EU Duty Changes, A Whole VAT Of Trouble For Hackers?

It could be said that there are a number of factors behind  the explosion of creativity in our community of hardware hackers over the last couple of decades, but one in particular that is beyond doubt is the ease with which it has been possible to import small orders from China. See something on AliExpress and it can be yours for a few quid, somewhere in a warehouse on the other side of the world it’s put into a grey shipping bag, and three weeks later it’s on your doorstep. This bounty has in no small part been aided by a favourable postage and taxation environment in which both low postage costs and a lack of customs duties on packages under a certain value conspire to render getting the product in front of you a fraction of the cost of buying the thing in the first place. Continue reading “EU Duty Changes, A Whole VAT Of Trouble For Hackers?”

Tales (and Advice) From Setting Up A Product Line

Making something that has to get into others’ hands involves solving a lot of different problems, many of which have nothing at all to do with actually building the dang things. [Conor Patrick] encountered them when he ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for an open-source USB security key that was not only shipped to backers, but also made available as an ongoing product for sale. There was a lot of manual and tedious work that could have been avoided, and so [Conor] laid out all the things he wishes he had done when first setting up a product line.

Turning these unprogrammed boards into finished products then shipping them is a big job.

If the whole process is a river, then the more “upstream” an issue is, the bigger its potential impact on everything that comes afterwards. One example is the product itself: the simplest and most easily managed product line is one that has only one product with no variations. That not only minimizes errors but makes supply, production, and shipping more straightforward. Striving for a minimum number of products and variations is also an example of something [Conor] didn’t do. In their crowdfunding campaign they offered the SoloKeys USB device — an implementation of the FIDO2 authentication token — as either USB-A or USB-C. There were also two types of key: NFC-capable (for tapping to a smartphone) and USB only. That is four products so far.

Offering keys in an unlocked state for those who want to tamper makes it eight different products. On top of that, they offered color choices which not only adds complexity to production, but also makes it harder to keep track of what everyone ordered. [Conor] also observed that the Kickstarter platform and back end are really not set up like a store, and it is clunky at best to try to offer (and manage) different products and variations from within it.

Another major point is fulfillment and in [Conor]’s opinion, unless the quantities are small, an order fulfillment company is worth partnering with. He says there are a lot of such companies out there, and it can be very time consuming to find the right one, but it will be nothing compared to the time and effort needed to handle, package, address, and ship several hundreds (or thousands!) of orders personally. His team did their own fulfillment for a total of over 2000 units, and found it a long and tedious process filled with hidden costs and challenges.

There’s good advice and background in [Conor]’s writeup, and this isn’t his first rodeo. He also shared his thoughts on taking electronics from design to production and the more general advice remains the same for it all: be honest and be open. Under-promise and over-deliver, especially when it comes to time estimates.

Automate The Freight: Amazon’s Robotic Packaging Lines

In the “Automate the Freight” series, I’ve concentrated on stories that reflect my premise that the killer app for self-driving vehicles will not be private passenger cars, but will more likely be the mundane but necessary task of toting things from place to place. The economics of replacing thousands of salary-drawing and benefit-requiring humans in the logistics chain are greatly favored compared to the profits to be made by providing a convenient and safe commuting experience to individuals. Advances made in automating deliveries will eventually trickle down to the consumer market, but it’ll be the freight carriers that drive innovation.

While I’ve concentrated on self-driving freight vehicles, there are other aspects to automating the supply chain that I’ve touched on in this series, from UAV-delivered blood and medical supplies to the potential for automating the last hundred feet of home delivery with curb-to-door robots. But automation of the other end of the supply chain holds a lot of promise too, both for advancing technology and disrupting the entire logistics field. This time around: automated packaging lines, or how the stuff you buy online gets picked and wrapped for shipping without ever being touched by human hands.

Continue reading “Automate The Freight: Amazon’s Robotic Packaging Lines”

US Announces Withdraw From Postal Treaty; International Shipping Prices Expected To Rise

The United States has announced plans to withdraw from a 144-year postal treaty that sets lower international shipping rates. The US claims this treaty gives countries like China and Singapore an unfair advantage that floods the US market with cheap packages. The BBC reports the withdraw of this treaty will increase shipping costs from China by between 40% and 70%.

The treaty in question is the Universal Postal Union, which established that each country should retain all money it has collected for international postage. The US Chamber of Commerce has said this treaty, ‘leads to the United States essentially paying for Chinese shipping’. This is especially true since 2010, when the US Postal Service entered an agreement with eBay Greater China & Southeast Asia and the China Post Express & Logistics Corporation. This agreement established e-packet delivery where packages weighing up to 2 kg would be delivered at lower prices. If you have ordered inexpensive products shipped from abroad, it is likely the e-packet price that made this possible.

This will affect businesses that capitalize on imports and exports; the storefronts on Amazon and eBay that resell Chinese goods rely on cheap shipping from China. It will also affect companies based outside of the United States that ship to US customers. Small businesses within the US who manufacture at low enough quantities to get their components/raw-materials shipped under the e-packet rates will also see a hit. An increase in shipping costs will mean higher prices for all of these products.

The move is also being justified as a way to even the playing field for US manufacturers who are shipping from within the US and may be paying higher rates to ship to the same customers as foreign-bought goods. It is the latest development in a growing trade war between the US and China which has already seen several rounds of tarrifs on goods like electronics, and even 3D printing filament. It’s hard to see how the compounding effect of these will be anything but higher prices for consumers. Manufacturers seeing the pinch on raw materials and components will pass this on to customers who will also soon see higher shipping prices than they are used to.

The Challenges Of Shipping From China – Life Of A Flailing Tube Man

Last summer was an exercise in developing a completely different kind of product from my normal wheelhouse; a costume. My Halloween costume had been so popular that I decided to have a go at commercializing it, and that took me on a path into manufacturing that I hadn’t yet taken; shipping by boat from China. The short version is it’s a ridiculously difficult mess. Continue reading “The Challenges Of Shipping From China – Life Of A Flailing Tube Man”

Laser Cutter Turns Scrapped To Shipped

We’ll go way out on a limb here and say you’ve probably got a ridiculous amount of flattened cardboard boxes. We’re buying more stuff online than ever before, and all those boxes really start to add up. At the least we hope they’re making it to the recycling bin, but what about reusing them? Surely there’s something you could do with all those empty shipping boxes…

Here’s a wild idea…why not use them to ship things? But not exactly as they are, unless you’re in the business of shipping big stuff, the probably won’t do you much good as-is. Instead, why not turn those big flattened cardboard boxes into smaller, more convenient, shippers? That’s exactly what [Felix Rusu] has done, and we’ve got to say, it’s a brilliant idea.

[Felix] started by tracing the outline of the USPS Priority Small Flat Rate Box, which was the perfect template as it comes to you flat packed and gets folded into its final shape. He fiddled with the design a bit, and in the end had a DXF file he could feed into his 60W CO2 laser cutter. By lowering the power to 15% on the fold lines, the cutter is even able to score the cardboard where it needs to fold.

Assuming you’ve got a powerful enough laser, you can now turn all those Amazon Prime boxes into the perfect shippers to use when your mom finally makes you sell your collection of Yu-Gi-Oh! cards on eBay. Otherwise, you can just use them to build a wall so she’ll finally stay out of your side of the basement.

[Thanks to Adrian for the tip.]

Continue reading “Laser Cutter Turns Scrapped To Shipped”

Vacuum Tubes: Shipping Through EBay Now Challenging?

There is disquiet in the world of vacuum electronics, that something as simple as shipping a vacuum tube could now be very difficult to achieve. It’s a concern expressed among other places in a video by [Guitologist] that we’ve included below, and includes tales of vacuum tubes being impounded as either dangerous to ship, or not allowed to be shipped across international borders.

Upon investigation it appears that the common thread in all the stories lies with eBay’s Global Shipping Program, the centralised shipping service operated by the online auction giant. We reached out to eBay’s press office on the subject but have yet to receive a reply. It’s best to ask someone who ships a lot of tubes for comment when you have a tube shipping story, so we also had a conversation with TC Tubes. They’re a small company dealing in tubes, and as you might imagine they ship a lot of them (Their website is likely to detain you for a while if you are a tube-head). [Chelsea] from TC Tubes told us that they have encountered no regulatory barriers to tube shipping, and that their only bad experience has been yet again with eBay’s Global Shipping Program.

So it seems there is no cause for panic if you ship tubes, CE marking or RoHS rules haven’t come for your EL34s and your 6550s. Ebay have evidently got some kind of issue with tubes in their shipping operation, and perhaps you should ship by other means if you wish to avoid your tubes going astray. The consensus here among the Hackaday crew is that it could be as simple as uninformed employees not being aware of what tubes are because they aren’t as common as they used to be. After all, with over a hundred years of history behind them it’s not as though any potential issues with their shipping haven’t been comprehensively explored.

We’d still be interested to hear from eBay on the matter though, if they would care to comment.

Continue reading “Vacuum Tubes: Shipping Through EBay Now Challenging?”