Starting your own electronic-kit business

Voices: 15 steps to starting your own electronic-kit business is an interesting article. This engineer started her own successful electronics-kit business. Limor Fried has made Adafruit Industries into a successful electronics-kit business. You can too. Based on her own experience, she offers 15 practical steps for engineers who dream of starting their own kit business.


  1. Tomi Engdahl says:

    The Tiko Printer: What Happens When You Innovate Too Much

    Even in this domain of nothingness, there will still be one unassailable truth: you should not buy a 3D printer on Kickstarter.

    We’re no strangers to failed 3D printer crowdfunding campaigns. Around this time last year, backers for the Peachy Printer, an inordinately innovative resin printer, found out they were getting a timeshare in Canada instead of a printer. This was unusual not because a crowdfunding campaign failed, but because we know what actually happened. It’s rare to get the inside story, and the Peachy Printer did not disappoint.

    The Tiko 3D printer is another 3D printer that looks innovative, and at the time of the crowdfunding campaign, the price couldn’t be beat.

    Now, after almost two years of development, Tiko is closing up shop.

    It’s a sad but almost predictable end to a project that could have been cool. Unlike so many other failed crowdfunding campaigns, Tiko has given us a post-mortum on their campaign. This is how the Tiko became a standout success on Kickstarter, how it failed, and is an excellent example of the difference between building one of something and building ten thousand.

  2. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Focusing on Core Competency
    Outsource the rest

    A startup can shave 12 months or more off the development cycle by outsourcing non-essential elements of product design.

    I’m hearing from different sources that investments in electronic design automation (EDA) and semiconductor startups are picking up around the globe and not just in Silicon Valley. That’s welcome news –– and long overdue –– as we move through 2017. With funding come new and innovative products and the cycle of growth to acquisition or other successful outcomes endures.

    A startup that focuses solely on its core competency is better able to develop its products more quickly and cost effectively. In some cases, a startup can shave 12 months or more off the development cycle by outsourcing non-essential elements of product design. It also doesn’t need to recruit additional developers, a consideration when finding the person with the right experience, skillset and personality match takes precious time and resources.

    Outsourcing can conserve capital, especially when product development is expensive and getting more so. While we may see new companies get funding, they are not getting healthy chunks of funding as previous startups. They need to budget wisely and economically.

    Another benefit of outsourcing is an ability to reduce sales barriers. When a reputable, well-known vendor provides the service, tool or IP block, the buying process is moved along because the potential customer has confidence in that known vendor. In some cases, the customer may use that vendor as well.

    Outsourcing is not without risk, however, for not all vendors are created equal. Startups who identified their core competency and are ready to outsource a specific part of their product should carefully evaluate the vendors. They need to look for a proven track record and good customer support. Endorsements are helpful as well.

  3. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Arrow, Indiegogo and IBM announce groundbreaking partnership

    On February 16, 2017, Arrow Electronics, IBM and Indiegogo announced a partnership to help bring new Internet of Things (IoT) ideas to life. The collaboration brings IBM’s Watson IoT platform and cloud services together with ideation to production services from Arrow Electronics and Indiegogo.

    Originally launched as a crowdfunding platform, Indiegogo is the place for entrepreneurs to move their ideas quickly from concept to market. Entrepreneurs on Indiegogo are able to showcase their ideas directly to users, take orders for products early in their life-cycle and ultimately build direct relationships with their first customers. Indiegogo is the platform of choice for early stage entrepreneurs and the creative teams of some of the most successful consumer product companies in the world

    Now, qualified Indiegogo entrepreneurs will have no-charge access to IBM Watson IoT Platform via Bluemix for an unlimited amount of time, giving them access to more than 160 industry-leading cloud services to incorporate ready-to-use capabilities, such as artificial intelligence, Blockchain, advanced data analytics and cyber security into their latest IoT inventions. In addition, qualified startups will have access to IBM’s global network of technical and industry expertise, education, mentoring and enterprise customers and business partners, all of which can help to bring new and innovative IoT products to market quickly.

    Experts predict that by 2022, the IoT landscape will be worth $14.2 trillion. A critical driver to this growth will be entrepreneurs and early-stage businesses which, while armed with ideas, lack the resources and skills to develop these next-generation IoT innovations and bring them to market.

    IBM, Indiegogo and Arrow Electronics Partner to Fuel the Next Generation of Internet of Things Startups

    Early examples of Arrow Certified Indiegogo IoT startup projects include:

    Fitly, which created Smart Plate, the first intelligent nutrition platform that instantly analyzes and tracks what you eat. An industry first, Smart Plate was developed with support from Arrow and IBM Cloud, and was successfully funded on Indiegogo.
    PlayDate, a startup that launched on Indiegogo, created the first smart ball for pets that lets owners interact with their dogs and cats from anywhere in the world. The PlayDate team ran the highest grossing pet tech crowdfunding campaign to date, but used Indiegogo for much more than just funding. They were one of the first campaigns to get Arrow-certified, a badge of approval on their manufacturing plans, and they received $100,000 in flash funding as well as engineering design support. “Arrow and Indiegogo’s support was incredibly valuable,” said Kevin Li, CEO at PlayDate. “Our campaign with Indiegogo opened doors with partners and acted as market validation for investors. Indiegogo and Arrow partnering with IBM will be a huge benefit for entrepreneurs using the platform.”

    “Entrepreneurs and startups play a vital role in creating the next generation of businesses – their drive, innovation and passion for bringing new ideas to life is particularly important in building the IoT,” said Harriet Green, General Manager Watson IoT. “We are thrilled to partner with Indiegogo and Arrow Electronics to accelerate IoT innovation and development around the world working hand in hand with some of the best and brightest entrepreneurs, developers and startups to build an even better IoT.”

    “IBM will take our groundbreaking collaboration with Indiegogo to a whole new level, helping us reach more entrepreneurs and get their innovative products to market quickly and cost-effectively,”

    Around the globe, IBM is working with more than 6,000 clients, across industries, to help them truly realize the benefits of IoT.

  4. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Spencer Soper / Bloomberg:
    Walmart is launching “Store No. 8” tech startup incubator in Silicon Valley, focusing on virtual and augmented reality, robotics, and artificial intelligence

    Wal-Mart Unveils ‘Store No. 8’ Tech Incubator in Silicon Valley

    Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is creating a technology-startup incubator in Silicon Valley to identify changes that will reshape the retail experience, including virtual reality, autonomous vehicle and drone delivery and personalized shopping.

    The incubator will be called Store No. 8, a reference to a Wal-Mart location where the company experimented with new store layouts. Marc Lore, chief executive officer of Wal-Mart’s e-commerce operations, announced the incubator Monday at the ShopTalk conference in Las Vegas.

    The world’s biggest retailer has been overhauling its online team to better challenge Inc. with greater selection and lower prices.

    “Every day, I become more and more convinced about the omnichannel advantage,” Lore said, referring to a sales strategy that combines online and in-store shopping.

  5. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Source Parts on TaoBao: An Insider’s Guide

    For hardware aficionados and Makers, trips to Shenzhen’s Huaqiangbei have become something of a pilgrimage. While Huaqiangbei is a tremendous and still active resource, increasingly both Chinese and foreign hardware developers do their sourcing for components on TaoBao. The selection is vastly greater and with delivery times rarely over 48 hours and frequently under 24 hours for local purchases it fits in nicely with the high-speed pace of Shenzhen’s hardware ecosystem.

    For overseas buyers, while the cost of Taobao is comparable to, or slightly less than AliExpress and Chinese online stores, the selection is again, many, many times the size. Learning how to effectively source parts from Taobao will be both entertaining and empowering.

    Understanding How Chinese Works is Helpful

    You can find nearly anything on TaoBao, if you know the Chinese name for it. This doesn’t mean you need to speak Chinese, but you should understand how it works.

    Some parts you can simply use Google Translate, but sometimes it’s not specific enough or returns the wrong context for that word. In that case, it’s best to use technical websites that have been localized into Chinese as a resource.

    For electronic parts the .com and .cn versions of the Mouser site are interchangeable.

    Taobao has a very clever search-by-image function. If you have an image of the part you want you can use that to search. It’s the little camera icon on the right hand side of the search bar.

    Unlike Amazon, the “Buy” button on Taobao is more an invitation to chat about buying with the store owner. There’s usually a certain amount of required conversation.

    Avoid buying anything that has not been reviewed by other buyers.

    Are their fake reviews? Sure, tons of them (although it’s getting better). But they cost money for the store owners to purchase and usually there are authentic ones as well

    Don’t Bargain Hunt

    The “get it cheaper” part is already done with when you made your choice to use TaoBao instead of a distributor back in the West. Further attempts to save money will result in problems. Everyone on Taobao sources from the same factories, if an identical or very similar product is much cheaper there’s a reason for it.

  6. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Whatever Happened To Heathkit?

    Whenever I mention to folks that I used to work at Heathkit, a few people actually ask, “What’s Heathkit?” Yes, I suppose that does date me a bit. Others will say, “Oh, yes, my dad used to build Heathkits.” Anyway, some of you do remember Heathkit, and fondly in most cases. If not, let me explain.

    There once was a time in electronics when you could actually build circuits and equipment yourself. You needed a design that you could create yourself—or if not, get from one of many magazines, including Electronic Design. You could buy the resistors, capacitors, transistors, or tubes in the olden days, then put them all together on a metal chassis, a breadboard, or a finished printed-circuit board (PCB). It was quite a project but doable, and many hobbyists like hams built these designs on a regular basis.

    In the late 1940s and 1950s, someone invented the kit business. Companies designed a product and sold it as a bundle of parts called a kit.

    Heath was one of those companies that help started the kit business. Ed Heath founded the company in 1926 with, of all things, an airplane kit. He died in a test flight in one in 1935, but Howard Anthony kept the company going. Right after World War II, he bought a batch of electronic surplus. Out of that came one of the first successful kits, a small oscilloscope for $50, which was a real achievement in its time. With that success came many new products.

    Most of the early kits were shortwave radios, transmitters, accessories like antenna tuners, and the famous Cantenna, a 1-kW non-inductive power resistor in a paint can with mineral oil for the heatsink.

    Later in the 1950s and 1960s, Heathkit expanded into audio equipment, TV sets, and lots of other consumer products. The company even had a low-cost line of test equipment with scopes, multimeters, generators, counters, and other items. While Heathkit had competitors like Allied Knight, Lafayette, Eico, and a few other smaller companies, it essentially beat the pants off everyone else because it had a better product.

    But Heathkit’s good reputation really came from offering a better assembly manual than anyone else. A poorly executed step-by-step manual is a prescription for disaster for any kit company. If the customer can’t build the kit successfully without massive telephone and mail support, it would die a quick death, and many did.

    Heathkit in the early 1970s to start its education and publishing product line

    Heathkit computers

    The Beginning of the End

    The success of the computer line attracted the attention of Zenith Corp., which went on to buy Heathkit in 1979 from the owner Schlumberger

    In the meantime, the kit business suffered. Zenith didn’t really want that business, but it came with the deal. It was neglected as ZDS grew

    It was also the time of great progress in semiconductor manufacturing. More and more equipment was being made of more and smaller ICs and surface-mount components, both of which were always a challenge for kit builders. It became harder to make a kit people could build at home with basic hand tools.

    At the same time, wired products became cheaper thanks to Asian engineering and manufacturing. You could buy a great stereo or color TV set for less than what a kit cost, and you didn’t have to spend three weekends building it. Everyone was into instant gratification in the 1980s, so nobody wanted to spend time building kits.

    Heathkit discovered it could no longer compete in many markets like ham radio, audio, TV, and test equipment as it took as much time and money to create the manual as it did the product. With double the development costs and the technology making assembly more difficult, Heathkit eventually concluded it could not compete. This perfect storm of conditions led to the formal phasing out of the kit business in 1991 and 1992.

    Everyone thought that Heathkit was no more. Wrong! The education and publishing business now called Heathkit Educational Systems (HES) was still doing well.

    And despite the surface-mount components, ever smaller ICs, and challenging construction, you can still buy a kit today. Most of these kits are smaller products

    It is still fun and satisfying to build a kit—at least to some people. And if you have the patience, you will actually experience that “Eureka” feeling one gets from building a particularly large and difficult kit. It works!

  7. Tomi Engdahl says:

    “The Hardware Hacker” Will Open Your Eyes

    Get an inside look at Chinese electronic component markets, manufacturing, fake parts, and the hacker mentality.

    “The Hardware Hacker: Adventures in Making and Breaking Hardware” by Andrew “bunnie” Huang. No Starch Press, San Francisco, Calif. Price: $29.95 (includes e-book if purchased from the publisher).

    We hear about hacks all the time. While we mostly hear about hacks such as cyberattacks, don’t believe for a second that hardware hacks don’t happen. In “The Hardware Hacker,” Andrew “bunnie” Huang takes you through the steps required to develop and manufacture electronics in China; then he shows you in detail how he hacked hardware to uncover previous hacks and how he circumvented legal loopholes to create legal hacks.

    The book opens with bunnie taking you on a tour of the electronics markets in Shenzhen, China. Having never been there, I can only surmise that these markets must make an engineer’s mouth water. You’ll get the impression that you can find any component there.

    Bunnie’s Shenzhen tour wasn’t just for fun. He went there to buy parts for his new product, but he had to make sure that the parts were exactly what he expected — which, as he shows later, is often not the case.

    Bunnie clearly stresses the importance of knowing your manufacturers’ capabilities, which means spending time with the people who will build and test your product. He also warns you of the risks of buying excess parts, which you’ll pay for but can be resold by the contract manufacturer, distributor, or some unscrupulous employee on the gray market.

    Then there are counterfeit parts, of which there are many variations

    The book also takes a long look at the hacking mentality in China. The Chinese approach to intellectual property (IP) is, as bunnie explains, difficult for Westerners to understand. We, in the West, tend to put more emphasis on protecting IP, but bunnie argues that China’s open approach has advantages that encourage innovation in ways that we simply can’t see because of our protectionist way of thinking. He shows how, because of this more open system, engineers can design feature phones that cost a mere $10 for emerging markets, something that simply couldn’t happen in the West.

    Bunnie is an advocate for open-source hardware and software. Indeed, he provided schematics and source code for his products because he wanted others to experiment and improve on his designs. Furthermore, bunnie sees a slowing of Moore’s law. With that, he says, will come longer life cycles for electronics. That will encourage a stronger hacker/repair culture as products might not be so “throw-away.” Such a culture will produce a rising demand for schematics and documentation. Remember, there was a time when computer and other consumer electronics — and especially test equipment — came with schematics, and bunnie argues that could return. “I’m looking forward to the return of artisan engineering, where elegance, optimization, and balance are valued over feature creep, and where I can use the same tool for a decade and not be viewed as an anachronism.”

  8. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Designing for Fab: a Heads-Up before Designing PCBs for Professional Assembly

    Designing pcbs for assembly is easy, right? We just squirt all the footprints onto a board layout, connect all the traces, send out the gerbers and position files, and we’re done–right?

    Whoa, hold the phone, there, young rogue! Just like we can hack together some working source code with variables named after our best friends, we can also design our PCBs in ways that make it fairly difficult to assemble.

    However, by following the agreed-upon design specs, we’ll put ourselves on track for success with automated assembly. If we want another party to put components on our boards, we need to clearly communicate the needed steps to get there. The best way to do so is by following the standards.

    To get from the reel to the board, we, the designers, need two bits of information from out part’s datasheet: the part centroid and the reel orientation.

    Unavoidable Footprint Ambiguities:
    T55P475M010C0200 Vishay Sprague | 718-2070-2-ND DigiKey Electronics
    Image Credit: Digikey

    Against all odds, some parts still don’t have a clear way of indicating their orientation. These parts are usually polarized passives (caps and diodes) with symmetric footprints. Check this capactor package out:

    Here’s the deal: technically, the IPC-7351 Spec has a defined “pin-1” orientation for these components which should match the reel orientation. This spec, which we discussed in the section above, should rule out any ambiguities. The issue, though, is that we, as footprint library makers, are under no such constraints to follow said spec.

    Working with Parts that Actually Exist

    Depending on our design software, sometimes we work with schematic symbols that are tied to parts with specific part numbers. Other times, we can work with strictly symbols and then fill those symbols in with actual part numbers later. If you’re in the second camp, heads-up: before jumping to the layout, be sure that these symbols are associated to footprints that actually match real life parts.

    Want an 10 uF ceramic capacitor with an 0805 footprint, an X7R temperature coefficient and a 25 V rating? Too bad! Shoulda’ dug through the Digikeys to see if such a part existed in the first place. In this case, it actually doesn’t.

    BOM Export

    There are two major options for actually getting the components to the manufacturer: either turnkey (assembly house fetches the parts) or consignment (you provide parts to the vendor, usually on reels). Since the assembly house knows the ins-and-outs of their machine far better than we do, assembly houses that offer both usually prefer turnkey. Nevertheless, ask!

    Regardless of which process you use, you’ll still need a BOM to tell the vendor what reference corresponds to what part. Each assembly house is different and your BOM might not emerge in a format that’s to their liking.

    Final Footprint Size Checks
    Check Your Footprints

    Getting boards assembled costs time (sometimes 2 weeks–ouch) and money (from a few hundred to a few grand). Double-checking ourselves might cost us a few hours, but it’s more than worth the two-week wait if we find bugs. Just before we send out the board files for fab, I suggest printing the copper and silkscreen layers at 1x scale on a piece of paper. Then, with the actual components in-hand, put them on a scale image and make sure that, indeed, the footprint pattern checks out OK.

    The Pre-Fab Checklist:

    If you’re making PCBAs that will be assembled professionally, I made a checklist of key points to keep in mind.

  9. Tomi Engdahl says:

    How Would YOU Cost-Optimize a Solar-Powered Cap?

    What’s the most cost-optimized solution to create large numbers of solar-powered baseball caps with ultra-bright integrated LEDs?

    I never fail to be amazed when I see something that is relatively simple in concept but makes me say to myself, “I would never have thought of that!”

    One such example is the 2C Solar Light Cap. This is basically a baseball cap with an integrated amorphous solar panel that charges the batteries used to drive ultra-bright integrated LEDs when the sun goes down.

    Yes, this really is a simple idea. So why didn’t any of us come up with it?

    “Hi Max. Our solar-charged LED lighting product is currently made in production runs of 5,000 pieces. We have received an inquiry to manufacture it in larger numbers for the Philippines market, but we need to reduce cost dramatically!”

    “Our current implementation uses a microcontroller (MCU) with power transistor to drive the 40-mA load, sensors to monitor current, charging status, and battery voltage for overcharge/discharge.”

  10. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Titan Note transcription gadget suspended from Indiegogo after raising $1.1 million
    If it seems too good to be true — don’t fund it

    The crowdfunding campaign for Titan Note — a transcription gadget that seemed too good to be true — has been suspended from Indiegogo after raising more than $1.1 million from backers. A spokesperson for Indiegogo told The Verge the campaign had been suspended due to “violations of our terms of use,” and that refunds had been issued to all backers. The company would not comment on any specifics.

    The original Titan Note campaign promised a product with capabilities far beyond any gadget currently available.

    When we covered the Titan Note in March, we suggested the company was perhaps exaggerating the capabilities of its product. After all, we said, if Apple or Amazon can’t produce transcription software as accurate and speedy as this, what chance does a company with no commercial history have? We later received a DMCA takedown notice for using of Titan Note’s product imagery to illustrate our story.

  11. Tomi Engdahl says:

    The Long Tail of DIY Electronics

    These are the Golden Years of electronics hacking. The home DIY hacker can get their hands on virtually any part that he or she could desire, and for not much money. Two economic factors underlie this Garden of Electronic Eden that we’re living in. Economies of scale make the parts cheap: when a factory turns out the same MEMS accelerometer chip for hundreds of millions of cell phones, their setup and other fixed costs are spread across all of these chips, and a $40 million factory ends up only costing $0.50 per unit sold.

    But the unsung hero of the present DIY paradise is how so many different parts are available, and from so many different suppliers, many of them on the other side of the globe. “The Internet” you say, as if that explains it. Well, that’s not wrong, but it’s deeper than that. The reason that we have so much to choose from is that the marginal cost of variety has fallen, and with that many niche products and firms have become profitable where before they weren’t.

    So let’s take a few minutes to sing the praises of the most important, and sometimes overlooked, facet of the DIY economy over the last twenty years: the falling marginal cost of variety.

  12. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Ashley Carman / The Verge:
    Kickstarter partners with Avnet and Dragon Innovation to launch Hardware Studio program, aimed at helping hardware-focused projects succeed

    Kickstarter is launching a program to help prevent hardware startups from failing

    Kickstarter announced the launch of a new program today, called Hardware Studio, that’s designed to help startups navigate the dizzying world of manufacturing. The studio is the result of a partnership with two companies: Avnet, a large electronic components distributor, and Dragon Innovation, which helps small teams develop production plans. The Hardware Studio won’t do everything for startups, but it’ll serve as a jumping off point for DIY creators who have an idea for a product but no clue where to start with manufacturing.

    The program has two components: education and connection. Educating creators comes in the form of the Hardware Studio Toolkit, a new community site that’ll host tutorials, webinars, and tools from Avnet and Dragon. To participate in the second aspect — connection — creators will have to fill out an application in which they’ll likely just have to provide extra details on their projects. If Avnet or Dragon accept the application, these creators will have access to additional tools, like a product planner for helping keep track of their needed materials, as well as office hours with engineers. Accepted creators can also receive discounts for additional consultation time. In theory, Avnet and Dragon could take an idea and fully bring it to life through their manufacturing connections in China and marketing expertise.

    Of course, this entire program is aimed at preventing Kickstarter meltdowns in which backers never receive a product after fronting some cash. Julio Terra, head of tech projects, told The Verge that many startups don’t realize that by just “selecting the wrong part, it can make [their] product fail or push it back six months.” Sure, the company can’t force anyone to take advantage of these resources or dish out money for consulting, but it can at least point them in the right direction.

  13. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Kickstarter is an excellent way to raise funds and build an audience for your hardware project — but will you be ready for what comes after that? Figuring out how to engineer a product for large-scale manufacturing can be daunting. Some creators have a great idea and a working prototype, but could use help taking the next steps.

    That’s why Kickstarter is teaming up with Dragon Innovation, hardware manufacturing experts who bring years of experience and smart software to helping companies build at scale, and Avnet, a global technology distributor that helps customers design and make their ideas and bring them to market. Together we can help you prepare to take your idea from prototype to production.

    Turning an idea into a finished product takes time, patience, and perseverance. If you’ve never done it before, it’s hard to know what questions to ask or what challenges to anticipate. So we’re creating the Hardware Studio Toolkit, a resource to help you learn about the design and manufacturing process from experienced creators, industry experts, Kickstarter staff, and engineers from Dragon Innovation and Avnet.

  14. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Etsy is under pressure from activist investors to grow revenue, reduce spending and perks, and give up its ethical ideals

    The Barbarians Are at Etsy’s Hand-Hewn, Responsibly Sourced Gates

    The ur-Brooklyn online craft marketplace is under pressure to start acting more like a conventional, shareholder-focused company.

    “There is one and only one social responsibility of business,” the economist Milton Friedman famously wrote in 1962. And that is “to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits.” Those words helped establish the now pervasive idea that companies are exclusively responsible, within the limits of the law, to the people who own them. Even the most soft-hearted public-company chief executive treats the idea with a measure of respect. In March, at his final annual meeting, Starbucks Corp. CEO Howard Schultz declared that, notwithstanding his plans to hire refugees and open stores in poor neighborhoods, the company’s commitment to shareholder value remained “absolute.”

    Under Dickerson’s leadership, Etsy had not only grown quickly, it had also won a reputation as an ethical company, becoming a certified B Corporation in 2012. The do-gooder seal of approval, given out by the nonprofit B Lab, requires a business to meet standards related to the environment, workers, and suppliers. Some 2,000 companies are B Corps—including Patagonia, Warby Parker, and Kickstarter—but almost all are privately held. Today there are just a handful of public B Corps; Etsy is one of only two traded on a major U.S. exchange.

    Public-market B Corps are rare because investors hate them. As part of the certification, a company must reject the shareholder valuation model and, eventually, reincorporate as a “public-benefit corporation.” (To keep its B Corp seal, Etsy will have to commit to reincorporating this summer. Dickerson said in a 2016 interview that this was unlikely.)

    Benefit corporations are structured so managers and board members have a legal obligation to worry about more than just their fiduciary duty to shareholders. A public-benefit corporation can get sued for wasting shareholder money just like a normal public company can, but it can also be sued for being a poor steward of the environment or for failing to pay a fair wage.

  15. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Startup can be distinguished by styling

    Finding a great and unique technical device is no longer enough for success. Startup is difficult to distinguish in the market. The ASMO known as the Oulu-based, fire-proof Asmo charger set out in a new way that Finland has not yet become accustomed to. ASMO decided to combine Finnish design with Finnish top technology.

    Asma aims to combine Finnish design with Finnish top technology. Their goal is to spread Finnish design to the world at every home.

    - The idea is therefore that a renowned Finnish designer takes our challenge to formulate something traditional, boring electronic device.

    The first challenge for ASMO was the legend of Finnish design Eero Aarnio.

    - Aarnio’s work is playful, fun and unique. His work certainly leaves no one cold and Mr. Charger does not make any exception. Mr. Charger’s reception among the public has caused strong reactions. It is either hate or love, Asmo Saloranta says.


  16. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Designing Products With Injection Molding in Mind

    3D printing is a technique we’ve all been using for ages at home, or via Shapeways, but if you are designing a product, 3D printing will only get you so far. It’s crude, slow, expensive, and has lots of limitations. While it’s great for the prototyping stage, ultimately products manufactured in volume will be manufactured using another method, and most likely it will be injection molding. Knowing how to design a part for injection molding means you can start prototyping with 3D printing, confident that you’ll be able to move to a mold without major changes to the design.

    SnapBloks – Reusable molds

    SnapBloks is building interactive modular blocks that each have different functions, from power to temperature monitoring, playing sound, turning on LEDs, and moving motors.

    In 3D printing, draft is not an important concept, but in a mold it is essential. This means that all walls will slope gently so that the part can be ejected from the mold easily. Parts should plan for at least 1 degree of draft, and you should make sure the draft goes in the correct direction so that the part isn’t locked into the mold.

    Consistent wall thickness is another important design guideline. 3D printing will just fill in a large area with a pattern so that it retains shape and strength, but there is no such equivalent in injection molding, so a large cavity will end up with a lot of plastic. When it cools, this plastic shrinks, leaving a feature called a sink mark (and wasting plastic). It’s best to have all the walls of the plastic be the same thickness, and any features like bosses (for screws or holding a piece in place) should be away from the wall and connected with ribs.

    Use different colors, or the same mold, for outside parts. Color matching is difficult, and between runs is almost impossible.

  17. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Designing your Project to Scale: Crossing the Chasm

    The Chasm

    The hardware startup world calls it the retail chasm, and it’s the enormous gap between making your first few units in your home, and mass producing tens or hundreds of thousands of units. This is where most startups fail, because they can’t get the benefit of large volume discounts on components, they can’t afford the injection molds, and assembly is expensive if they can find someone to take on the work at all.

    But they can’t charge any more than they would be able to sell it for in volume, so the margins are non-existent and it is really hard to grow. The trick to crossing this chasm is to design the product FOR the chasm. To use components that are easily acquired in low volume, and assembly methods that are still accessible without expensive tools.

    Get Comfortable with SMT

    Surface mount components on circuit boards save cost, space, assembly time, and are more readily available than through-hole counterparts.

    Use Existing Parts

    It’s tempting to design a custom enclosure that is slick and tiny, or to source a transformer with limited suppliers, but that will only get you in trouble. In the short run it means you’ll pay a lot for the parts and may have to order a minimum number that’s beyond your initial demand. Start with an enclosure from Polycase or Hammond, then modify it as needed. Many of the enclosure companies offer modification and printing in house, too, meaning you can order your parts completely ready with very little up front cost.

    Extruded aluminum cases are another popular option, because you can customize the length as well.
    If you don’t need it, you don’t have to source or assemble it. It’s not unusual in some factories for an unobserved manufacturer to try to save money by removing a component and if it still works they ship it. Naturally you want to be in control of this, but the idea has merit.

    At every opportunity, ask yourself if you need this component

    Every minute of assembly time is multiplied by the number of units to manufacture, and it adds up quickly. In addition, setting up and taking down an assembly process can account for even more than the process time, making batching of processes essential.


    Crossing the chasm is really hard, but designing your project to scale from the beginning will save lots of pain. You can always swap out parts and make improvements in the future when you scale, but you should prepare in the beginning for lower volumes and more time-consuming assembly using cheaper tools.

  18. Tomi Engdahl says:

    ‘All roads do lead back to Shenzhen,’ according to Indiegogo’s Sandy Diao

    Shenzhen has been called China’s Silicon Valley (or at least one of its Silicon Valleys). A panel on hardware startups at TechCrunch Shenzhen took a stab at explaining why.

    “There’s a new startup model coming out of Shenzhen,” said Eli Harris, whose startup Ecoflow is building the River Mobile Power Station. The city’s history as “the land of OEM manufacturers” has created a foundation of manufacturing knowledge to draw on, so coming to Shenzhen allows startups to embed themselves “deeply in their supply chain.”

  19. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Will it Sell?

    Many of us develop things for one of two purposes: to hack something cool, or to sell something cool. When hacking something cool, your target market is yourself, and you already know you’ve made the sale. If your goal is to sell the thing you are making, then a lot more thought and effort is required. You could develop the coolest product in the world, but if your target market is too small, your price is too high, your lead time is too long, or any of a dozen other factors is not quite right, you’ll be spending a lot of time and effort on what will amount to a huge disappointment.

    Who is the Target Market?

    Figuring out who will purchase your product is an important part of developing it. It will tell you what sales channels to use, inform price range, graphics, and marketing, and give you an idea of sales volume.

    How Much Will It Cost?

    There are a few ways to determine the right price for a product. One is to find a competing product and match their price or beat it slightly. For example, you could look at an existing Raman Spectrometer, see that it’s really expensive, and price yours slightly lower.

    Another is to take your Cost of Goods Sold (COGS), multiply it by 2-4x, and use that number. Your COGS is how much the thing you’re selling costs you, so you have to sell it for more than that to keep your business going and pay yourself. If you are going to retail, then you might sell to the wholesaler at 2x the COGS. They will turn around and sell it to the retailer with some markup, and the retailer will mark it up again, quickly getting the retail price to 4x the COGS. If you are selling online only, you can sell for less because you don’t have the overhead of wholesale or retail, but it means that you may never be able to sell retail in the future because they don’t like it when you sell online for cheaper than they sell in stores.

    Unless you are selling your product with a consumable subscription model (Juicero, Keurig, Dollar Shave Club), you cannot get away with selling at a loss, and if you plan to grow the business, you have to price it high enough that you can afford to buy ever increasing volumes using profit from the previous batch.

    Will My Target Market Buy It?

    Makers are a tough market. They are frugal to the point of absurdity, they want to build things themselves, and they are knowledgeable enough to seek out other options.

    Besides the challenge of setting the price high enough that you can reasonably make and sell the product and stay in business, you have to set the price low enough that your target market will buy it. The general saying is that you can never raise your prices, but you can always lower them.

    This is one reason why luxury goods are so appealing; high margins means they don’t have to have as many sales or as much inventory to make the same amount of profit. It’s also a reason why healthcare is appealing

    How Will I Sell To My Target Market?

    Addressing the target market with the right angle in your pitch and the right language and the right venues is important. Seek out the publications and forums that your target market uses and write in their style.

    A great product isn’t just a great product because it has a lot of features. It has to have a market, the market has to hear about the product, the market has to want the product, and the market has to be able to pay for the product at the right price. T

  20. Tomi Engdahl says:

    The Failed Algorithms — Why NOT to start a startup in your twenties?

    I started a company with the dream of changing the tech landscape in India, and failed. This post is an analysis of what led to the failure and how I plan to keep the dream alive.

    They didn’t want to hire freelancers.
    I found, people really didn’t trust freelancers. They would let go of their ideas in puffs of smoke rather than hire a freelancer to do it. I kept on meeting them. I wanted to change this ideology.

  21. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Friday Hack Chat: Crowd Supply

    Crowdfunding is a mixed bag, at best. On one hand, you have fantastically successful products like Pebble, Oculus, and the Kano personal computer that managed to take in money, turn out a product, and become a successful company. (If even just for a while, the Pebble was great.) On the other hand, you have obvious scams like a color-picking pen that are run by a literal Nigerian scammer.

    Crowd Supply is different. Unlike other crowdfunding platforms, to get on Crowd Supply you’ll need a working prototype. Where other platforms can measure their success by how many campaigns were successfully funded, and how many of those campaigns successfully delivered rewards to backers, I’m not aware of any Crowd Supply campaigns that have ever failed completely.

  22. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Building a DEF CON Badge in Two Weeks

    DEF CON is starting right now, and this is the year of #badgelife. For the last few years, independent hardware wizards have been creating and selling their own unofficial badges at DEF CON, but this year it’s off the charts. We’ve already taken a look at Bender Badges, BSD Puffer Fish, and the worst idea for a conference badge ever, and this is only scratching the surface.

    Obviously, this means we need our own unofficial DEF CON badge. We realized this on July 10th. That gave us barely more than two weeks to come up with an idea for a badge, design one, order all the parts, wait on a PCB order, and finally kit all the badges before lugging them out to DEF CON. Is this even possible? Surprisingly, yes. It’s almost easy, and there are zero excuses for anyone not to develop their own hardware badge for next year’s con.

  23. Tomi Engdahl says:

    False Claims On Kickstarter: What’s New?

    Kickstarter and its ilk seem like the Wild West when it comes to claims of being “The world’s most (Insert feature here) device!” It does add something special when you can truly say you have the world record for a device though, and [MellBell Electronics] are currently running a Kickstarter claiming the worlds smallest Arduino compatible board called Pico.

    We don’t want to knock them too much, they seem like a legit Kickstarter campaign who have at time of writing doubled their goal, but after watching their promo video, checking out their Kickstarter, and around a couple of minutes research, their claim of being the world’s smallest Arduino-compatible board seems to have been debunked. The Pico measures in at an impressive 0.6 in. x 0.6 in. with a total area of 0.36 which is nothing to be sniffed at, but the Nanite 85 which we wrote up back in 2014 measures up at around 0.4 in. x 0.7in. with a total area of around 0.28 In this post-fact, fake news world we live in, does it really matter? Are we splitting hairs? Or are the Pico team a little fast and loose with facts and the truth?

    PICO: The world’s smallest Arduino compatible board!

  24. Tomi Engdahl says:

    The Definitive Guide to Pricing Your New Electronic Hardware Product

    Setting the price for your new hardware product is one of your most important decisions. You need to get your pricing right as early as possible. If you mess this up it will be difficult to fix later. The pressure is on.
    Pricing is a complex decision with many variables.

  25. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Sponsored Content
    Stop stressing over lead time ordering

    Picture yourself in the final stretch of testing a prototype for the controller board of your company’s fuel pump, which will be incorporated into the newest model of a popular car. As usual, budgets are tight and the deadline is tomorrow. While running the final stress test, you discover that the main SoC is not the right one for the performance your unit needs. You need a new, faster unit.

    Next, imagine that you are about to build a new casing for your prototype, using the labs’ 3D printer.

    Now, envision that you are about to conduct a test on a new motor unit, but your handheld LCR meter is nowhere to be found in the lab.

    When it comes to having quick access to a vital component, engineers face many barriers: unavailable procurement managers, last-minute changes in specification, damaged components, minimum-quantity requirements, ordering lead times, and more. In any of these situations, you might first head to the procurement office, file a rush-order request and wait, only to be told that the product or component will take two weeks to arrive, and the purchasing manager is not authorizing any overnight shipping orders to reduce costs.

    When you argue that it is a small order, just a few components you need urgently to continue or finish your work, they tell you that it doesn’t meet the minimum order quantity for the distributor, and you’ll have to wait to combine it with a larger order.

    Engineers like you don’t have the time to deal with complicated procurement procedures. Your time, and the time that is lost when a critical project is delayed, a needed tool is broken, or the right part is missing, are very expensive for the organization

    Arrow helps you with its free overnight shipping service.

  26. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Time matters: Combating demanding engineering design schedules

    Engineers and designers always seem to be battling the clock in their efforts to be innovative and win the race to market with cost-effective solutions. Sometimes, though, things just don’t work out the way they should.

    Engineers and designers fully expect changes to be made to their designs, often involving sourced components. It’s through rigorous engineering testing and prototypes that excellent products are brought to market. If, however, it’s not done efficiently, you can be wasting your time or your team’s time while waiting on a component to be delivered to fix any issues that arise.

    An Engineering Change Order is a common way to document changes that need to be made in the design. An ECO can be driven by a number of factors, including:

    An error in a design doesn’t show up until testing or a customer provides feedback.
    The customer may change a requirement, which means a redesign may be in order.
    There could be changes in materials or how it was to be manufactured.

  27. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Woodie Flowers: Nobody Ever Perfects a Design

    In Part 2 of this series, Prof. Woodie Flowers talks about the importance of first working on your own because working as part of a team is much harder.

    In Part 1 of this series, MIT professor Emeritus Woodie Flowers explained what happened when he overhauled a traditional engineering course, turning it into one that encouraged curiosity and problem solving. In Part 2, Flowers explains the benefits and challenges of working in groups and why designs can always be improved.

    EE Times: We always hear about how engineers are part of teams, sometimes working on a small part of a large project. Sometimes, though, engineers work on their own. Why is that important?
    Woodie FlowersFlowers: In addition to solving a technical problem, the students in my course had the experience of working alone. I think that’s a prerequisite to learning how to be a member of a team. The team stuff is so complicated by comparison. If you’re lucky, you get to learn about yourself as a designer first. Then you’re better able to work with a team.

    EE Times: What happens when students have to work in a team in the senior design project?
    Flowers: The MIT senior design project is a team too big, a time too short, a budget too small, and a problem too big. Each team has 20 students, 13 weeks, and $6,500 to go from a vague notion to an alpha prototype product and a business plan. It’s done that way because most teamwork exercises and project management tools are purely academic. In those cases, one or two people can do all the work and others can just go along. The senior project is too big for that.

    The MIT senior project presentation day is second only to graduation in attendance at MIT. It fills the auditorium within 20 minutes of when tickets are available online. When you know that thousands of people will see your presentation, you have to learn how to use 20 people in a team. That’s not easy with a bunch of students who have been policing their own trademark and suddenly must learn to trust others.

    EE Times: Do you think that engineering students don’t necessarily trust their colleagues?
    Flowers: It may not be lack of trust, but a more alien experience than just doing what you’re supposed to do yourself. You have to adapt to other people’s schedules and meet their expectations. It’s a two-way street.

    For the senior project teams, we have a web-based peer evaluation system.

  28. Tomi Engdahl says:

    5 Tips for Setting Realistic Project Expectations

    Here are five tips developers can use to help ensure they set expectations that are realistic and not fantasy.

    1. Track Project Metrics

    My all-time favorite recommendation is that developers define critical development metrics such as features, estimated effort, actual effort, and lines of code, just to name a few. Developers and teams can’t set realistic expectations for delivery times and costs if they don’t have any data to help them create their estimates.

    2. Don’t Sugar Coat it

    Sometimes a project might be for a new client and the team becomes tempted to provide the customer with information and data that they want to hear rather than how it will really go. This may make the customer, or even your project manager, happy in the short term but it will only end in disaster. Don’t sugar coat estimates. Instead, give the hard facts and provide alternatives

    3. Consider Parallel Projects

    There are times when development teams will properly determine the time and effort required to develop and deliver a project.
    When 80 hours of work needs to be crammed into a 40-hour work week, the projects are not going to be done on time.

    4. Use a Project Management System

    Project expectations are rarely set in stone. They often shift throughout the project and even sometimes based on the mood of the developers and clients involved. One way to make sure all stakeholders stay on the same page and have the same expectations is to use a project management system that can track the project.

    5. Keep in Close Contact

    the best way to make sure everything goes smoothly is to communicate often


    People naturally want to be optimistic: “That driver doesn’t seem like it should be too bad so I can have it done in a day.” There are always unknowns that lurk in embedded system projects that are nearly impossible to anticipate other than the fact that they will occur. Using metrics can help back up estimates and set expectations toward a realistic course, but data alone is not enough.

  29. Tomi Engdahl says:

    One Person’s Experience Of Having PCB Assembly Done In China

    Those of us who have our PCBs manufactured by Chinese PCB fab houses will be used to seeing tempting offers to also assemble our completed boards. Send the Gerbers as normal, but also send a BoM, and for an extra slice of cash you can receive fully assembled PCBs instead of just bare boards. It sounds alluring, but leaves a few questions for those without the experience. How much will it cost, what will the quality be like, and will my boards work? [Alexander Lang] had a limited run of ten small pressure sensor boards to make, and since his board house had started an assembly service, decided to take the plunge and opt for full assembly.

    His first step was to assemble his BoM and send it with the Gerbers. He is at pains to stress that the BoM is key to the whole project, and getting it right with the correct packages and more than one source for each component is critical. The board house first charged him £32.05 ($41.76) to make his PCBs and stencil, and assess his BoM for a build quote. A few days passed, and then he had a quote for assembly, £61.41 ($80). He placed the order, the board house processed it and made the boards, and in due course his working PCB modules arrived.

    Having electronic breakout boards manufactured in China by Elecrow

    I have had at least fifty PCBS made by Elecrow and the quality has always been excellent. The price has always been acceptable and the service excellent. I may have also quietly lost my temper with my ineptitude in assembling surface mount components on small printed circuit boards and decided to see how much it would actually cost to get the whole product made by Elecrow.

    I saw the new service advertised on the site and clicked on the appropriate page

    Next I uploaded the gerber files for the project in a zip file along with the bill of materials with at least two sources for the components and the package sizes. Ensuring the design is correct and the bill of materials is correct is critical…I cannot stress this part enough!

    Shelley got in contact within a few days to provide a quote for fitting the standard components or for fully populating the PCB. The full cost was another £61.41 or $80 USD for ten fully completed PCBS which I thought was quite reasonable so I sent the money over and hoped for the best.

    I also sent through some basic instructions and tips on how to populate the PCB gained from my own experience in doing it – I didn’t want anyone else to struggle populating the PCBS like I had and I also wanted to be sure that when the boards arrived they worked first time!

    On the 12th of July Shelley emailed to say that the boards had been manufactured and that component population was about to start. She did say that they had issues with the Op-Amp I had chosen but this was sorted pretty quickly….luckily my circuit will work with just about any Op-Amp so I wasn’t too worried.

    Every single one of the boards worked perfectly.

  30. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Teaching startups the art of the sale

    After building a product, the hardest test a startup faces is finding the first five to ten customers who are willing to bet on you when no one has heard of your company and when your product has yet to be battle-tested.

    This is by far the hardest challenge for an early-stage enterprise software startup to overcome, and it takes focus, perseverance and sometimes, a bit of luck.

  31. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Hands On With The SHACamp 2017 Badge

    The badge has become one of the defining features of a modern hacker camp, a wearable electronic device that serves as both event computer and platform for some mild software and hardware hacking. Some events have had astoundingly sophisticated badges while others are more simple affairs, and the phenomenon has even spawned an ecosystem of unofficial badges which have nothing to do with the event in question.

    The SHACamp 2017 badge is the latest to come the way of a Hackaday writer, and certainly contains enough to be taken as representative of the state of hacker camp badges in 2017. It doesn’t have a star turn like CCCCamp 2015’s software defined radio, instead it’s an extremely handy little computer in its own right.

    The badge itself is a blue PCB roughly 95mm by 85mm in size, with a front panel dominated by a 296×128 pixel e-ink display and a set of capacitive touch buttons in a layout reminiscent of a Game Boy.

    There are surprisingly few integrated circuits, as the “brains” of the device comes via an ESP32 in a postage-stamp Wi-Fi module.

    How To Make Four Thousand Badges Without Losing Your Hair

    The genesis of this particular badge came two years ago after CCCCamp 2015, but solidified into something approaching the final production with some heavy influence from the functionality of EMF 2016’s Tilda Mkπ badge. It might seem obvious to list the desirable features of a camp badge, but it needed to display the owner’s name or handle, be easy to hack, provide access to event information, and most importantly of all, be working for its users from the start of proceedings. A secondary requirement was that the badge be readable in intense sunlight, as previous badges had been somewhat disappointing in that respect. Networking was originally to have been provided via Bluetooth hotspots, but it was later decided to use WiFi instead due to concerns over excessive use of 2.4GHz spectrum at the event. And finally the success of the EMF badge pointed the way to a MicroPython software environment with an associated library of apps.

    Through the final months of 2016 and into 2017 then the first badge prototypes came together.

    The replacement for their socket with the plastic protrusions turned out to overlap the edge of the board enough to touch the next panelised board during pick-and-place, and PCBWay, their manufacturer and one of their sponsors, pulled off some heroic mass reworking to deliver the goods. All seemed well, and the boards were manufactured and despatched from China to Europe.

    When the completed boards arrived, they worked perfectly. Or at least, they seemed to. It soon became apparent that for about half the boards though there was an unexpected problem in that a switch from USB to battery power would reset the ESP32. This was eventually traced to the Silicon Labs USB to serial chip, and a fix had to be concocted.

    It’s a Fake!

    The Silicon Labs part had been chosen due to ease of software drivers across all platforms compared to familiar alternatives such as the FTDI chip. Silicon Labs themselves had provided some sponsorship in the form of a significant number of the chips, but that had not been sufficient for the whole production run.

    The remainder had to be sourced in China, and as some of you are probably guessing at this point, the chips from China turned out to be fakes.

    Even then, they weren’t bad fakes, they performed as you’d expect the original to, but their designer had made a crucial omission in leaving out a protection diode on the USB lines. The resulting spike on disconnection was thus enough to reset the ESP32, spelling potential disaster for the project.

    All this design, sourcing, and reworking must have been a Herculean effort, and those of us who attended the camp should all be extremely grateful to the team for delivering us a badge that worked from the start.

    What About The Software?

    The hardware is only half the story with any badge though, because it is upon the software that a badge makes it or fails. In this context the SHA badge follows the tried and tested route you’d expect of booting into a nickname screen, with a launcher for installed apps (in the badge’s parlance, “eggs”) at the press of a button. There is an app library (The Hatchery), and as this is a hacker camp badge the user is encouraged to write their own apps in MicroPython. The camp attendees did not disappoint in this respect, with many apps pushing the capabilities of the badge to its limit.

  32. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Product Development and Avoiding Stock Problems

    You’ve spent months developing your product, your Kickstarter just finished successfully, and now you’re ready to order all the parts. Unfortunately, your main component, an ATmega328P, is out of stock everywhere with a manufacturer lead time of 16 weeks. Now what?

    When manufacturing things in large volumes, acquiring enough stock at the right time can be tricky. There can be seasonal shortages with companies trying to get products manufactured and available for Christmas. There can be natural disasters like floods of hard drive factories, or politically-related availability problems like tantalum for capacitors, or maybe new markets open up that increase demand or a new product sucks up all the available supply. The result is all the same; you have a harder time getting what you need. Fortunately, there are some ways to avoid this problem, or at least mitigate it.

    Check Lead Times During Development

    Use Common Parts
    The more generic the part, the more likely you’ll be able to find suitable alternatives if your primary source fails. 0603 is a super common footprint size, and you can still get 0805 or 0402 parts to work in a pinch.

    List Critical Features of Each Part
    Make sure in your schematic that you note the critical specs so that your alternate part search goes easier.

    Find Alternate Components
    If nobody has the part you specify in stock, you need to be able to list other parts. The previous points touch on this, but it’s worth spelling out in bold. Even during the design phase when you are picking out the parts to use, it’s important to also collect a couple other part numbers that could also work.

    Find Alternate Sources
    I have a hierarchy of suppliers, and almost always my first choice has the parts I need. It’s a good practice to check your part against multiple sources, though, using tools like If none of your sources can reliably get a particular part you’re interested in, or they all have long lead times, that’s a sign that you should look for a different component.
    DON’T buy parts from sketchy sources. In a moment of desperation, you may be tempted to purchase a surprisingly cheap, seemingly identical part from eBay. These parts are fakes or factory rejects or have been damaged or exposed to humidity with rusted connections, or SOMETHING, but they will cause you more problems in the long run. It’s not worth the risk

    Design Your Board for Flexibility
    It may be necessary to design your board so that it can accommodate different components depending on which is available or which production method you use.
    Don’t design yourself into a corner with parts that are too niche or not readily available.

    One of many sources to find alternate parts is FINDCHIPS.COM – I’ve used them almost since they started.
    I think deserves a shout-out too.

    I have often seen this on boards: 3 holes for through hole capacitors (both electrolyte and film), multiple footprints for crystals, and also for larger surface mount capacitors. Especially in the case of through-hole electrolyte capacitors I suspect this is not just for availability, but to reduce capacitor values until the noise on the power lines is almost enough to stop the stop working, at least for the first year.

    A good place to check stock across authorized distributors for parts is

    Another tip: currently the industry is experiencing one of the longest-leadtime periods in recent history, according to our distributors.

    Fair play, that QFN inside a QFP footprint is an excellent idea. I’ve also done the same at a previous employer with opamps, having a dual footprint for through-hole and SOP packages. It allowed us to quickly switch in/out various audio opamps easily.

    Over the years of pretending to manufacture lots in my side business (i.e. go through the exercises of behaving like i’m building thousands), I’ve found that there are a few suppliers for various parts that I seem to go back to again and again.

    Nothing to do with AVR — there are massive stock issues across the board right now. Anything from micros to memory to passives. Off the top of my head, we’re having issues with
    -Micron memory
    -NXP microcontrollers
    -A handful of inductors
    -A few TI parts
    -Random resistors
    -etc etc.

    Mergers in the industry may make the problem worse. Microchip’s acquisition of Atmel has produced a company with overlapping product lines and multiple fabs. It seems to be taking them a while to sort this out and achieve the economies that should come from the merger.

    Yes, we’ve been waiting for the “other foot to drop” when it comes to (maybe) Microchip killing-off competing ATMEL parts after the ATMEL takeover by Microchip – no matter what Microchip says. I think we may be seeing this happen now in the supply-chain. Or maybe not. The ATMEL AVR parts are very popular in Asia due to the free and open IDE, China in-particular. Microchip wants this all to themselves under their own-brand parts and crippled/expensive development tool-chains.

    A problem with that QFN/QFP trick is that for the QFP, you don’t want solder paste on the QFN footprint, so you need to know what part you’ll be using when the stencil is ordered, or order 2 stencils.

    Transistors, that’s what gets me. Trying to find something close to another one that can be used as a drop in replacement with minimum change to other components. Just comparing datasheet is a nightmare.

  33. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Engineer Looks to Crowdfunding to Stoke Kids’ Interest in Electronics

    A veteran software engineer is looking to harness the power of crowdfunding to get his pet project — an intuitive, digital circuit design kit aimed primarily at kids — off the ground.

    Joesph Broms, who has been working in software engineering in the medical field for 20 years, has developed a hardware design kit called ProtoBricks that uses bricks with digital circuits that are snap-together compatible with LEGO bricks. The idea is to enable kids to learn about building digital logic circuits by incorporating them into their LEGO models.

    ProtoBricks launched on the Indiegogo crowdfunding platform Tuesday (Aug. 15). The goal is to raise $100,000 within the next 40 days to bring the product to the shipping stage, expected to begin next June.

  34. Tomi Engdahl says:

    10 Secret Tips for Hardware Startups to Save Money and Reduce Risk …

    15 Steps to Develop Your New Electronic Hardware Product

  35. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Q&A: Defusing the BOM to Achieve Product Realization

    Technology Editor Bill Wong talks with Ciiva co-founder Leigh Gawne about developing a manufacturable bill of materials that helps customers go from design to assembly.

    Wong: What would you say is the biggest problem people have with product realization?

    Gawne: One of the biggest product-realization challenges is getting to a manufacturable bill of materials (BOM) and keeping that BOM manufacturable throughout the life of the product. The BOM that is formed from an electronic computer-aided design (ECAD) process will often be sufficient enough to represent the design intent, but not to actually enable the product to be produced.

    Iterative cycles to resolve part number issues and unavailable components take time, and a lack of preventative maintenance on the BOM means that problems often arise at the last-minute that could have been dealt with much earlier on in the design process. Effectively controlling BOM and treating it as a first-class citizen is central to continuous realization, which is why Ciiva was developed in the first place: to help people overcome these common BOM-management challenges.

  36. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Another Crowdfunded Startup Takes Customers’ Money, Then Shuts Downs

    A Bay Area startup that promised to give music lovers state-of-the-art wireless earphones is instead closing its doors, becoming the latest in a string of crowd-funded companies to take customers’ money and shut down without shipping a product. San Francisco-based Kanoa ran out of capital and shut down this week, leaving in the lurch scores of customers who paid $150 or more to pre-order high-tech earphones they never received.

    Crowdfunding disaster: Silicon Valley startup takes customers’ money, shuts down
    Kanoa won’t ship its $300 earphones to customers who pre-ordered them

    “This is not the outcome we had foreseen, and with the quick turn of events, we are emotionally overwhelmed,” the company’s website stated. “We know you are disappointed, and can only ask that you understand that we genuinely tried.”

    Kanoa is just the latest local crowdfunded company to disappoint customers. Last summer San Francisco-based startup Skully imploded, to the dismay of 3,000 customers who paid $1,500 each for high-tech motorcycle helmets they never received. In February, Lily Robotics, another San Francisco-based startup, filed for bankruptcy. Unlike Skully and Kanoa, Lily promised to reimburse the more than 60,000 customers who paid for but never received its camera drones.

    Kanoa created some buzz when it unveiled its wireless, bluetooth enabled earphones back in 2015, before Apple had released its wireless Air Pods. In a press release announcing the product, Kanoa promised all sorts of high-tech features.

    Kanoa launched a pre-order campaign on its website as a way to crowdfund the company, and orders started coming in. The earphones retailed for $300, and early backers got discounts of up to 50 percent. But customers said Kanoa kept pushing back the ship date for their orders — customers who expected to have their earphones by the summer of 2016 still hadn’t received them a year later.

    Then on Saturday the company suffered another blow: a scathing video product review posted on YouTube by a reviewer who goes by the online name “iTwe4kz.”

    “This is trash. You don’t want to have these,” he says in the video, which had 129,000 page views Friday. “This is not a company that you want to deal with.”

    The feature that was supposed to let users regulate ambient noise didn’t work, the video claims. And even without using that feature, the reviewer said his music cut out after 10 or 12 seconds when he had the earphones connected to a phone in his back pocket.

    The company shut down four days after the review went live on YouTube. In the farewell note posted on its website, Kanoa said its investors backed out of a pending round of funding.

    “We are in negotiations with investors for funding, and also large tech companies on an acquisition, while prioritizing our commitment via KANOA to you,” the company wrote. “Unfortunately, without that investment, we do not have enough capital to stay operational while we find a solution.”

  37. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Lu Ban’s Axe and Working with Your Chinese Suppliers

    It is nearly impossible to build any kind of hardware these days without at some point in the process dealing with China — Chinese suppliers, and so by extension Chinese culture. Difficulties can be as simple as the usual inconvenience of everything stopping for weeks up to and after Chinese New Year, or engineers that you know to be otherwise reasonably competent simply choosing not to bring up glaring and obvious problems. Having encountered my share of Western hardware entrepreneurs on the verge of a breakdown, and just as many flummoxed Chinese bosses completely unable to see exactly why they’re so upset, I thought I’d try to offer at least a little insight into one of the many issues that comes up.

    Nearly any school child in the world will be able to tell you whom they were taught invented the lightbulb, the telephone, the radio transmitter. Those same children will usually be able to tell you of at least a few Chinese inventions as well — gunpowder, paper, the compass etc. But with one key difference, even the Chinese children are unlikely to be able to credit even a group of people for their invention let alone a single (usually misattributed) individual.

    China does not really have an Edison, or Tesla, or Bell — oh we’ve had people as brilliant, but they are not celebrated in quite the same way for cultural reasons.

    Even our respective terms for engineer reflect this. The word engineer (Latin ingeniator) is derived from the Latin words ingeniare (“to contrive, devise”) and ingenium (“cleverness”). Yet in Chinese 工程师, the first character for engineer in Chinese is the carpenters square 工. He or she is a simple worker (工人 literally “Work Person”). Even now, engineers are not held in anywhere near the same regard in China as they are in the West.

    Arguably one of most revered historical inventors we have is Lu Ban (鲁班). Lu Ban was an ancient Chinese carpenter, engineer, and inventor.

    Friday Hack Chat: Making in Shenzhen

    China is an amazing land of opportunity, and if you want to build anything, you can build it in Shenzhen. This city that was just a small fishing village a few decades ago has grown into a cyberpunk metropolis of eleven million and has become the manufacturing capital of the world. You’re probably reading this on a device made somewhere around Shenzhen.

    For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re going to be talking about manufacturing in Shenzhen.

  38. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Startup Campus Beckons Int’l Inventors
    Inside look at world’s largest incubator Station F

    From Shenzhen to New York and Silicon Valley, technology incubators are popping up, providing affordable space for dreamers and entrepreneurs to build and nurture startups.

    Among these nurseries, Station F — which opened in Paris earlier this month as the world’s largest startup campus — might be the epitome, in terms of size, amenities, perks, and a built-in ecosystem compatible with innovation.

    A brainchild of French billionaire Xavier Niel, Station F, converted from an abandoned train depot, is designed to house 1,000 startups. The re-architected building, about 34,000 square meters, maintains the original concrete structure, offering an airy, modern, and open work space.

    But what makes this place unique is the entrepreneurs — both French and non-French — in residence. They come from diverse backgrounds, bringing their ideas and startups focused on a variety of technology/business disciplines aimed at different market segments.

    A desk at Station F costs 195 euros a month (comparable to the rent for a garage in Sunnyvale in 1970). Entrepreneurs, however, move in not for cheap office space but for Station F’s prestige. The joint is selective. To get a coveted full-time desk space, applicants with early-stage startups must be vetted by Station F’s highly choosy and technology-savvy selection board.

    Station F is still in its first month, with 500 startups already installed. Another 500 applicants are scheduled to fill all the openings by year’s end.

    Crème de la crème
    Those who work under Station F’s Founders Program know that they are the select few (200) among 2,300 startups who applied.

    “We have no idea how they selected us, but we know Station F’s selection board has been looking for diversities in technologies, industry/market segments, and various business development phased [that] each startup is in.”

    Entrepreneurs help other entrepreneurs
    One of the Station F’s oft-quoted mantras is that “90% of entrepreneurs’ problems are solved by other entrepreneurs.”

    The incubator strongly believes that founders need to be surrounded by people who have battled the same problems.

    Although not installed yet, Station F will also have a makers’ space. Sponsored by Leroy Merlin, a French home improvement retailer, Station F members will have access to 3D printers, laser cutters, and other workshops, making it easier to prototype products.

    VCs on site
    There are several VCs on-site at Station F. They include Daphni, an early-to-late-stage VC fund; Ventech, a VC fund investing in Europe and China; and Kima Ventures, which calls itself “the most active business angel in the world.” Niel is one of the founders who launched Kima Ventures.

    Does this mean easier access to money?

    Not necessarily, said Toledano. “But it’s helpful to have someone to bounce our ideas off of.” Pistre said that having VCs “only a hundred meters away from my desk makes the process of meeting VCs a lot easier.

    Social responsibilities
    It’s rare to hear anyone in the U.S. mention the social responsibilities of incubators or accelerators. After all, startups are a tough business and everyone has to fight for survival.

    But Station F rolled out at its inauguration at the end of June what it calls the “Fighters Program,” whose mission is to make entrepreneurship more accessible to people from underprivileged backgrounds.

    Unexpected surprises at Station F?
    While Station F offers space for meeting rooms created from modified shipping containers, it expects most activity to happen in open space. Each entrepreneur’s desk is installed in an open office floor with no walls.

    Toledano said, “Everything at Station F is designed and driven by mobility culture.” He and his partner were used to working on desktop PCs, but that wouldn’t be convenient in the open office floor, he explained. “That’s something we’ve needed to adjust to. We had to change the state of our minds.”

    You can have a brainstorm meeting with your colleague in a shipping container furnished with bean bags or meet with your potential clients and partners in a meeting room with a table and chair.

    A desk — for which an entrepreneur pays 195 euros per month — is placed in an open office floor plan.

    Nobody wants to get stuck behind his desk all the time. Station F offers a brightly colored creativity room.

    Station F is divided into three zones: Share zone, Create zone, and Chill zone. Share zone is where meetings and events take place. Makers’ space is to be added here soon.

    Create zone is where entrepreneurs’ desks are placed, while Chill zone is where restaurants are expected to open later this year.

    The grand plan is to put everything that entrepreneurs need under one roof at Station F. That includes a post office.

  39. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Jacob Kastrenakes / The Verge:
    Indiegogo says it will compel campaigns to provide status of product’s development and update backers monthly

    Indiegogo may now call a collection agency if backers aren’t kept informed about delays

    Indiegogo is making a pair of changes today that are designed to compel crowdfunding campaigns to be clearer with backers about the state of their products. The first change is a requirement that tech campaigns disclose what state their product is in — be it just a concept or one ready to hit the manufacturing line. And the second is a requirement that all campaigns update their backers at least once a month about how the project is going.

    If campaigns fail to do either, Indiegogo may remove them from the platform, offer refunds, and even attempt to acquire dispersed money through collections agencies. Combined, Indiegogo hopes these measures will give people more confidence when backing a project and then again later on while waiting for it to ship, which is when delays often hit and communication tends to break down.

    Indiegogo added the ability for campaigns to list what stage their product is in last year, but selecting a stage hasn’t been a requirement.

    Critically, Mandelbrot says that Indiegogo’s moderation team will look through every campaign and validate that the creators have accurately represented how far along they are in the process. This will happen after a campaign is already live, and there won’t be any way for visitors to see whether or not any given project has been verified.

    But if a live campaign is found to have misrepresented itself, Indiegogo will alert backers and offer them the chance to get a refund.

    Indiegogo plans to reach out to negligent campaigns as soon as 30 quiet days go by. Eventually, silent campaign creators will be given a deadline for posting some sort of update.

    In some cases, where a campaign owner “has basically disappeared,” Indiegogo will call a collection agency and try to recover backers’ money.

    “What happens more often is that an entrepreneur may tell us they’re a little behind in manufacturing and are nervous about telling users,” he says. “We have data. Our backers understand there will be challenges but want to be communicated with.”

    Indiegogo declined to share figures on how often campaigns fail to deliver products. But a 2015 analysis of Kickstarter data found that 9 percent of that platform’s crowdfunding projects failed to deliver rewards, and only 65 percent of backers said their rewards were delivered on time. “Project backers should expect a failure rate of around 1-in-10 projects, and to receive a refund 13 percent of the time,”

    If the numbers are at all similar on Indiegogo, it means that backing any project remains a real gamble. While Indiegogo says it’s taking steps to help technology campaigns get to market — it has partnerships to connect campaign creators with IBM and Arrow Electronics to help them develop and produce their products — that still doesn’t provide any sort of guarantee to backers. It just ups the odds that they might eventually get something.

  40. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Engineer Looks to Crowdfunding to Stoke Kids’ Interest in Electronics

    A veteran software engineer is looking to harness the power of crowdfunding to get his pet project — an intuitive, digital circuit design kit aimed primarily at kids — off the ground.

    Joesph Broms, who has been working in software engineering in the medical field for 20 years, has developed a hardware design kit called ProtoBricks that uses bricks with digital circuits that are snap-together compatible with LEGO bricks. The idea is to enable kids to learn about building digital logic circuits by incorporating them into their LEGO models.

  41. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Launch Day for Hardware Studio

    Back in May we told you about Hardware Studio, a new initiative from Kickstarter, Avnet, and Dragon Innovation that’s aimed at supporting hardware creators. Today we’re very happy to tell you that Hardware Studio is live at…

    A new initiative from Kickstarter, Avnet, and Dragon Innovation, providing resources and support for independent hardware creators.

  42. Tomi Engdahl says:

    The Narrowing Gap Between Amateur and Professional Fabrication

    Haz Bridgeport, Will Mill

    Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting a hold of the equipment. If you need a Bridgeport mill for your project, and you don’t have one, you have to pay for someone else to make the thing — no matter how simple. You’re paying for the operator’s education and expertise, as well as helping pay for the maintenance and support of the hardware and the shop it’s housed in.

    I once worked in a packaging shop, and around 2004 we got in a prototype to use in developing the product box. This prototype was 3D printed and I was told it cost $12,000 to make. For the era it was mind blowing. The part itself was simplistic and few folks on Thingiverse circa 2017 would be impressed; the print quality was roughly on par with a Makerbot Cupcake. But because the company didn’t have a 3D printer, they had to pay someone who owned one a ton of cash to make the thing they wanted.

    Unparalleled Access to Formerly Professional-Only Tools

    But access to high end tools has never been easier. Hackerspaces and tool libraries alone have revolutionized what it means to have access to those machines. There are four or five Bridgeports (or similar vertical mills) at my hackerspace and I believe they were all donated. For the cost of membership, plus the time to get trained in and checked out, you can mill that part for cheap. Repeat with above-average 3D printers, CNC mills, vinyl cutters, lasers.

  43. Tomi Engdahl says:

    What working on Pebble taught me about building hardware

    Startups in general are like roller coasters; adding hardware to the mix just makes them even more stomach-churning. But if it’s so hard, why do it? The most rewarding feeling in the world is seeing someone out in public using a product that you helped make. If you’re working on hardware, especially consumer electronics, I hope you’ll get a chance to feel it. It makes it all worth it.

    Get something out there in a hurry.

    One of your first goals must be to get a minimum viable product into users’ hands as quickly as possible. Try to get those users to pay something. If they do, the feedback they give you will be of much higher quality.

    This approach is totally normal for software projects, but for some reason hardware founders keep making excuses

    You don’t need to make it perfect. Get a quick-and-dirty prototype built that solves a real problem for your users. Use off-the-shelf modules — WiFi, Bluetooth, displays — as much as possible. Do something super-hacky, like shoving a tiny Android phone into a 3D-printed box and writing an app that simulates your product experience. It’s a waste of time to try to minimize the cost of your materials at this stage.

    I can’t overemphasize how important this step is. Do not skip it.

    Here’s why: If you can’t find anyone to pay for (or even use) your prototype, then you aren’t solving a problem that anyone really has. If people have complaints, try to address them quickly and inexpensively by modifying your prototype until customers are willing to pay for it and use it.

    Do this before you launch on Kickstarter. It sounds hard but it’s not (compared to the rest of the things you will need to do)!

    You could also consider running a separate Kickstarter project, with limited-run rewards, to fund this early prototype stage of your product. Just be honest about the state of your project development.

    Talking to users sounds hard and tedious, because it is. But as a product designer you need to be constantly validating your assumptions to ensure you’re actually building something people want.

    Learn how products are actually made.

    This probably involves a trip to China. If you are working on a hardware project, you owe it to yourself to go to Shenzhen.

    Hardware is hard, but manufacturing is usually not the hardest part. At Pebble we ran into issues that had more to do with market positioning and cash-flow management. It turns out that deciding how much inventory to buy is crazy-difficult.

    The bottom line: Focus on talking to and caring for your backers and users. They are your #1 fans, so get your product out as soon as physically possible

  44. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Dan Primack / Axios:
    Crowdsourced hardware maker Quirky, which filed for bankruptcy in 2015, relaunches with a similar focus but plans to license products for manufacture

    The rebirth of Quirky

    Quirky once was one of the tech world’s most-watched startups, raising around $200 million to build a platform whereby inventors could submit ideas that Quirky might then manufacture and distribute via major retail channels. Even more exciting was that other users who contributed valuable feedback could receive royalties. More than 150 products came to market.

    But then, two years ago, the whole thing went bust, filing for bankruptcy and selling off its Wink home automation hub product to Flextronics for $15 million. Company founder and CEO Ben Kaufman moved on to an e-commerce role with Buzzfeed.

    Today, Quirky is back.
    Keep reading 375 words

    Something new, something old, something borrowed: The new Quirky is still an innovation platform focused on consumer products in the electronics, toys and home goods verticals. And the fractional royalties system remains in place. But the company no longer plans to manufacture “winning” inventions, instead employing a licensing model through which it will partner with companies like HSN, Vanderbilt Home, Atomi, Shopify and Viatek. This is a bit similar to the pivot Quirky attempted before its bankruptcy filing, but by that point it was too little too late.

    Answering critics: Quirky’s terms of service since the reorg gave the company all IP rights to a submitted product, in perpetuity, no matter if Quirky actually picked it for development. The company says it is introducing new terms that give Quirky exclusive IP rights for 12 months, but that they then revert back to the inventor if the product is not picked.

    Reputational damage: Waldhorn acknowledges that while the bankruptcy hurt Quirky within the company’s home market of New York — where it received the most media coverage — most of its users didn’t care. “There was an opportunity to represent open innovation for inventors, but no one else came around to do it.”

  45. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Why Do Startups Fail? Because Hardware is Hard

    Few venture-capital investors have forgotten the story of Pebble: In 2012, after every VC firm on Sand Hill Road had passed on investing, the smartwatch startup raised more than $10 million on crowdfunding site Kickstarter. It was an unheard-of amount for a crowdfunding campaign, and the resulting hype made Pebble an internet sensation. Then the VCs, suffering from FOMO, begged Pebble to let them invest. The startup eventually raised a total of $59 million.

    Investors have been loath to repeat the mistake ever since. Venture funding for hardware startups hit an eight-year high in 2016, with investors pouring $4.4 billion into 624 startups, according to data provider CB Insights.

    Likewise, hardware entrepreneurs are eager to use a successful crowdfunding campaign as evidence of customer demand for their product. If tens of thousands of people are willing to donate money or pre-order a product that doesn’t yet exist, surely millions will want to buy it in a store, the thinking goes. More than half of gadget startups raised their first funding on a crowdfunding website, according to CB Insights.

    But it takes time and a lot of money to bring hardware to market, and in the last year a number of well-funded hardware startups have flamed out spectacularly. Wearable startup Jawbone, backed by $930 million, sold its assets earlier this year. E-cigarette company Njoy, backed by $181 million, went bankrupt last year and liquidated its assets. Kitchen appliance maker Juicero, backed by $100 million, shut down over the summer. And Fuhu, a tablet startup; Zeebo, a gaming console; and Hello, a sleep tracker; which each raised more than $50 million, have ceased operations.

    Amid the failures, it’s increasingly clear that crowdfunding success does not automatically equate to widespread consumer demand.

    A new study from CB Insights analyzes the failures of 382 hardware startups, finding that the biggest reason they fail is a lack of demand for their products. In other words, a popular crowdfunding project can be deceptive.

  46. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Kickstarter’s most successful fundraiser shares lessons from a failed campaign

    Kickstarter’s most successful fundraiser shares lessons from a failed campaign
    Posted 5 hours ago by Brian Heater (@bheater)

    PodCase’s search for $300,000 on Kickstarter has ended — not with a bang but a whimper. Earlier this week, the company posted an update to its page, explaining that it would not be continuing the campaign after having pulled in less than a tenth of its goal, with around three days left.

    “As I’m sure you can see, this project was way less successful than we had intended,” the product’s creators noted. “Unfortunately it will not be funded and we will not be able to manufacture PodCase as it stands today, at least on the timeline that we were aiming for.”

    The project was notable not just for its clever solution to the problem of carrying around an extra AirPods case, but also for the team involved.

    After all, Pebble currently commands three of the top five Kickstarter projects of all time (joined by a “cooperative nightmare horror game experience


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