Our minions are busy. We timed the cycles for the Quad and Samsung so that they are close to each other in order to maximize throughput.
We received the first batch of our PCBs earlier this week from PCBWin.com. I am super delighted about the service of this company. They not only got the boards done early, but they really have gone the extra mile in terms of service. I have actually received 2 phone calls from them (such a rare thing from my experience with Chinese suppliers) to resolve questions and to solicit feedback about the order. We will definitely be using them again!
We have both pick and place machines all setup and are starting to run boards later today!
We noticed that our new compressor would go to sleep when the system pressure was stable. This is a good thing. But once the pressure dropped, it would not come out of sleep mode.
I called them, and it literally took them 30 seconds to enable to wakeup option (by default it is not set) via the Bluetooth / Android App. I am finding it hard to believe that compressors that cost more than twice as much as this one don't have any remote diagnostics built-in. The more I learn about this compressor, the more I like it.
I am almost done with the jig used in our stencil printer that holds the CHV badge PCB array. The jig holds the PCB snugly against the stencil while the machine puts the solder paste on it. MDF to the rescue again. We used one of those 3060 CNC routers that you can find on eBay. It has been upgraded with a TinyG controller board - the original one had a parallel port and wasn't the best...
On a build we just got finished with, we noticed that a few of the pneumatic pushers that index the feeders were "sticky". Occasionally, there would be a feeder issue caused by the pushers not operating fast enough. Or they would just get stuck in the upright position entirely.
We can't have these type of delays with the DefCon build, so we tore one apart to see what was going on.
It turns out our machine has had quite a few of the pusher assemblies replaced with non-Samsung parts. These non-OEM parts had a rubber o-ring inside of them that was not oil resistant. They broke down over time and basically turned into paste. Thick rubbery paste inside of an pneumatic piston assembly is not really a good thing.
So we have spent yesterday and today cleaning about 90 individual air pistons. We replaced the bad o-rings, cleaned out the cylinders, and re-lubricated them. They are lightning fast now!
For those of you that are interested, the latest schematics for this year's badge can be found here. These will be in the SDK when it is made available.
This year we have to run three air-hungry machines at once. Normally, we are just using our stencil printer and Samsung at the same time. I've been wanting to replace our current compressor (which is just a big one you can get at Lowe's/Menards/Home Depot) and have been waiting for the need.
The need is here - this compressor can hardly keep up with the two machines. Adding the Quad will push it over the edge. So, I found a supplier of lower-cost new rotary compressors. Our new guy is a 10hp 3 phase unit that will have no problem keeping up with three machines and even a couple more (for expansion).
I routed the new compressor into the old compressor's tank. This serves a double-duty - the old one can easily be used as a backup and I was able to get a tank-less rotary compressor which saves $$$$.
The new compressor is pretty cool - it has a Bluetooth connection to an Android app that reports run-time stats to the manufacturer. This allows for them to do may things like advise on maintenance, see problems with operation, etc. I got it from usaircompressor (I am not compensated in any way for this link :-)).
This year we have 3 parts that come on a matrix tray. Our Samsung has only one matrix holder, and our Quad only has one as well. The Samsung this year will be devoted to placing small and/or repeated parts. The Samsung can go really fast when it can pick up 6 parts at once - the feeders are spaced so that the head travels to one location and all six placement heads come down and pick at once. This will be key for the LED's, 100nF caps, etc. so that panel placement will go fast. Of course, this means that six feeders are populated with the same part. This takes up space, and the Samsung can only hold so many feeders.
Therefore, the Quad will be allocated to parts that only appear once on a unit - microcontrollers, power IC's, etc. Basically, the Quad does most of the IC's and the Samsung does the "passives". If we allocate the parts right, it will take about the same amount of time for the Samsung and Quad to do a panel - so boards can flow from the Samsung to the Qaud with no buffering.
Since a used Quad matrix tray runs about $1000, I didn't want to have to buy two more of these. Especially since the matrix trays are just a platform 4.5" above the table (the official tray can be seen in the picture on the right side with the green sticker on it). There is really nothing fancy about them. So, about an hour of labor and some careful cutting of $4 worth of MDF should do the trick. MDF is really dusty stuff, but I found if you sand the edges down well, and blast it off with compressed air, it's OK. For other applications, where I worry about dust, I finish it off by brushing on silicone conformal coating (used to coat PCB's).
Well at least some of my worries are being mitigated. We just got our LED's for the badge this year. I was super afraid these would get held up in customs due to the recent changes. 186 reels of pure excitement!
First person to get me an XL T-Shirt that is the same as Booger's in Revenge of the Nerds gets a free badge this year! :-)
Our planned PCB supplier called me last night at 10pm and indicated that the design exceeds their capabilities and therefore can not be reliably done. I don't hold it against them - they are a great local supplier. We will keep using them, and use the 20-or-so panels they have done to get everything setup next week. It's just that we are really pushing the envelope this year. If things were easy, then that means that we weren't trying hard enough!
So time for plan B - use a shotgun approach across 4 different PCB vendors in Asia: pcbway, pcbgogo, pcbwin, and allpcb. If these suppliers hold to their indicated schedules we should be in full production the week of the 23rd. This kinda stinks because we lose a week of production. But hey, nothing is easy when running down to the wire.
The crazy thing is that we had most of this ready to go back in February. But, many factors contributed to the situation we are in: part changes, dealing with new parts, sourcing delays because of typhoons, our current workload for other clients, etc.
We will still get them done. It just means that we earn our trip to Vegas a little bit more than before :-)
Some design info to share - this year we have three microcontrollers on the badge. Yes, three. An NXP Kinetis K22, an NXP S32, and an NXP S9. The K22 is devoted to USB and SD card IO. The S9 is devoted to the LED display (the display needs it, you'll see). The S32 is the main brain and supports the three CAN-FD, dual KWP/LIN, automotive ethernet, gyro, accelerometer, and NFC interfaces.
Note - The white wires won't be on yours :-)
Over the course of last year, we have been busy upgrading our equipment and our capabilities. I like to think that Specialized Solutions is a unique provider of electronic assemblies because we typically only produce the designs that we create. This allows for us to have full visibility and control over the entire product development process.
A lot of what we do is the DefCon CHV badge. We start planning for it over a year in advance - we started planning this year's badge before DefCon started last year. As part of planning, we want to make sure that we can handle producing the design. Every year we not only grow the badge, but we grow our capabilities as well.
So this year, we have some new "team members". They are older, but they are workhorses and produce very good results.
We picked up a used Samsung CP45NEO late last year. It was a long road to get a heavily used machine back up to peak condition (new power supplies, some new controller cards, pneumatic parts, numerous calibrations and adjustments, etc.). It took four months of work. But now this guy can really fly. I am amazed at how inexpensive some of the parts for this machine are - probably because this machine has a very wide usage in Asia (and probably elsewhere as well). For example, we can get fully-reconditioned 8x2mm feeders for less than $40 each.
Last year we used an updated Quad IV to pick and place the badges. The Samsung smokes it in terms of speed and accuracy. However, there are some things I miss about the Quad. We didn't get rid of the Quad - we have to use it this year along with the Samsung due to the high part count on the badge.
We also picked up a dinosaur of a stencil printer - an MPM AP-25. Same story with it - adjustments, custom tooling, new parts, etc. were required to get it back to peak operating condition. Even through this machine is old - I am very pleased with the results that it produces. Last year we were hand-stenciling the badges. Let's just say that we fully appreciate fully-automated stencil printing! (And yes, that is a picture of Octavio Coleman Esq.)
For reflow we use an Ersa 5. We used an Ersa 3 last year. This guy also required some TLC (man alive that conveyor oil is expensive!) but now he should be ready for many more years of service (fingers crossed!).
This year is gearing up to be a great year for the CHV! New venue, new concepts, new ideas, and of course a new badge.
We have really outdone ourselves this year. My goal of creating a badge that is not only visually appealing, but is useful after the show is over, is in full force again. This year's badge is bigger (both literally and functionally). More interfaces, more horsepower (thank you NXP!), and more things to see. Lots more things to see - like an insane number of RGB and discrete LEDs packed as tight as we could get them using standard 4-layer design constraints.
One of my main goals this year is to avoid you waiting in line. We will have no less than 3 sales lines. All badges will be pre-boxed with instructions, lanyards, batteries, etc. Just grab a box and go. Easy and quick so you can get on with your DefCon activities. There will be no per-day sales allocations. We will sell until they are gone.
The badges will be $60 this year. This includes Nevada sales tax (which we do pay, by the way). You will be able to purchase one badge at $60, and each subsequent badge will be $80 in the same transaction. My goal with this pricing structure is to try and make sure that everyone who wants one can get one. But keep in mind that if you buy two, you are only spending an extra $10 per badge.
We will not be able to take credit cards, but the instruction sheet that comes with the badge will double as a receipt for those of you that need one.
I am working hard this year to bring PAWN back by popular request. This will make it easy to customize your badge to do what you need it to. Download the SDK (which will be available here), grab a micro-usb cable, and go for it. No need for JTAG/SWD adapters, installing IDE's, etc. (unless you want to do this of course - I will make a native SDK available).
Like in previous years, the SDK will contain all of the tools you need to script or roll-your-own code. Full schematics and assembly drawings will be in there.
A note about quality and buying with confidence -
All badges will leave my facility fully tested. We had a couple of QA issues slip though last year. Not this year.
All badges are manufactured by us in Fort Wayne, Indiana, using PCB's manufactured locally by Miltec in Cedarville, IN. Specialized Solutions pick and places, assembles, tests, boxes, delivers (the road trip is worth it), and sells the badges. They are completely under our control, and I get very frustrated when we have QA problems because I have nobody but us to blame.
Our machines will be getting a full workout starting next week, so stay tuned for videos, pictures, and other posts that will give you a glimpse into what goes into being the second-highest-selling electronic badge at DefCon (the first highest is DefCon by the way...)
Thank you so much for being a supporter over the last three years. For those of you that have watched the badge evolution, you know that year after year the badge continually advances. This year is no exception. I know you will be pleased.
See you soon!