Kickstarter Progress Update

The Re:load Pro kickstarter is barreling along! We reached the goal after just 32 hours, and after a boost from an article on Hack a Day, we’ve now reached £10,000 and unlocked the first stretch goal: an accessory port. Read all about it in the update here!

With 18 days to go, there’s still plenty of time to back the Kickstarter and get a Re:load Pro for yourself, and plenty of stretch goals still to meet.

Custom Manufacturing in China

One of the primary requirements for the Re:Load Pro was an enclosure and heatsink. The two need to integrate well - ideally with the heatsink taking the part of one end-panel - and the heatsink needs to be sufficiently large for the heat dissipation requirements of the Re:load Pro. After much searching, I came to the reluctant conclusion that such an enclosure doesn’t presently exist, and that my only option was to get the enclosure, the heatsink, or both custom manufactured.

I’ve sourced parts from Chinese manufacturers before, including getting parts, such as the LED matrices for the Minishift and Minimatrix made to order, but sourcing something with high setup costs, such as a custom extrusion, was a new experience.

Step one was to design a part and generate a suitable manufacturing drawing from which to quote. I took the dimensions of an existing heatsink, along with various design guides and produced this design:

I found some suppliers on aliexpress who seemed to specialise in heatsink extrusions, and shopped it around to them. I got quotes back from a number of suppliers, with a wide range of prices. Tooling/mold fees ranged from $500USD to $1,300, while per-unit prices ranged from $1.85 each to $3.50, and they all had minimum orders around 500 pieces. Most were willing to negotiate down on the MOQ in order to get a sale, but some additionally had an additional setup fee if you ordered less than a certain weight of aluminium.

I ended up picking a supplier towards the lower end of the price range, though not the absolute cheapest, with a tooling cost of $600, and a per-unit cost of $2.30, and authorising them to go ahead and produce the mould. This was an occasion for some paranoia, since unlike the CNC and 3d printing processes we’re all used to being a bit blase with, any screwups here would necessitate a new mould, and another $600 tooling fee.

The breakdown of the per-unit costs were:

Tooling took some time: nearly a month, though that was interrupted by Chinese New Year, which extended things somewhat. The tooling fee includes production of 3 sample units, which arrived a week later. I couldn’t be happier with the quality of the extrusion, machining, and finish:

These are the exact extrusions you’ll get as part of your enclosure if you back the Re:load Pro.

Although one data point isn’t a lot to work from, I’ve found the whole experience to be surprisingly straightforward and hassle-free so far, though I’ll report back when I’ve ordered the final extrusions for the production run. A few things to bear in mind when considering ordering custom work from China yourself:

Have you had custom work done in China? What was your experience with it like?

Introducing the Re:load Pro

I designed the original Re:load to fill a need of my own, and out of frustration at the lack of any good alternatives available to electronics hackers like myself. It turns out that I’m not the only person who found a lightweight and robust active load a useful tool, and the Re:load’s turned into a popular and well-regarded product.

The Re:load fills a gap for people needing a simple way to do electrical load testing, but ever since I launched the original Re:load, though, people have asked for a version that’s higher powered and more flexible - a true piece of precision benchtop equipment. That’s why today, I’m launching the Re:load Pro on Kickstarter.

The Re:load Pro takes all the advantages of the original Re:load, and improves upon them with a robust benchtop case, a good quality display and UI, an isolated USB interface, and an integrated processor - the PSoC 4 from Cypress - that together make it an extremely sophisticated and versatile piece of equipment.

You can do everything you could with the original Re:load, plus much, much more. The Re:load Pro can handle up to 60 volts, 6 amps, or 25 watts with entirely passive cooling - and a forthcoming fan kit will expand the maximum power significantly. The built in processor lets you set precise current limits and get accurate readouts of current, voltage, power and more, and the isolated USB interface lets you safely control and monitor it over USB.

The Re:load Pro goes live today on Kickstarter for £65, or £80 with an accessory kit containing everything you need to get started, and there’s a limited number of early bird units for just £55 with all the accessories. Take a look at the project on Kickstarter to get more details, and to back it!

Minishift Now in Stock and Shipping

We’re back from Shenzhen, and the minishift is now in stock and shipping at long last! Backorders will ship tomorrow (Monday). Order yours now!.

Arachnid Labs Is Going to Shenzhen!

Arachnid Labs is going to Shenzhen! I’ll be in town from the 5th to the 9th as part of the digital mission Shenzhen, attending the maker faire, and meeting up with friends and fellow makers from IRC.

Are you going to be in town? Look for me at the UKTI booth at Maker Faire, or leave a comment below!

Interfacing With the Minishift From Your PC

The Minishift Python library and HTTP interface is now available on GitHub and in PyPi!

Usage documentation can be found here, too.

Finally, videos demonstrating minishift assembly and enclosure assembly are up on YouTube. Expect a full assembly instructions page soon.

Keep an eye out for a tutorial on using the Minishift from your Arduino, and an Arduino library, also coming soon.

And don’t forget, you can still preorder your own minishifts https://www.tindie.com/products/arachnidlabs/minishift/ here, for shipment in a little over a week.

Introducing the Minishift

Meet Arachnid Labs’ latest project, the Minishift:

The Minishift is a compact 8x8 LED matrix display and driver that speaks SPI, and can be driven from any microcontroller platform, or with an optional interface board, over USB. Each Minishift module operates independently, and they chain together to form larger displays, limited only by the amount of power you can supply them. They speak a really simple SPI protocol, with each display acting like an 8 byte shift register, making it extremely easy to work with them. Sample code for the Arduino will be available before preorders ship.

An optional USB-SPI interface is available, which makes it easy to drive a series of Minishifts from your computer. Python libraries and sample code, as well as a display driver daemon, will also be available soon. The USB interface can drive 8-9 Minishifts fully lit, or more if you will only be displaying text or other graphics that don’t light all the LEDs at once.

The Minishift is available for preorder now on Tindie. The regular price is $8.99 per minishift, but you can get 20% off for preorders only with discount code 9D903ED, making them only $7.19 each! Kits with more minishifts and USB interfaces are available at a discount too.

Do you have a job in mind for the Minishift? Leave your ideas in the comments!

Better Component Storage

Like most people, I’m overwhelmed with small quantities of parts from Mouser, Farnell, and Digi-key. Most of them reusable, some of them valuable, it can be a pain storing and keeping track of them. I have some of those cunning little SMD compartments from China, which are great for passives and other small parts, but for slightly larger ICs, and for parts that I don’t use so often, they’re not ideal.

I think I’ve found a better way to store those parts, though. I sourced some 3” x 5” antistatic bags for a pittance, lasercut a box to hold them in, and printed off some simple labels to keep track of what’s in each one. Here’s the end result:

So far, it seems to work pretty well, allowing me to store a lot of different parts in only a very small amount of space.

I’m particularly proud of the design of the box: it’s entirely snap together, with no glue or fastenings, inspired by this post on lasercut clip joins. The whole box can be cut out of a single A4 sheet of 3mm acrylic; the DXF is available here.

How do you store your electronic parts?

Circuit Patterns Trading Cards Now Available on amazon.co.uk

As a bit of an experiment, I’ve put the Circuit Patterns Trading Cards up on amazon.co.uk. They’re fulfilled by Amazon, so you can get all the usual shipping options such as free super-saver or prime shipping, as well as prompt delivery. They’re in stock now for £8.99.

Of course, they’re still available on Tindie, too!

Re:load 20W Heatsink Back in Stock

As some of you will know, the 20W option for the Re:load has been out of stock for a little while. I’m happy to say that it’s now back in stock. You can buy one on Tindie!