Nixie Power Supply Shows Ins and Out of Offshore Manufacturing

[Tony] built a high-efficiency power supply for Nixie tube projects. But that’s not what this post is about, really.

As you read through [Tony]’s extremely detailed post on Hackaday.io, you’ll be reading through an object lesson in electronic design that covers the entire process, from the initial concept – a really nice, reliable 170 V power supply for Nixie tubes – right through to getting the board manufactured and setting up a Tindie store to sell them.

[Tony] saw the need for a solid, well-made high-voltage supply, so it delved into data sheets and found a design that would work – as he points out, no need to reinvent the wheel. He built and tested a prototype, made a few tweaks, then took PCBWay up on their offer to stuff 10 boards for a mere $88. There were some gotchas to work around, but he got enough units to test before deciding to ramp up to production.

Things got interesting there; ordering full reels of parts like flyback transformers turned out to be really important and not that easy, and the ongoing trade war between China and the US resulted in unexpected cost increases. But FedEx snafus notwithstanding, the process of getting a 200-unit production run built and shipped seemed remarkably easy. [Tony] even details his pricing and marketing strategy for the boards, which are available on Tindie and eBay.

We learned a ton from this project, not least being how hard it is for the little guy to make a buck in this space. And still, [Tony]’s excellent documentation makes the process seem approachable enough to be attractive, if only we had a decent idea for a widget.

Hacker Abroad: Owning a Business in China’s Electronics Markets

I spent a full day on Saturday in the electronics markets of Shenzhen, China. The biggest thing to take away from this is the sheer scale of business that is going on here. It’s a consumer-electronics tourist trap, it’s a manufacturing and wholesaling nexus point, and it’s a community of people working incredibly hard to get ahead in life.

A big thanks to Scotty Allen for introducing me to several store owners in the markets, and to a translator who went around with me. These connections were crucial for an inside look on the lifestyle of Huaqiangbei (HQB).

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Hacker Abroad: Cellphone Repair in Huaqiangbei and a Huge Meetup at Seeed

Shenzhen, China is the home of the legendary electronics markets of Huaqiangbei. Friday was my first full day in the city, having spent the previous three days in Shanghai. We got a little bit of a late start as our flight didn’t arrive until after 1 am and we stayed at the first night at an airport hotel. We met up with Scotty Allen for an amazing meal followed by a very unique experience in the electronics markets, not just seeing the items, but meeting the booth owners who showed off some of their secrets.

The day was capped off by an absolutely packed meetup at X.factory, the collaborative creative space run by Seeed Studio. They lined up a half dozen hardware talks that were quite excellent, and there was a ton of hardware being demonstrated as the night progressed. They had to kick us out or we’d have stayed all night!

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Hackaday Meetup: Shenzhen

Hackaday and Seeed Studio are hosting a meetup in Shenzhen on Friday, March 22nd and you are invited!

This meetup is happening at X.factory, a maker hub run by Seeed Studios. Sophi Kravitz and Mike Szczys will be in town for the meetup and will both speak, along with a project talks from members of the Hackaday Community. Snacks and beverages will be served, and as always, if you have a project you’re working on bring it along! Having a piece of hardware is a great way to start a conversation, and this is the perfect place to draw inspiration, seek advice from your peers, and find team members to join in your projects!

Come and celebrate a love for design, electronics, learning new things, and meeting new people. We hope to see you at X.factory next week!

You Can Add Wireless Charging to iPhone… Kinda

We could watch cellphone teardown videos all day long. There’s something pleasing about seeing how everything is packed into such a small enclosure. From the connectors, to that insidious glue, to the minuscule screws, [Scotty Allen] has a real knack for giving us a great look at the teardown process. Take a look at his latest video which attempts to add wireless charging to an iPhone. I think there’s a lot to be said for superb lighting and a formidable camera, but part of this is framing the shots just right.

Now of course we’ve taken apart our fair share of phones and there’s always that queasy “I think I’m going to break something” feeling while doing it. It’s reassuring that [Scotty] isn’t able to do things perfectly either (although he has the benefit of walking the markets for quick replacement parts). This video is a pretty honest recounting of many things going wrong.

The iPhone 6 and 7 are not meant to have wireless charging, but [Scotty’s] working with a friend named [Yeke] who created an aftermarket kit for this. The flexible PCB needs to be folded just right, and adhesive foam added (along with a magical incantation) to make it work. That’s because the add-on is a no-solder job. Above you can see it cleverly encircles one of the mating connectors and relies on mechanical pressure to make contact with the legs of that connector. Neat!

In the second half of the video [Scotty] meets up with [Yeke] to discuss the design itself. We find it interesting that [Yeke] considers his work a DIY item. Perhaps it’s merely lost in translation, but perhaps [Yeke’s] proximity to multiple flexible PCB manufacturers makes him feel that this is more like playing around for fun than product design. Any way you look at it, the ability to design something that will fit inside that crazy-tight iPhone case is both impressive and mesmerizing. Having seen some of the inductive charging hacks over the years, this is by far the cleanest way to go about it.

We caught up with [Scotty] during last year’s Supercon. We may not be able to drop everything and move to Shenzhen, but hearing about the experience is just enough to keep us wanting to!

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Scotty Allen Builds A USB Drive From An iPhone

What happens when you come across a mysterious, partially populated circuit board in the Huaqiangbei electronics market in Shenzhen? If you’re [Scotty Allen], the only answer is to make your own USB drive from iPhone parts.

[Scotty] made a name for himself through his YouTube channel Strange Parts where he built his own iPhone from scratch, added a headphone jack to an iPhone, and other various exploits involving hot air in Shenzhen. This latest build is no different. It begins with a random PCB [Scotty] found at the electronics market. It has a USB port on one end, it has pads for an iPhone memory chip, and it has an IC that looks like a USB to Flash converter.

The build involved finding a few broken iPhones, desoldering and reballing their Flash chips, and when those didn’t work, finding the correct Flash chips for this tiny little USB adapter board. Here, [Scotty] ran into trouble. The first Flash chip didn’t have the right pins, there was blue smoke, and the toolchain for initializing the USB to Flash IC was a mess.

In the end, [Scotty] managed to create a USB Flash drive after five or six visits to the electronics market, two stencils to reball Flash chips, and finding the OEM software for the USB to Flash chip on this very special PCB. That, itself, required Windows (the horror!), and finding the right version of the software.

Is this technically building a Flash drive purely from disposed iPhone components? We’d quibble. But is it a cool build, regardless? Absolutely. And the real story here is how quickly [Scotty] could iterate on his engineering. When the greatest electronics market is right around the corner, you can do anything with a microscope and a hot air gun.

Scotty Allen Visits Strange Parts, Builds an iPhone

Scotty Allen has a YouTube blog called Strange Parts; maybe you’ve seen his super-popular video about building his own iPhone “from scratch”. It’s a great story, and it’s also a pretext for a slightly deeper dive into the electronics hardware manufacturing, assembly, and repair capital of the world: Shenzhen, China. After his talk at the 2017 Superconference, we got a chance to sit down with Scotty and ask about cellphones and his other travels. Check it out:

The Story of the Phone

Scotty was sitting around with friends, drinking in one of Shenzhen’s night markets, and talking about how bizarre some things seem to outsiders. There are people sitting on street corners, shucking cellphones like you’d shuck oysters, and harvesting the good parts inside. Electronics parts, new and used, don’t come from somewhere far away and there’s no mail-ordering. A ten-minute walk over to the markets will get you everything you need. The desire to explain some small part of this alternate reality to outsiders was what drove Scotty to dig into China’s cellphone ecosystem.

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