The majority of the student projects at ITP are connected consumer products or connected installation pieces. To complement our learnings in enclosure design and manufacturing, we wanted to learn about printed circuit board construction and sourcing. How easy or hard is it to move from an Arduino board to something that performs a specific-function? Where would we go to get someone to manufacture something for us? Why are most circuitboards green? What should we look for when sourcing high-quality components we want to sell in Europe?
Sam Wurzel talked to our class about this dizzying world a few weeks back. We covered a lot in three hours, but here are some bits of sage wisdom from Sam.
Sourcing: Students at ITP mainly go to Adafruit or Digikey to source electronic components, but Sam talked about Octopart’s Common Parts Library that aggregates stock (and inventory availability) from those suppliers and many others to give a more holistic view of availability of a part. There are roughly 30M parts in this library alone. In addition, students can chose only RoHS compliance for an initial screen for compliance.
Factories: When looking for a factory, Sam suggested the students find one at the right scale for them. Looking for ones that market themselves as ones that take on small volume manufacturing jobs is a good first vetting. He explained that the process is very iterative and requires a lot of back and forth with manufacturers, so the students should build in time and patience for this process.
Funding: Sam cautioned that hardware is a very expensive business type and that many companies get into the game seeking at least a million in investment. Kickstarter is a dangerous platform for hardware in some cases because there are a lot of unexpected things that come up when companies are just starting out. Things like overlooked regulations, new functionality that changes the size of the PCB or even factories going under can raise upfront costs in unexpected ways. Places like Dragon Innovation or PCH/ Highway 1 specialize in helping hardware start-ups better cost out their early runs and have in-house expertise that set these types of start-ups up for success.