In terms of a new product release, AutoTrickler V4 has been our smoothest launch yet. Generally, each time we ship something new, there are surprises that come up over the next few months, and the iterative design cycle continues. With V4, since it was a complete mechanical redesign, we tried to put extra effort into reducing the chance of needing a Version 5 anytime soon. We did more testing than usual, and waited to start shipping until I had confidence we wouldn’t need to send out some kind of replacement part to everyone or change the firmware.
Production transitioned to V4 smoothly, there were no major issues holding us back early on, and the number of emails asking for help was low. It was definitely helpful that 80% of those with reservations already had an AutoTrickler, so most people had some experience, feedback was on point, and we were able to steer in the right direction.
One challenge we faced was to tighten up the machining of the large tube. It is difficult to hold the tolerances necessary to ensure that fine ball powder will not leak through, while not being so tight that it binds. We also need to ensure the belt tension is just right, and we’ve found it can potentially increase after shipping. Along with our machine shop, we’ve adjusted the manufacturing, assembly, and testing process each time we learn more, and we have a good handle on it now.
In terms of overall concept, the tube, the motor, and the scale are basically the same as they always have been since 2016, capable of the same proven speed and precision which brought us to this stage. What changes with V4 is the form factor, usability, and adjustments. All previous versions were mechanically tuned through trial and error, often needing to be reset when switching powders. V4 is all about setting it up once, and then a calibration process takes care of small changes, automatically.
My vision is for anyone to be able to sit down, pour powder in the hopper, calibrate, and start loading with the same performance they had last time. The speed settings should be a user preference, not necessarily having to be changed when switching between powders. If it’s that easy, you will be much more likely to enjoy the process and not feel like reloading is a chore.
The ideal powder dispenser for long range shooting is one that is accurate enough for weight deviation to be negligible, fast enough to keep up with the rest of your reloading process, and convenient enough that time spent in setup, adjustment, or teardown is minimal. It should be inexpensive, without maintenance or support required over time, and accessible to everyone who needs it.
I won’t settle with something which is just “okay”. If there is a new idea that would truly be an improvement, I will give serious consideration to evolving the design so I can continue to justify each decision as having been best for the product.
I believe the design of V4 achieves the objective. In my own testing, when everything is set up correctly, the speed and precision are impressive. The mechanics are easy to understand, the costs appropriate, there are no parts to wear out, it works with all common powders, and the tuning controls are in software which can be updated for free. While there is of course more than one way to dispense powder, I believe this approach is the right one, and I intend to carry this concept forward into the future.
The next challenge is to ensure that each and every person is having the intended experience. For example, it’s a common mistake that a scale is not properly configured to “fast” response mode, or the V4 housing is not resting on the bumpers correctly. In this case, it might overshoot often, or the powder just won’t flow at all. It can be hard to know what’s wrong, how to correct it, or even if this is normal. The user manual cannot address every possible issue someone may run into, and help from other users can be hit or miss since the AutoTrickler is a niche product and personal opinions and experiences vary.
This year, I would like to complement our email-based support strategy with a more proactive approach intended to reach users who do not email us directly asking for help. This could mean sending out a more detailed user guide, creating instructional videos, or actively offering to help on a regular basis. I believe that if everyone can see how the AutoTrickler is meant to work, understands what “normal” is, has accurate information, and is given the opportunity to learn, it would have a much greater impact than any new product or mechanical upgrade would have.
I would now like to directly ask for your feedback
. Let us know how you have been getting along with your V4. If you absolutely love it, let me know how often you use it, with which powders, and how fast you are able to complete a typical batch of ammo. If you see potential for improvement, please be clear and objective and I’ll do my best to help. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Soon, I will update the AutoTrickler app with improved mappings between the speed sliders and the internal parameters, which will increase performance for everyone. The interface will be redesigned to more clearly inform if the calibrated flow rates are too high or too low for best results, and offer suggestions. I also have an idea to replace the number keypad area with performance information while a target is set, to dedicate more primary screen space to helping users reach optimal performance.
We are considering sharing on the website many of the amazing, positive comments we have received over the past year, as well as summarizing the common questions, problems, and solutions. Collecting and analyzing a larger sample of feedback all at once will also help determine what I should be focusing on in 2023.