Ok, so I now have a Dildonics tag for all the trancevibe stuff. It’s an
exciting informative journey through the no-man’s land of small volume electronics production.
I’m going forward with this project (and documenting it) mostly for my own personal edification. I’ve never developed and commercialized something before (unless you count my childhood four-leaf-clover stand, which, incidentally, had comparable sales volumes), and it’s probably not going to happen without getting my own sweat involved.
How it usually works (or I’d like to think so) for gadget geeks is, you work by day as an engineer at a respectable technology company–you develop cool gadgets… you see your babies through from conception to mass production (and occasionally help your landlady carry out her garbage). By night, you use the vast product-development knowledge and connections you’ve acquired to fuel your own pet projects, which will of course revolutionize the free world and put sliced bread back in its place. However, I work at an R&D company that does mainly SBIR contracts, so there we develop technology and run experiments; we don’t mass-produce things.
Since the last vibe-related update I have done a couple “production runs” of 3-8 units at a time (since that’s how many I had parts on-hand for), and thrown in a Digikey order for parts enough for a mind-boggling 25 more. Did I say Digikey? YES, I SAID DIGIKEY. For those not in the know, think of Digikey as sort of a really big Radio Shack store online. Except that they still sell discrete electronic components (not cell phones), albeit at an often substantial markup. It would be funny if you went to the Verizon Store to buy a phone, and when you made your purchase, the guy behind the counter sprang up, ran to the Radio Shack next door and bought the requested model retail, then came running back to stuff it in a Verizon Store box and resell it to you.
Some things discovered lately:
First class mail (letter post) isn’t just for letters; you can mail up to 4 lbs of stuff (in a bulky padded envelope, or even a tube or a box) for a few bucks.
There is a class of mail called “media mail” specifically for media, which can be big and heavy but mailed ridiculously cheap. This applies ONLY to media however, which specifically means records, CD/DVDs, videotapes, sheet music, and bound printed matter which does not contain advertising. The USPS is actually pretty strict about it (according to research), and will occasionally open up media mail packages for inspection if they think someone’s cheating.
You can mail stuff across the pond for just over $5. 7-day Air Mail. However, these shipments involve a green Customs Form, PS Form 2976 (items under $400), which requires a duplicate writing of the sender AND receiver’s full name and address; description, weight and value of goods (2x), and two dated signatures. This makes one sore hand if you ship a large batch of stuff overseas. I still have no idea whether “value” equals “price paid”, “Bill Of Materials cost”, “BOM + labor”, or “retail, but there’s an implicit understanding that shippers mark the goods as a gift, or substantially undervalue them to avoid socking the recipient with a huge tax”. Anyone? (Ahem, trying to be legal, mainly to avoid fines / jail / siezed packages.)
You can’t ship adult materials to Uzbekistan.
You can’t ship “obscene articles” to the UK.
Actually, there are a fuckton of countries with restrictions on spicy materials. (Not to mention a zillion other things such as alcohol, money, pork, live bees, and “All foodstuffs if the time left until the “use-by” date is less than 70% (calculated from the date of manufacture)”.)
Don’t ship a damned thing to countries ending in “-stan”.
“Bad boards” do exist, and can’t reliably be detected by visual inspection (by the board house or otherwise). As I found out recently in a project at work too, even expensive houses (Bobby, I’m looking at *you*) release severely fscked-up boards now and then. For that one, about half the vias (small metallized drill holes that pass a signal from the top side to bottom side, or vice versa, manufactured by drilling the hole out of the fiberglass board and letting metal grow inside it) didn’t connect. A couple of the DrmnVibe boards had either shorts or open traces (where the metal of the trace was etched all the way off/through; the opens were cleverly hiding under white silk screening). I now have a simple test jig to verify DTV boards with a real ‘bullet’, even if one is never soldered to it.
Stripping USB cables by hand takes a long damned time. The “USB-A to bare wires” Digikey part went out of stock, so I searched for a replacement and found it was cheaper to get a ‘real’ cable (USB-A to mini-B) and just cut the B end off. I think manufacturing-wise I’m going to either stick to pre-stripped cables from now on or add a B connector to the board. Otherwise it’s cut the end off, strip back insulation, strip 4 tiny signal wires, then deal with the ground shield consisting of braided metal (like the stuff in steel wool) that’s a bitch to cut off cleanly, and leaves bits of fine metal wire everywhere to short things out and/or embed themselves in your thumb.
Manufacturing PITAs, in decreasing order:
Reassembly of COTS vibe, aligning 3 screws at once while holding a board in between
Stripping USB cables
Packaging and shipping
Drilling holes for cable (PITA factor doubles on discovering someone lost the chuck key…)
Disassembling COTS vibe, removing guts
Batch programming with PIC programming jig
Final testing with Tezt.exe and bullet jig