Definitive Metal Ears for Lineage Helmets - MachineCraft Replicas

MachineCraft

Active Hunter
(I know, I know - today is April 1st. This is not an April Fools day joke)


Hi everyone,


I have been anxious to write this post for some time. This is by and large the most complex and time-intensive project we have ever worked on - Definitive Metal Ears for Lineage Helmets.


Backstory:
In late 2021, we started working with new suppliers and gained access to significantly nicer quality parts at better prices - a huge win-win. We had completed our helmet run in 2020 and had run out of ears later that year, but even after the helmet runs we still received many requests for ears sets, including from studios working on The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. Now that we had access to better suppliers, we knew we could make even nicer ears for less than half of the cost of our original run, and we could pass those savings onto our customers - everybody wins.

The original plan was to use the same models as our original Helmet/Ears run. The raw models were designed by another member of this forum and then scaled and modified in-house for proper fitment on Gen 2+ helmets. These models were worlds better than anything to date as some measurements were taken directly from the real props. In early 2022 we pulled the original models into a CAD program we now use and started to discuss the project with a new production partner.

When we brought the original models back into the design space and started comparing to references, our production partner started pointing out several details that weren't captured in the original models. Some of these flaws are small, and some of them are difficult to be unseen once you know they exist. I was a little caught off guard - I didn't think the original models left much room for improvement. Nonetheless, we discussed further and decided to send the original models out for quotes to ballpark pricing so that we could open up pre-orders and gauge demand while developing an improved set of models using known measurements and reference photos. Our production partner took point on the redesign as he is incredibly talented and has great tools to work around lens distortion when modeling from photographs. Our projected ship date was June/July, 2022.



Improved Models:
In early June 2022, we received improved models for the Left and Lower-Right Ears. The models included features that were missing from the original models and were definitely a step in the right direction. We 3D printed the models with our high resolution SLA printer and things just didn't quite line up the way that we thought they would. Some dimensions lined up perfectly, and others were just off-the-mark. We came to the conclusion that the models we received were already scaled, so we printed them at full scale. Same story - dimensions that did not line up with the first prints were much closer, but the shift caused other things to drift off. This wasn't exactly new to us - we had a similar experience when scaling the original models from our helmet run.

With production well out of reach a week into June , we knew we had to bring in more hard data to use as a 'source of truth' to nail these parts. We got ahold of just that, and started comparing the improved models to the new data in hopes of making minor adjustments to take us right into production. We unfortunately had to part ways with our production partner after acquiring this data, and because the newer models weren't produced in the same CAD software we use, it was easier to just start over from scratch using the new reference.



Final Models:

Here we are - back at square one. I won't lie, this was a pretty low point for myself mentally. While we now had everything we need to produce the best ears possible, nothing up to this point had worked out the way it was supposed to, and we were now well past our projected delivery dates. A plan was developed and we started moving forward.


Step 1 - Model Singular-Interfacing Parts at Full Scale (Left and Lower-Right Ears)

We decided to start by modeling the Left Ear and Lower-Right Ear. Why? Two reasons.
Reason 1) Both of these pieces only directly interface with 1 other part; The Helmet. The less mechanical complexity, the better.
Reason 2) The Left Ear is the largest part of the entire kit that interfaces with the helmet. This also means it will be most affected by even small scaling adjustments. More on scaling later.

Accurately modeling parts you don't physically have in hand is challenging. I used to think that the more types of reference you have, the easier the modelling process becomes. The opposite is true. When working with caliper data, you have to identify which measurements can be relied on, and which to throw out. When working with photos, you have to account for off-axis angles and lens distrotion. When working with 3D data, you have to align mesh models to the planes that you're creating your models on, and/or then to the models themselves - VERY meticulous. Now combine all of these together and you have to create somewhat of tiering system for what data to rely on for whatever feature or dimension you are working on. On top of that, combining all of the data streams rarely leaves you with a nice 1-2 decimal point number, so there is a heavy amount of reverse engineering needed to uncover what dimensions are actually supposed to be.

Initial modeling was a slog for all of the reasons above. While working on the Lower-Right Ear I had a huge "Ah-HA!" moment that turned into developing a workflow I call the "Planes" method. This new method helped me extract really accurate measurements very quickly. I won't bore you with the details, but it was a game changer in this project. I worked through both models at a steady pace until they were complete, and then it was time to begin scaling.

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Step 2 - Scaling the Left and Lower-Right Ears

Any time I mention scaling to accuracy-centric people in the community, it seems to be controversial. I totally get that we [collectively] want things to be exactly the same size as the original parts. Consider this: Lets pretend you had two painted Gen 2-3 helmets with say ~1.5% of shrinkage from the original prop; One you install 100% scale ears on, and the other you install ears scaled exactly to the amount of shrinkage the helmets themselves incurred. Now lets pretend that you have to pick these 2 helmets out of a lineup of 10 clones of the original prop. No one is going to pick out the helmet with the scaled ears - we simply cannot see that small of difference without the use of tools. The helmet with full scale ears with the left ear hanging way over the top and bottom of the left ear platform, however, would be easy to spot. All this to say - I promise, you do not want intentionally unscaled ears on an unintentionally scaled helmet.

To begin the scaling process, we started by 3D printing out the ears models at 100% scale using our high-resolution SLA printer. This printer has reliably produced prints for us with around .01-.02mm deviance from specified dimensions, which is remarkable. Once prints of the ears were cured, we affixed them to the helmet with some painters tape, approximated the needed scale, applied that scaling percentage to the full scale models, and began new prints. We repeated this process many times until we found the perfect fit, eventually implementing printd cylindrical studs on the back of both ears to simulate where the mounting hardware passes through the helmet. Now that we had our ideal scaling integer, it was time for the real fun to begin - the Upper-Right Ear assembly.

Pictured below: 3D prints of the many iterations we went through during scaling.

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Step 3 - Model the Upper-Right Ear Assembly (And a discovery!)

"This is where the fun begins."

When modeling the Upper-Right Ear, you have several things working against you. The Earcap has to mate to the Inner Ear. The Microswitch has to fit in the pocket of the Inner Ear AND has to be properly placed for the Stalk to activate it in the down position. You cannot scale the Microswitch because it is a found part, but it's fit in the original prop is SO tight that making any modification can and will cause interferance. The Axle Screw has to pass through the Inner Ear, through the Stalk, and into the Earcap with such tight fit that it keeps tension on the Stalk without overtightening. The wiring exit from the Stalk needs to line up with the radius slot of the Inner Ear to allow wires to pass through and into the helmet from the Rangefinder. On top of all this, the assembly as a whole has to both look the part and clear the Lower-Right Ear if used on an ESB helmet. This assembly was a lot of work. It is also the part of the kit that is most different from our original "Hero Ears" run. I was never 100% satisfied with how this assembly fit the helmets on our original run, but chalked it up to the outright wonkiness of the ESB helmet; The real reason would actually be discovered next.

We started with the Earcap using the same methods we did on the previous pieces. To my surprise, the Earcap actually ended up being one of the smoothest pieces to model - until I got to the large feature on the bottom-center (Side Note: Do we have a name for this thing?). This feature was not lining up well, but everything else was, ruling out needing to align the part to the reference better. It was at that moment that I remembered a detail that boba87fett incorporated into their Elstree Precision ears, originally pointed out to him by Cantina Dude - the oddly rounded inside corner. After some studying the newer data and looking at reference photos, a discovery was made. The corner in question isn't rounded because of a broken or rounded end mill that was used to machine them, the corner is rounded because the right side of that bottom-center feature was HEAVILY filed down to clear the Lower-Right Ear! For ESB/SE Helmets, the bottom-center Earcap feature should NOT be centered and should be biased toward the left side if looking at the Earcap from the side of the helmet. This is specific to this particular helmet because the upper-right and lower-right ear platforms are not parallel to each other. If you want further evidence of this, look at well-lit reference photos that show the right side and bottom profiles of the bottom-center feature. There are very fine horizontal striations on the right side consistent with a fine file. These striations are not present on the left side. The angles this feature was filed to, and rounded corner has been near perfectly captured in our models and will be offered as an option for those who want it at no additional charge. Incorporating this modification makes it MUCH easier to get the Upper-Right Ear properly positioned without hitting the Lower-Right Ear. There you have it, something new for the die-hard accuracy crowd to enjoy.

The feature that was filed is inside of the green box in this photo, along with the file direction. It is not more obvious because it is filed down furthest on the right side of this image (closer to the helmet).
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(If there is enough interest, I will try to produce a better representation of this in CAD)


With the Earcap modeled, we started modeling the Inner-Ear. This part was very heavy on reverse engineering work and took by far the longest to model. If you change any single dimension of the Inner Ear, it will affect function and/or fit of something else in the assembly. Many careful considerations were taken during the entire modeling process of this part to ensure that every piece fits like a glove. At this point that we began building an assembly and setting up cross-sections to check fitment between the Inner Ear, Earcap, Microswitch, and all of the accurate hardware we modeled earlier in the process (more on this later). On to the Stalk.

Last but certainly not least, the Rangefinder Stalk. There isn't much to say on this part. The Inner Ear model had already taken the thickness and diameter of the bottom of the Stalk into consideration so we just needed to ensure that the stem fit. The screen-used Stalks are pretty crudely machined and aren't symmetrical below the top like they have traditionally been replicated. If modeled accurately, the stalk should NOT sit perfectly at the 12'o'clock and you should see a small gap between the Stalk and top of the Inner Ear. Fit and function of the assembly was checked digitally with a custom model of the vintage UND Labs Microswitch. Lets go prototype.

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Step 4 - Print, Scale, and Reprint the Upper Ear Assembly

To ensure that the assembly works in the real world, we printed the Earcap, Inner Ear, and Stalk at full scale. Physical threads were imbedded into the models prior to printing so that we could use actual hardware we had on hand to complete the assembly. Luckily, we even had a metal Axle Screw that we were able to use to complete the assembly. Once assembled, everything functioned as well as we had hoped it would, and we moved straight into scaling. We already had the ideal scaling integer we needed from the Left and Lower-Right Ears, so there wasn't any work to do other than to make some within-tolerance adjustments to ensure function once scaled. The scaled models were exported, printed, and fit onto Gen 2 helmets for testing.


Pictured below: Some in-progress photos of the test fit process:

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Without getting too far off topic, I just have to say that adding high-res 3D Printing to our prototyping toolset has been a real game changer. Having usable prototypes in hours or the next day has already saved us months of going back and forth with machine shops to get adjustments made. Truly I could not imagine where we would be in this particular project without this technology.



Step 5 - Production Preparations

At this point, the hard work is done; The tedious work begins. Each model requires an individual technical drawing with dimensions, tolerances, material/finish specifications, and other various important callouts. These drawings get sent over to our machinists to review and provide us with a quote. Usually the drawing creation process is a pretty quick and painless. However, here is the breakdown of drawings for this project: 7 Parts Drawings, 10 Custom Hardware Drawings, 1 Custom Packaging Drawing. In total, over 18 pages of drawings. This process took time. Lots of time. After a first pass of all drawings, a second review pass was completed on paper over several days to ensure the drawings contained all needed specifications. The end is FINALLY in sight!

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Step 6 - Machining Samples and Production

This is where we find ourselves at the time of this post. We received quotes back from our suppliers and have selected the shop we're ready to move forward with. The shop agreed to provide us with 3 production samples which will be produced over the coming weeks. We will validate those samples meet all specifications and, Force willing, we will greenlight production. Once production parts arrive, they will go through QC, sorting, bagging, and packaging before departing to some incredibly wonderful and patient folks.


Before closing post, I want to mention a couple things that we didn't get to yet.

Custom Hardware - We have reverse engineered and modeled all of the hardware we have been able to verify is used on the screen-used helmets. Custom accurate hardware will be included with each kit to reflect what would have been on helmets at time of filming, and what is on them now. This includes the white nylon screw and brass nut seen on the Upper-Right Ear assembly of the ESB helmet. The nylon screw and brass nut were almost certainly added much later down the line as they are not a match to the period correct hardware the rest of the helmet uses. Both options will be included with all ears kits for customers to use whichever they prefer.

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Custom Packaging - Packaging (and unpackaging) Ears in our previous runs was a horrible experience that took an enormous amount of time. To protect the kits both when shipping to us and on their way to our customers, we designed custom foam packaging to keep everything safe and sound. This will eliminate around 80% of the lag time between receiving production parts and when they get dropped off at the Post Office.

Pictured Below: 3D assembly of our custom foam packaging in CAD

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If you made it this far into the post - Thank you! Hopefully this process has been enlightening or at least interesting to someone. This project has truly been a labor of love that we are really proud of so far. I'm dropping this in the "Boba Fett Helmet" section of the forum to hopefully preserve some of the information that typically gets lost when sales threads expire and get deleted. Also, this is not a sales thread.

More updates to come as we await the arrival of production samples! If you have any questions, I will be happy to try and answer them. Feedback welcomed.


Cheers!,

Dakota





P. S. We, myself, and I - Only since it has come up before.. If you're confused why "we" and "I" have been used alternatively in this post or elsewhere, this is for you. We, MachineCraft Replicas, are a company/brand comprised of myself, Dakota, and my wife, Holly. Now that most of our orders get processed through our web store, I realize that some of you don't or have never interacted with Holly, but she used to be the one to answer emails and process a majority of our orders. While she doesn't really interact with the community directly, she is a very large part of MachineCraft and helps with bagging, packaging, shipping, knurl counting, and much more to keep things ticking around here. When speaking on behalf of MachineCraft, I feel it would be disingenuous to not speak as a collective "We" given all that she does, even though she probably doesn't care either way. If you didn't know, now you know!
 
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Waiting List for Extra Sets:
1) Stokeswaddle
2) Whiskey
3) Rafite77 - Committed
4) TK Fett
5) Jimbo - Committed
6) viewoptic - Committed
7) JackNapalm - Committed
8) CanaFett
9) Neo Fett - Committed


If you would like to be added to this list. Comment in the thread and we will get you added.
 
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Quick illustration of what I'm calling the "Planes" Method using a 3D Scan one of our Upper-Right Ear assemblies from our helmet run. In actual practice, I would have taken more time aligning planes to the part, but you'll get the idea. If done well, you will see the mesh data weaving in and out of the parametric model making the part appear spotted.

I can then quickly take extremely precise angles and/or dimensional measurements out of that data and apply them to my model, and THEN aligning the whole part or assembly becomes much easier.

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Quick illustration of what I'm calling the "Planes" Method using a 3D Scan one of our Upper-Right Ear assemblies from our helmet run. In actual practice, I would have taken more time aligning planes to the part, but you'll get the idea. If done well, you will see the mesh data weaving in and out of the parametric model making the part appear spotted.

I can then quickly take extremely precise angles and/or dimensional measurements out of that data and apply them to my model, and THEN aligning the whole part or assembly becomes much easier.

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I realize that if you don't work in CAD, the explanation above probably means little or nothing to you. I made a (hopefully) easy to understand illustration to showcase how this applies to something like the Ears.


To start, let's pretend that you take caliper measurement of the dimension in red in the photo below from the real prop. Since you have this hard dimension, you jot it down to use in your model.

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For simplicity sake, we are going to use a basic triangle illustration below to represent this part/dimension. The measurement in red that we took with calipers is 9.5mm.

Screen-Used Part
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We take this measurement and several others and use them to make a sketch within our CAD model. For simplicity sake, we are also going to assume that the bottom width of the triangle is a known measurement that is reliable.

Caliper Model
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That height measurement was taken directly from the prop so we know that it is reliable... Or is it? You see, nearly all exterior edges of the real helmet ears are filed down, likely to prevent injury, which is why the top of the real part (left) is rounded, and the top produced by the sketch above (right) is sharp. We used our height measurement of 9.5mm as the point where the lines intersect, meaning we did not compensate for the rounded edge.

Screen-Used Part > Caliper Model
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Enter the Planes method. With this new data, now we can actually extrapolate the raw angles and use those in our sketches. If we do, you'll see where things went wrong by using the caliper dimension. On the real part, we now know that both bottom angles are supposed to be 60 degrees. We inadvertently changed these angles in our model by not compensating for the rounded edge. (Radius measurement of the rounded edge is blacked out because we are simulating that we do not know it)

Screen-Used Part > Caliper Model
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Again, simulating that the bottom width dimension is a known and reliable measurement - Lets try again in a new sketch (left). We use our angles that we extracted from the planes method and now have identical angle geometry to the real part (center).

Planes Method Model > Screen-Used Part > Caliper Model
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"Wait. If the Planes Method model is so great, why is it so much taller than the real part?" I'm glad you asked. Our model is currently the same as the Screen-Used part would have been freshly machined before deburring and filing the edges. We also have not rounded the edge of our first caliper model, so at first glance it might look like a closer match. Next lets apply a rounded edge to our models like the Screen-Used Part has and see what happens...

Planes Method Model > Screen-Used Part > Caliper Model
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There you have it. Assuming you file the edge down the same as the Screen-Used Part, you end up with a part that is geometrically identical to it. With the same corner radius applied to the caliper model, you can see that it is measurably different in height and angle geometry.

Planes Method Model > Screen-Used Part > Caliper Model
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All of the above is a gross simplification of the process as we are looking at one dimension on a single plane. Imagine this method applied to many measurements on the new models and hopefully you'll understand why I think this is a big deal.


Thanks for coming to my TED talk,

Dakota





TL;DR - We want this measurement where the lines intersect, but can't get it unless we have angle data. We get angle data from the Planes Method. New models much gooder.

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Still chugging away on this project. We have a bunch of parts that we're awaiting production samples for; Most directly related to this project, and some for some unannounced projects.

In the meantime, production samples of the Ears packaging are done and just awaiting parts to populate them! Really happy with how these look so far, and even more happy that I won't have to spend hours wrapping ears in bubble wrap to stuff them into USPS Small Flat-rate boxes..

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Finally an update to share! Sample Ears finally got some machine time. Pictured are the raw machined pieces. These will go through some surface finishing operations next to get rid of the tooling marks. Apologies for covering up parts of the photos. There are some unannounced products in them that we aren't quite ready to talk about yet... :)

More to come very soon!


Photos:
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Happy Friday, Folks!

Production samples are finished and en route to us now. I will put them under the microscope and provide feedback to the shop and we'll make any needed adjustments before we spin up production. Apart from lightly brushing some other areas like the back of the Earcap, and the cavity of the Inner Ear, I'm very happy with how these look at first glance!

Production samples of the attachment hardware are a couple weeks out. We decided to ship the attachment hardware samples separately so that we have time to go through these parts and several others in the pipeline while we're waiting on the hardware to arrive.

The finish line is finally in sight! I hope the handful of you guys getting these will appreciate all of the work that has gone into them.


Questions/Comments/Feedback welcomed!

Dakota


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Will this stalk replace the individual one you sell, or only be included in the set?

That's a really good question! At some point, we will 'Accurize' the standalone stalks with the dimensions from these since we know that these dimensions are correct. That's something I've already got on the backlog to do.

That being said, the since the standalone stalks won't attach via the accurate axle screw method, we will probably make the attachment hole to accommodate the head of a countersunk screw much like the current standalone stalks. Since that will take away from the accuracy, we will probably go ahead and also use a more common metric screw size for the rangefinder screw holes, and we will also likely tap the very bottom of the stalks so that a set screw can be pinned against a servo for those who want to run a motorized setup. Bottom line, we want the standalone stalks to be the most modular option, whereas we want the metal ears kits to be the most accurate option.

Being that we aren't even in pre-production on the stalks yet, I am definitely open to any input anyone may have before we start working on it. :)
 
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