out of the camera. It has to be cut from the right stock and glued into the right place and we need to invent a tool to do that, because nobody wants to hand-glue 25,000 tabs.
Status: Being designed and sourced
The End Tab is the part you hold with your hand as you insert the film into the 545. It has to be peelable, stiff, locatable with simple machinery, and have opposing adhesive stripes applied to it prior to assembly. It looks like something we might have made for us. Fingers crossed.
Status: Being designed and sourced
Printing on The Sleeve is expected but not absolutely necessary. Some kind of "Lens Side" mark might do. I'm not even going to think about it now.
The Pod is very important and has to be configured to fit inside the sleeve, on The Insert Assembly, and contain the processing jelly, or reagent.
Status: Working prototype needing further tooling
The Pod Materials is a bit touchy as it uses aluminum barrier material perilously close to a strong alkali, but Polaroid and Fuji got away with it for the most part, and then so must we. A better pod material is something worth developing, but later on.
Status: Some on hand, more needed later
The Reagent is made of a specially blended developer, solvent, alkali booster and thickener (and other chemicals) that process the negative and do double duty of transferring dissolved silver sols across an electrolytic barrier into the Receiver Sheet. A book could be written about The Reagent. It won't be published today. Suffice to say that a suitable reagent processes a good negative and a good positive, and stays active for a while before something happens to it.
Status: Complete and working
The Tongue Assembly is the insert that holds the sheet film, pod and is terminated by The Clip. Its final assembly has to be done in total darkness so it is the last assembly step.
The Clip is "just" a piece of metal. No understatement stings more than that one at this moment, when the tooling charges and lead times for The Clip are still ringing in the checkbook. The original style Polaroid clip was made of soft steel and painted. The cost to make this part from a painted steel would be enormous today. Without the paint it would rust, so we have found a substitute material that does not require paint and has better springiness too. It has never been tested, so we wait with bated breath.
Status: Designed and on order with prepaid tooling
The tongue is shaped like a tongue, sort of, and supports the film and pod. It is made of thin but stiff and slippery stock which has to be die cut. Pretty doable.
The Adhesive Strips have to be applied to The Tongue with a machine. This involves vendor development and has not been done yet, so it remains an unknown for now.
Status: In design
The Negative is rather important and something we could not make ourselves. It has been unnerving to see our favorite negative - EFKE - go out of business. It worked the best in DTR mode because it was primitive and had cubic grains that were mainly at the surface - like Panatomic X used to have. It turns out that the more primitive emulsions work the best in DTR and advanced T grain types do not. They were latecomers anyway and there are still some old school emulsions left. The makers of these emulsions were not quite sure if they should be named in New55 because the performance of the film is very different in our system, but it doesn't matter much to us as long as we can get 4x5 negative in bulk, cheaply! We cannot do that, but we are doing our best to keep the cost reasonable. You had better start buying more 4x5 films from these vendors is all I can say right now.
Cost: Higher than expected
Risk: Moderately low
Source A has agreed to ship a starting quantity of film in stages and we are tracking the heat history, lot numbers, emulsion characteristics, packaging and other things that can ruin film or degrade, fog or damage it - before we have a chance to.
Source B has suggested they might compete with Source A in price but we have not any agreement on that at the moment.
The Package is essential if we want to ship New55 FILM to anyone.
Status: To be sourced
The Liner is a fancy name for a sealed plastic bag that seals the film from the environment. There has to be the right size and a sealer that is quick to use.
The Box has to be stiff enough for transport but light in weight and inexpensive. It should be plain for shipping and not appear to be sealed after opening.
The Label has to be printed and put on the box. There is a machine that does that and uses the label to also seal the box, saving tape, time and expense.
The timing is always a risk area. Vendors and lead times are always long, and we end up waiting for things to come in. That being said, we have planned the roll out in a sane manner that has a production level forecast of 100 to 200 units per day, one shift, more or less continuously. This is necessary in order to maintain steady employment of trained assemblers and to running a successful, sustainable business. It also means that as the New55 FILM rolls out, those who are early in the shipping schedule may see something that is somewhat different than those who are later in the schedule. Such is the way of manufacturing ramp-ups, universally, and it is a familiar model to many because improvements and learning are both unavoidable when a small company launches its first products.
Timing is the least controllable risk, and the most likely to be problematic.
A thank-you to the many who have suggested vendors and sources. We always check on these. One of the things people often do not realize is the cost of having custom materials made, and the unsuitability of standard components, such as papers, in the application. Also, our needs in terms of square meters are too small for many coaters to consider.
The DTR process is demanding and the surface chemistry and engineering are right up there with the most modern and demanding nanotech processes of today - something that reminds us that the origin on nanotech certainly belongs to those in the 20th Century who first learned how silver can self-assemble into black blobs, and how nanoparticles act as catalytic seeds. Today the many nanotech students are rediscovering the magic material silver, and what it does when light is applied to it. It is wonderful and also infuriating to read the conclusions in new scientific journals such as "NANO" that silver migration is a new discovery. Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn't.