The Price Of Domestic Just In Time Manufacturing

Hardware is hard, manufacturing only happens in China, accurate pricing is a dark art. Facts which are Known To Be True. And all things which can be hard to conquer as an independent hardware company, especially if you want to subvert the tropes. You may have heard of [Spencer Wright] via his superb mailing list The Prepared, but he has also been selling an unusual FM radio as Centerline Labs for a few years. Two years ago they relaunched their product, and last year the price was bumped up by a third. Why? Well, the answer involves more than just a hand wave about tariffs.

The Public Radio is a single-station FM radio in a mason jar. It’s a seemingly simple single purpose hardware product. No big mechanical assemblies, no complex packaging, not even any tangential accessories to include. In some sense it’s an archetypically atomic hardware product. So what changed? A normal product is manufactured in bulk, tested and packaged, then stored in a warehouse ready to ship. But TPR is factory programmed to a specific radio station, so unless Centerline wanted one SKU for each possible radio station (there are 300) this doesn’t work. The solution was domestic (US) just in time manufacturing. When a customer hits the buy button, a unit is programmed, tested, packed, and shipped.

As with any business, there is a lot more to things than that! The post gives the reader a fascinating look at all the math related to Centerline Labs’ pricing and expenses; in other words, what makes the business tick (or not) including discussion of the pricing tradeoffs between manufacturing different components in Asia. I won’t spoil the logical path that led to the pricing change, go check out the post for more detail on every part. 

We love hearing about the cottage hardware world. Got any stories? Drop them in the comments!

Magnets Make This Panda Move

A single board computer on a desk is fine for quick demos but for taking it into the wild (or even the rest of the house) you’re going to want a little more safety from debris, ESD, and drops. As SBCs get more useful this becomes an increasingly relevant problem to solve, plus a slick enclosure can be the difference between a nice benchtop hack and something that looks ready to sell as a product. [Chris] (as ProjectSBC) has been working on a series of adaptable cases called the MagClick Case System for the LattePanda Alpha SBC which are definitely worth a look.

The LattePanda Alpha isn’t a run-of-the-mill SBC; it’s essentially the mainboard from a low power ultrabook and contains up to an Intel Core M series processor, 8GB RAM, and 64GB of eMMC. Not to mention an onboard Atmega32u4, WiFi, Gigabit Ethernet, and more. It has more than enough horsepower to be used as an everyday desktop computer or even a light gaming system if you break PCIe out of one the m.2 card slots. But [Chris] realized that such adaptability was becoming a pain as he had to move it from case-to-case as his use needs changed. Thus the MagClick Case System was born.

Continue reading “Magnets Make This Panda Move”

Pan And Tilt To A New 3D Printed Business Model

When shooting video, an easy way to get buttery smooth panning and tracking is to use a mechanical device like a rail to literally slide the camera side to side. These range from what is essentially a skateboard to incredible programmable multi-axis industrial robots, a wide variety of which have been visible in the backgrounds of Youtuber’s sets for years. But even the “low end” devices can run hundreds of dollars (all that anodized aluminum doesn’t come cheap!). Edelkrone has been building lust worthy professional (read, pricey) motion setups for a decade. But in the last year they’ve started something pretty unusual; lowering prices with their Ortak series of 3D printed equipment. But this time, you do the printing.

In the FlexTILT Head 3D, everything in red is printed at home

Since the RepRap we’ve been excited about the future of democratized at home manufacturing, but to a large extent that dream hasn’t materialized. Printers are much more useful now than in the early days but you can’t buy a new mug from Starbucks and print it at home. But maybe that’s changing with Edelkrone’s offering.

When you buy an Ortak product you get one thing: all the fasteners and hardware. So the final product is more durable and appears more finished than what would pop out of your Prusa unaided. What about the rest of the device? That’s free. Seriously. Edelkrone freely provides STLs (including print setting recommendations) with detailed step-by-step assembly instructions and videos (sample after the break). Nice hack to avoid piracy, isn’t it?

Why choose the do-it-at-home style product? A significant price reduction of course! The Ortak line currently includes two products, the FlexTILT head you see above, and a skateboard-style slide called the SKATER 3D. Both of these were sold fully finished before making it to the DIY scene. The FlexTILT Head 2 comes in at $149 when you buy it whole. And when the PocketSKATER 2 was for sale, it included a FlexTILT Head and came to $249. Now? Each hardware kit is just $29.

So is this it? Have we hit the artisanal DIY micro-manufactured utopian dream? Not yet, but maybe we’re a little closer. Edelkrone is a real company which is really selling these as products, right there on their website along with everything else. They refer to it as “co-manufacturing” which we think is a clever name, and talk about expanding the program to include electronics. We can’t wait to see how the experiment goes!

Continue reading “Pan And Tilt To A New 3D Printed Business Model”

Tiny LED Cube Packs Six Meters Of Madness

When [Freddie] was faced with the challenge of building a sendoff gift for an an LED-loving coworker he hatched a plan. Instead of making a display from existing video wall LED panels he would make a cube. But not just any cube, a miniature desk sized one that wasn’t short of features or performance. We’d be over the moon if someone gifted us with this itty-bitty Qi coil-powered masterpiece of an RGB cube.

Recently we’ve been blessed with a bevy of beautiful, animated RGB cubes but none hit quite this intersection of size and function. The key ingredient here is tiny but affordable RGB LEDs which measure 1 mm on a side. But LEDs this small are dwarfed by the otherwise minuscule “2020” package WS2812’s and APA102s of the world. Pushing his layout capabilities to the max [Freddie] squeezed each package together into a grid with elements separated by less than 1 mm, resulting in a 64 LED panel that is only 16 mm x 16 mm panel (with test points and controller mounted to the back). Each of these four-layer PCBs that makes up the completed cube contains an astonishing 950 mm of tracking, meaning the entire cube has nearly six meters of traces!

How do you power such a small device with no obvious places to locate a connector? By running magnet wire through a corner and down to a Qi coil of course. Not to let the cube itself outshine the power supply [Freddie] managed to deadbug a suitably impressive supply on the back of the coil itself. Notice the grain of rice in the photo to the left! The only downside here is that the processor – which hangs diagonally in the cube on a tiny motherboard – cannot be reprogrammed. Hopefully future versions will run programming lines out as well.

Check out the video of the cube in action after the break, and the linked photo album for much higher resolution macro photos of the build. While you’re there take a moment to admire the layout sample from one of the panels! If this sets the tone, we’re hoping to see more of [Freddie]’s going-away hacks in the future!

Continue reading “Tiny LED Cube Packs Six Meters Of Madness”

The Amazon Dash Button: A Retrospective

The Internet of Things will revolutionize everything! Manufacturing? Dog walking? Coffee bean refilling? Car driving? Food eating? Put a sensor in it! The marketing makes it pretty clear that there’s no part of our lives which isn’t enhanced with The Internet of Things. Why? Because with a simple sensor and a symphony of corporate hand waving about machine learning an iPhone-style revolution is just around the corner! Enter: Amazon Dash, circa 2014.

The first product in the Dash family was actually a barcode scanning wand which was freely given to Amazon Fresh customers and designed to hang in the kitchen or magnet to the fridge. When the Fresh customer ran out of milk they could scan the carton as it was being thrown away to add it to their cart for reorder. I suspect these devices were fairly expensive, and somewhat too complex to be as frequently used as Amazon wanted (thus the extremely limited launch). Amazon’s goal here was to allow potential customers to order with an absolute minimum of friction so they can buy as much as possible. Remember the “Buy now with 1-Click” button?

That original Dash Wand was eventually upgraded to include a push button activated Alexa (barcode scanner and fridge magnet intact) and is generally available. But Amazon had pinned its hopes on a new beau. Mid 2015 Amazon introduced the Dash Replenishment Service along with a product to be it’s exemplar – the Dash Button. The Dash Button was to be the 1-Click button of the physical world. The barcode-scanning Wands require the user to remember the Wand was nearby, find a barcode, scan it, then remember to go to their cart and order the product. Too many steps, too many places to get off Mr. Bezos’ Wild Ride of Commerce. The Dash Buttons were simple! Press the button, get the labeled product shipped to a preconfigured address. Each button was purchased (for $5, with a $5 coupon) with a particular brand affinity, then configured online to purchase a specific product when pressed. In the marketing materials, happy families put them on washing machines to buy Tide, or in a kitchen cabinet to buy paper towels. Pretty clever, it really is a Buy now with 1-Click button for the physical world.

There were two versions of the Dash button. Both have the same user interface and work in fundamentally the same way. They have a single button (the software can recognize a few click patterns), a single RGB LED (‘natch), and a microphone (no, it didn’t listen to you, but we’ll come back to this). They also had a WiFi radio. Version two (silently released in 2016) added Bluetooth and completely changed the electrical innards, though to no user facing effect.

In February 2019, Amazon stopped selling the Dash Buttons. Continue reading “The Amazon Dash Button: A Retrospective”

Debug Superpowers Bring An STM32 Back From The Dead

When a processor has a fault it can leave what looks to be precious little in the way of cause and effect. Debug-by-print-statement works surprisingly well in simple cases, but where in a desktop environment you would drop into a debugger to solve trickier problems this can be an onerous task on an embedded system. [Ross Schlaikjer]’s excellent blog post walks through setting up one of our favorite Open Hardware debug probes and shows us that with the right tooling in place, unexpected faults aren’t quite so impenetrable. Continue reading “Debug Superpowers Bring An STM32 Back From The Dead”

STEP Up Your Jetson Nano Game With These Printable Accessories

Found yourself with a shiny new NVIDIA Jetson Nano but tired of having it slide around your desk whenever cables get yanked? You need a stand! If only there was a convenient repository of options that anyone could print out to attach this hefty single-board computer to nearly anything. But wait, there is! [Madeline Gannon]’s accurately named jetson-nano-accessories repository supports a wider range of mounting options that you might expect, with modular interconnect-ability to boot!

A device like the Jetson Nano is a pretty incredible little System On Module (SOM), more so when you consider that it can be powered by a boring USB battery. Mounted to NVIDIA’s default carrier board the entire assembly is quite a bit bigger than something like a Raspberry Pi. With a huge amount of computing power and an obvious proclivity for real-time computer vision, the Nano is a device that wants to go out into the world! Enter these accessories.

At their core is an easily printable slot-and-tab modular interlock system which facilitates a wide range of attachments. Some bolt the carrier board to a backplate (like the gardening spike). Others incorporate clips to hold everything together and hang onto a battery and bicycle. And yes, there are boring mounts for desks, tripods, and more. Have we mentioned we love good documentation? Click into any of the mount types to find more detailed descriptions, assembly directions, and even dimensioned drawings. This is a seriously professional collection of useful kit.