Electronic hackers and ham radio operators of a certain age have a soft spot for the Heathkit brand. Maybe that’s why we had a rush of nostalgia when we saw the Heathkit site had a new product. You may recall that Heathkit had gone the way of the dodo until a few years ago when the brand started to resurface. Their latest kit is a precision RF meter which is available on preorder.
Before there were websites and hacker spaces and all the modern push to “do it yourself,” Heathkit was teaching people electronics through kit building. Sure, they were known for ham radio and test equipment, but many people built stereos (hi-fi), TVs, radio control gear, computers, and even robots. All with manuals that are hard to imagine if you haven’t seen one. They were world-class.
We’ve been following the Heathkit reboot for a while now, and it looks like the storied brand is finally getting a little closer to its glory days. I was thumbing through the new issue of QST magazine while I was listening in on a teleconference for the day job – hey, a guy can multitask, can’t he? – when I spied an ad for the Heathkit GC-1006 digital clock, which they brand the “Most Reliable Clock”. As soon as the meeting was over, I headed over to the Heathkit website to check out this latest offering.
I had cautiously high hopes. After the ridiculous, feature-poor, no-solder AM radio kit (although they sensibly followed up with a solder version of that kit) and an overpriced 2-meter ham antenna, I figured there was nowhere for Heathkit to go but up. And the fact that the new kit was a clock was encouraging. I have fond memories of Heathkit clocks from the 80s when I worked in a public service dispatch center; Heathkit clocks were about the only clocks you could get that would display 24-hour time. Could this actually be a kit worth building?
Alas, the advertisement was another one of those wall-of-text things that the new Heathkit seems so enamored of. And like the previous two kits offered, the ad copy is full of superlatives and cutesy little phrases that really turn me off. Then again, most advertising turns me off, so I’m probably not a good gauge of such things. Nor am I sure I’m in the target demographic for this product – in fact, I’m not even sure to whom this product is being marketed. Is it the younger crowd of the maker movement? Or is it the old-timers who want to relive the glory days of Heathkit builds? Given the $100 price, I’d have to say the nostalgia market is the most likely buyer of this one.
To be fair, $100 might not be that much to spend on a decent clock. I’m a bit of a clock snob, and I’ve gotten to the point where I can almost tell which chip is in a clock just by looking at the controls. The feature set of a modern digital clock has converged to a point where every clock has almost exactly the same deficiencies. The GC-1006 claims to address a few of my hot button issues, like not being able to set the time to the exact second – I hate that! An auto-dimming display is nice, as is a 12- or 24-hour display, a 10-minute timer (nice for hams, who are required to ID their station every 10 minutes), and a battery backup that claims to last for 4 weeks.
Is this worth buying? At this point, I’m on the fence. Looking at an unboxing video, it appears to be a high-quality kit, and it would be fun to build. But spending $100 on a clock might be a tough sell to my loan officer.
Still, I think I might take one for the team here so we have a first-hand report of what the new Heathkit is all about. And it would be nice to build another Heathkit product. I’ll let you know how it goes.
[Alex Zaikin] made a modern reproduction of an early-80s Soviet hobbyist home computer. Although the design was open, indeed it was published in “Radio” magazine, the project was a mammoth undertaking involving around 200 microchips, so not many “Mikro-80” computers were actually made.
[Alex] wanted to simplify the project and reduce the parts count. These days, 200 microchips’ worth of logic can easily fit inside an FPGA, and [Alex] wrangled the chip count down to seven. Moreover, he made it even easier to build your own retro minicomputer by building a modular platform: Retrobyte.
With the Retrobyte providing all of the essential infrastructure — SD card, tape recorder I/O, VGA outputs, and more — and the FPGA providing the brains, all that was left was to design a period keyboard and 3D print a nice enclosure. Project complete! Time for a few rounds of ASCII Tetris to celebrate.
We’ve covered a number of retro computer projects. We just have a soft spot for them, is all. If you don’t know what all the fuss is about, you could start out with a kit build to get your feet wet. Before long, you’ll be emulating ever obscurer computers of yore in custom logic. And when you do, be sure to drop us a line!
Growing your own food is a fun hobby and generally as rewarding as people say it is. However, it does have its quirks and it definitely equires quite the time input. That’s why it was so satisfying to watch Farmbot push a weed underground. Take that!
Farmbot is a project that has been going on for a few years now, it was a semifinalist in the Hackaday Prize 2014, and that development time shows in the project documented on their website. The robot can plant, water, analyze, and weed a garden filled with arbitrarily chosen plant life. It’s low power and low maintenance. On top of that, every single bit is documented on their website. It’s really well done and thorough. They are gearing up to sell kits, but if you want it now; just do it yourself.
The bot itself is exactly what you’d expect if you were to pick out the cheapest most accessible way to build a robot: aluminum extrusions, plate metal, and 3D printer parts make up the frame. The brain is a Raspberry Pi hooked to its regular companion, an Arduino. On top of all this is a fairly comprehensive software stack.
The user can lay out the garden graphically. They can get as macro or micro as they’d like about the routines the robot uses. The robot will happily come to life in intervals and manage a garden. They hope that by selling kits they’ll interest a whole slew of hackers who can contribute back to the problem of small scale robotic farming.
If you had made it this far in your journey from project to kit, you would now have a box of electronic components, a pile of printed instructions, and a box of plastic bags, thin card boxes, or whatever other retail packaging you have chosen for your kit. You are ready to start stuffing kits.
It’s All In The Presentation
Your priorities when stuffing a kit are to ensure that your customer receives all the components they should, they can easily identify each component, and that the whole kit is attractively presented such that it invites them to buy or build it when they first see it. This starts before you have packed any components, you must carefully prepare each component into units of the required number and label them if they are otherwise not easy to identify. Pre-cut any components supplied on tape, and write the part number or value on the tape if it is not easily readable. You may even have to package up some difficult-to-identify components in individual labeled bags if they can not have their values written on them, though this incurs an extra expense of little bags and stickers. Some manufacturers will insist on using black tape on which an indelible pen doesn’t show up!
Take care cutting tapes of components, it is sometimes easy to damage their pins. Always cut the tape from the bottom rather than the side with the peelable film, and if necessary carefully bend the tape slightly to open up the gap between components for your scissors.
If you start by deciding how many kits you want to stuff in a sitting, list all the kit components and prepare that number of each of them in the way we’ve described. Then take the required number of packages or bags, and work through each component on the list, stuffing all the bags with one component before starting again moving onto the next. In time you will have a pile of stuffed kits ready to receive their instructions and labeling.
The next step will be to fold your instruction leaflet and pack it in the kit. Take a moment to consider how it can be most attractively presented. For example with a kit packaged in a click-seal plastic bag it makes sense to fold the leaflet such that the colour photo of a completed kit is visible from the front. And when you place it in the bag make sure that the PCB is visible top-outwards in front of it. A customer looking at your kit wants to immediately see what they are likely to create with it.
You can now seal the bag or box, the kit is packed. It only remains to give it a label that has all the pertinent information and is attractive to the customer. You will probably want to put your logo or web address on the label as well as any small print required, alongside the most important feature — the kit description. We’ve put a warning about small parts and curious children, you may also want to put any reglatory or compliance information here. For example in Europe you might have a CE mark and a WEEE logo. Once you have your design sorted you can run it up in your favourite label designing software – we used gLabels – and print as many as you like on sheets of sticky labels. We strongly suggest buying good quality branded labels, the extra money is well worth it when you consider that they will have much more reliable glue, and the extra cost per individual kit will be marginal. Pick a label size which fills a decent space and is easy to read on your packaging without being too big, we used 70mm x 37mm laser labels of which 24 can be had on a single sheet.
Your First Finished Product
It’s an exciting moment when you apply a label to your first fully packed kit and see for the first time what your customers will see: a finished product. You aren’t quite done though, because there is still the small matter of quality control. Take a kit or two from your batch at random, and count all their contents off against your list of what they should contain. This should help you ensure you are packing the kits correctly. Finally, give a completed kit to a friend who has never seen it before, and tell them to build it as a final piece of quality control. They are simulating your customer in every way, if they have no problems then neither should anyone who buys the kit.
Once you’ve built your batch of kits, you will now have the stock you will send out to your customers. Imagine yourself as a customer, if you order a kit you will expect it to arrive in pristine condition. You should therefore now take care of this stock of kits to ensure that it does not come to any harm, its packaging is as crisp and new when you send it out as when you packed it, and it has not attracted any dust while in storage. We would suggest having a separate plastic box for the stock of each kit in your range, and protecting the kits from dust with a lid, or by storing them inside a larger plastic bag.
As we’ve worked through this series of articles, we’ve tried to give you a flavour of the process of bringing an electronic kit from a personal project to the masses. We’ve looked at learning about the market for your kit, we’ve discussed turning a project into a product before writing the best instructions possible and now stuffing your first kits ready for sale. In the next article in the series we’ll talk about how you might sell your products, the different choices open to you for online shops, marketplaces, and crowdfunding.
We’ve had two previous articles in this series on turning a personal electronic project into a saleable kit, in which we’ve examined the kit market in a broader context for a new entrant, and gone on to take a look at the process of assembling the hardware required to create a product. We’ve used an NE555 LED flasher as a simple example , from which we’ve gone through the exercise of setting a cost of production and therefore a retail price.
The remaining task required to complete our kit production is to write the documentation that will accompany it. These will be the instructions from which your customers will build the kit, and their success and any other customers they may send your way will hang on their quality. So many otherwise flawless kits get this part of the offering so wrong, so for a kit manufacturer it represents an easy win into which to put some effort. Continue reading “From Project To Kit: Instructions Are Everything”→
In the previous article in this series on making a personal electronic project into a saleable kit, we looked at the broader picture of the kit market for a new entrant, the importance of gauging whether or not your proposed kit has a viable niche and ensuring that it has a good combination of buildability, instructions, and quality. In this article we will look at specifying and pricing the hardware side of a kit, illustrating in detail with an example project. The project we’ve chosen is a simple NE555 LED flasher which we haven’t built and have no intention of assembling into a kit for real, however it provides a handy reference project without the circuit itself having any special considerations which might distract from the job at hand.