Starting a maker business is not easy. There are so many things to think about before you can put your product up for sale. How do you find the best components for your kit? How do you set up an online store? What is the best way to ship out your product? How much should you charge for your kit at wholesales? What about retail? How much inventory should you keep stocked? What tools are available to run a more efficient business? These are just a few of many questions you should ask yourself before putting your product up for sale. As you can see, it can all be very overwhelming.
Thankfully, Adafruit is here to help. When I started up Coobro Labs, and began getting the Coobro Geo kit ready to sell, I constantly tapped into the resources here at Adafruit. These tips, tutorials, and articles saved me a whole lot of headache. They enabled me to distribute my kit efficiently, and sell it for a profit.
Here is a quick overview of the types of posts you will find in the Maker Business section at Adafruit:
Sure, you could send out your circuit boards to be manufactured by a third party, but if you aren’t ordering in large quantities, this will dramatically increase the cost of your kit, eat in to your profits, or both. Manufacturing Monday posts help to teach you how to manufacture your boards, and assembly your kits at home.
There are a couple great things you will find in the Tutorial Tuesday posts. You will, or course, find tips and tricks for running your own maker business (such as a tutorial on using barcode scanners, tips on using pick & place machines). You should also take time to go over the way Adafruit tutorials are set up and written for Adafruit products. Making sure you have extremely detailed tutorials for your product is very important. The better your tutorial, the happier your customer will be, and the happier you will be because you won’t have to spend all night answering customer support emails.
Without a doubt, the hardest part of getting your maker business up and running is building your online store. Thankfully, there is open source Zencart ecommerce software. The Adafruit store is built with Zencart. Over the years, Adafruit has tweaked, modded and improved Zencart. The beauty of using Zencart is that it is open source, and Zencart Zensday is where we share those tips, tricks, and mods with you. Learn how to tweak your storefront, manipulate invoices, make your store iOS friendly, and much much more.
Another important part of selling a kit is making sure you source quality components. When I was just getting into electronics, and designing my own kits, one of they more frustrating things was navigating Digikey and Mouser to find the right components. Ladyada recognized this issue, and created the Adafruit Partfinder. Ladyada is extremely picky about which components go into the Partfinder, and only components of the highest quality make the cut. This was an extremely useful tool early on, as it made me confident I was ordering the one right component out of thousands of available options.
This is an oldie-but-goodie – the LM3914 is an analog-input LED driver. That means you can feed it an analog voltage input and it will light up LEDs in order, ideal for a no-microcontroller LED VU meter, or battery meter, or spectrum analyzer (when combined with some band-pass filters). Has nice extras like constant-current drive, and DIP size. I think these are rather cute!
Tax day is next Tuesday, so we wrote about how we do our taxes as a sole proprietor/single member LLC. We show our actual supporting documentation for things like travel expenses for the Open Hardware Summit and Maker Faires, and our accounting of tool and equipment deductions. We hope it will help some new kit makers get a jump start on taxes, instead of freaking out at the last minute like we did the first time.
Over at I Heart Engineering we have upgraded some of our product packaging. Here are some of the design concepts. These stickers are important, because this means we can make packaging for selling quantity one of prototype designs. This in line with our philosophy of lowering the cost of failure. Fail early, fail often, succeed occasionally.
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Join 300 of your peers: market influencers and thought-leaders: Web and technology innovators, IT leaders, Fortune 500 companies, brand strategists, industrial designers, investors, startup incubators, and analysts whose businesses and vested interests may be the first beneficiaries of these innovations.
Hosted by Dale Dougherty, founder and publisher of MAKE, the first magazine devoted to celebrating the community of individuals who create, build, design, tinker, hack, and invent. Dale is also co-founder of O’Reilly Media.
It’s almost summer! And with that we’re getting a lot of emails about opportunities at Adafruit for un-paid internships. So, we wanted to do a quick post about this topic. The short statement is: Adafruit will never do un-paid internships. We don’t think it’s a good thing for us in a tough job market and tough economic times to encourage internships for free labor.
Instead we’ve always going to offer paid project-based work and will continue to do so, in addition to actual real positions at Adafruit. This is one of those things we have an opinion about as a company, like the products we make, the IP we give away, and the products we choose to stock, we have specific ideas about how we work with each other here to do the best work. We love to pay people fairly and give them any and all benefits we can provide for being part of this adventure. Many of us here at Adafruit have been in the un-paid internship zone and it wasn’t as glamourous as it’s usually described.
There are industries that are known for their un-paid internships as a way to get a foot in the door, that’s good for them – but not good for us we think.
“If you’re a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with a for-profit employer, there aren’t going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law,” said Nancy J. Leppink, the acting director of the department’s wage and hour division.
Ms. Leppink said many employers failed to pay even though their internships did not comply with the six federal legal criteria that must be satisfied for internships to be unpaid. Among those criteria are that the internship should be similar to the training given in a vocational school or academic institution, that the intern does not displace regular paid workers and that the employer “derives no immediate advantage” from the intern’s activities — in other words, it’s largely a benevolent contribution to the intern.
We’ve even seen job postings that require the candidate to be an EE with 6 years of experience, just for an “intern” position, not all un-paid, but unfortunately we think the term intern is being a little abused when people actually just want to say “we’re not going to pay you a lot”. The word intern might just need to be defined a little better too.
What is available at Adafruit? For Adafruit we encourage young folks (and really anyone) to publish their projects online, make videos and share their talents with the world. Most/many of the recent hires at Adafruit have been because the maker was sharing what they do online. We actively seek out amazing people sharing and publishing online, if you want a paid position at Adafruit, this is the best way to go about it for sure!
There might be apprenticeships, paid interns, junior staff assistants here (all paid positions) but we wanted to make it clear we’re not offering un-paid internships and why. When we reply to the email requests we can point to this post and any discussion. We’ve cross posted this to our Google+ as well!
America has been extremely worried about the loss of manufacturing to China. Seduced by subsidies, cheap labor, lax regulations, and a rigged currency, American industry has made a beeline to China. New technologies will likely cause the same hollowing out of China’s manufacturing industry over the next two decades that the U.S experienced over the past twenty years. That’s right. America is destined to once again gain its supremacy in manufacturing, and it will soon be China’s turn to worry.
China’s largest hi-tech product manufacturer Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology Group, made waves last August when it announced plans to install one million robots within three years to do the work that its workers presently do. These robots will perform repetitive, mechanical tasks to produce the circuit boards that go in many of the world’s most popular consumer gadgets. But even these robots and circuit boards will soon be obsolete.
..What happens when you combine AI, robotics, and digital manufacturing? A manufacturing revolution, that will enable U.S. entrepreneurs to “set up shop” locally, and create a wide variety of products. As Kinko’s is for 2D digital printing on paper, we will have shared public manufacturing facilities like TechShop where you can print your 3D products. How is China going to compete with that?
My friend and former college professor Yury Gitman posted up this time lapse video of him and his business partner Joel Murphy making and packing up 800 pulse sensor kits. Nice!
The Pulse Sensor Kit is a kit. It does contain an assembled PCB Pulse Sensor, but it also has a collection of other supplies that you need to get the most out of the Pulse Sensor: a Velcro strap (to wrap the sensor around your finger with), an ear clip, and vinyl dots (to make the sensor more comfortable and reliable when contacting direct skin). It doesn’t sound like a lot, but using these helps you get good long-term readings. Unless you are a seamstress or jewelry designer, these parts are not exactly effortless to source. We tested a lot of Velcro straps and ear clips before selecting the ones that finally made it in our kit.
Last friday in Torino, Italy a new kind of company opened its doors.
Officine Arduino Torino is a combination of Makerspace, Fablab and an Arduino “office” dedicated to further the development of the platform and open source hardware.
Officine Arduino is born out of the experience of creating the first FabLab in Italy during an exhibition that lasted throughout 2011. We experienced the positive energy that came out of the encounter between the local community of makers, students, designers and our team based in Torino.
After the exhibition shut down we though that Arduino could act as an “incubator” to empower the people we work with to setup a company that would share our resources and equipment with the local community. Luckily we found the amazing people at Toolbox co-working (http://www.toolboxoffice.it/) who provided us with free space within an old FIAT factory.
Officina means “workshop” and in Italian it has the vintage sound of the name given to those small companies that made amazing products with limited resources and a lot of ingenuity.
We wanted to see what comes out when you connect open source hardware and software, digital fabrication, maker culture, hands-on learning, open design, alternative business models, co-working and a great community.
Torino is the “template” for more Officine Arduino we would like to open around the world so that more people can hang out with us and build amazing stuff.
If you have the chance go to Torino and have fun at the officine.
When it comes to profit and satisfaction, craft business is showing how American manufacturing can compete in the global economy. Many of the manufacturers who are thriving in the United States (they exist, I swear!) have done so by avoiding direct competition with low-cost commodity producers in low-wage nations. Instead, they have scrutinized the market and created customized products for less price-sensitive customers. Facebook and Apple, Starbucks and the Boston Beer Company (which makes Sam Adams lager) show that people who identify and meet untapped needs can create thousands of jobs and billions in wealth. As our economy recovers, there will be nearly infinite ways to meet custom needs at premium prices.
Meanwhile, the idea (or at least the hope) is that as China and other emerging nations develop, the United States can stay on the profitable forefront, delivering specific high-tech parts to their factories and the latest upmarket foods to their middle class. According to this view, the fracturing of industrial manufacturing, however painful, has helped prepare parts of the economy for this new course.
Adafruit is one of hundreds of growing ventures in the U.S. that belong to the so-called maker movement. These companies sell kits and support online communities of DIY types who make everything from toys to robots to 3D printers, and their moment seems to have arrived: Maker Faire, the movement’s Woodstock, attracted perhaps 20,000 hard-core devotees five years ago. At last year’s events in Detroit and New York, hundreds of thousands of people flocked to presentations sponsored by the likes of PepsiCo (PEP), Ford (F), and Microsoft (MSFT). And electronics giants Microchip Technology (MCHP) and Texas Instruments (TXN), hoping to profit from the maker zeitgeist, last year began offering their own kits. The maker movement is “as significant as the shift from agriculture to the early industrial era,” says Jeremy Rifkin, a Wharton economist.
Make it yourself. Do it yourself. Kitmakers from around the world want to provide the off-the-shelf and made-to-order parts you need to make your own creations, products, and inventions. The Reinventing Edison lightbulb kit (photo to right) is one such example (link below by Harris Educational, if you want to get one).
Kitmaking and do-it-yourself is exploding as a trend and one that the landmark publication, Make magazine, is daily charting the waters. Just about everyone who considers themselves a maker, inventor, artisan has heard of Make. They have grown tremendously since their founding in 2005 not because they talk about makers, but because they ARE makers. You can’t share the passion if you don’t have it yourself. Make exudes passion and the Ultimate Kit Guide that they put out late last year is an example of that caring and in-touch-with-makers spirit that they live and breathe.
These are great for doing a little heavy lifting with a microcontroller. Most micros can only source or sink about 20mA of current with each pin. If you’re trying to do something like drive a high-power multi-segment LED display, the current from a microcontroller pin just won’t cut it. You could run the micro outputs in parallel for more current, but then you lose pins for other purposes. Using an external array for the switching lets each pin drive a unique load at higher current, with the added benefit of offloading some of the heat from the microcontroller.
The ULN2003/4 and ULN2803/4 are 7- and 8-element Darlington arrays which can switch up to 500mA (MAX!) per channel at up to 50 volts. Channels can be combined to switch higher current loads (still 50V though). Take note of that “500mA MAX”: while the 2×03′s can switch that much current, they can’t do it forever, because they can’t dissipate the heat. The total amount of switchable current will depend on the number of channels you’re driving at the same time, and the duty cycle of the input signal. See the datasheet (PDF) for more information.
The 2xx3 chips have 2.7k input resistors, so they can be driven from a 5V TTL/CMOS line – if you’re using an Arduino, you should get the ULN2003/2803. The 2xx4 chips have 10.5k resistors for inputs of 6-15 volts.
These are great for driving multiple RGB lines with lots of LEDs, or a bank of relays or motors (they have clamp diodes built in!). The following illustrates how to properly connect the ULN for driving an inductive load like a DC motor.
Purchasing note: these chips were originally (and still are) made by TI. The TI chips are great, but recently I noticed Mouser has begun carrying the Toshiba versions for about 30% less cost. I’ve used both, and they perform equally well.
The picture above is the entirety of Coobro Labs. Coobro Labs is run out of my 800 sq. ft. condo in Minneapolis, MN. This is where we kit and ship the Coobro Geo, and work on future open source hardware kits. The reason for sharing this with you is to hopefully encourage those of you out there who think you need a lot of room, and a lot of expensive equipment to start your own KitBiz. Let me break down the things that we find useful, and things we couldn’t live without.
An impulse sealer – This is a must have piece of equipment that we picked up brand new off of ebay for about $50. This tool takes rolls of anti-static tubing (see item #2) and heat seals the ends to create bags on-the-fly. You can buy impulse sealers with or without a built in cutter. The cutter isn’t really necessary, as it is just as easy to cut the bags with a scissors.
Rolls of anti-static tubing – These are 500 foot rolls of anti-static tubing picked up from uline.com. The reason for buying the rolls of anti-static tubing versus simply buying pre-made bags is that you can adjust the size of the bag to whatever length you want, and they are cheap at $25-30 per roll.
Laser printer – Below our workbench, we have a used Kyocera EP C170N laser printer that we picked up off of Craigslist for less than $50. While it isn’t mandatory, laser printers are much more cost effective, and the ink won’t be affected by moisture. We use the laser printer mainly to print out shipping labels.
High quality soldering iron – Having a decent soldering iron is what I feel is the most important tool I own. The difference between a quality soldering iron and a cheap hardware store model is huge. I used to find soldering frustrating and stressful, now I find it enjoyable and relaxing. We have an Aoyue model 2900 soldering iron, but Adafruit’s Hakko FX-888 is a great choice.
Fume extractor – A fume extractor is one of my most recent additions, and I can’t believe it took me so long to get one. There are a lot of toxins in solder, and breathing them in is very dangerous. I used to simply solder in a well ventilated area, and hold my breath until the smoke cleared. This is about as stupid as closing your eyes to avoid the arc flash while welding without a mask. I own the Weller WSA350 model and it works really well.
Hot air reflow station – Once I started to get into soldering surface mounted components, this is the first tool I bought. Before I made my own reflow soldering oven, I used this tool to solder surface mounted components. While you certainly can use a good soldering iron to solder surface mounted components, this tool will save you a lot of headache. We have the Aoyue 852A++ model, which can be had for around $150.
Reflow oven controller – We use the Rocket Scream Electronics Reflow Oven Controller ($40) Arduino shield. We have done some testing with our reflow oven by simply cranking the oven temperature up until the solder reflows, then shutting the oven off and letting the board cool in the oven with the door closed. This seems to work just as good as using a reflow oven controller that follows a specific reflow curve.
Toaster oven – This is a toaster oven that we bought in a Woot-Off for about $30. It is really nice because it has a ‘Stay On’ feature, and it’s a convection oven, so there are no hot spots. If you don’t plan on working with surface mounted components, you don’t need to worry about the last three items.
All-in-one printer – I have owned this HP PSC 1510 inkjet printer for a few years now and it has worked really well for me. The important thing here is that it has a built in scanner. You will need a scanner to be able to scan your signed purchase orders for component suppliers. A scanner basically replaces a fax machine.
Component storage – I have a nice collection of Sparkfun shipping boxes that I have saved and used for component storage. Simply slap a label on the top or front of the box to remember what is inside. These also work great for project boxes. You can also see other items we have used for component storage such as mint tins.
More component storage – When you are just starting out, this is really all you need. We store all of the components needed to build up Coobro Geo kits in this small parts organizer from our local hardware store. Through hole components, even in quantities of 1000+, take up very little room. Eventually, as we release more kits, we will need to upgrade, but this system works well for the time being.
Ikea hacked workbench – My workbench is really just a bunch of components I picked up from Ikea. The shelving is just Ikea CD storage boxes stacked in between some Ikea birch shelves. The CD storage boxes work great for tool, parts, wire, and other large component storage.
As you can see, there really isn’t a whole lot to Coobro Labs. There are obviously some items missing from the picture, such as shipping supplies, but this really is the majority of the Coobro Labs kit making business. If you have a great idea for an open source electronics kit that you think others would also be interested in, there really isn’t anything standing in your way.
In keeping with today’s sewable/wearable technology theme, we wanted to post up where to get the sew-able 20mm coin cell holders we added to our shop. These are actually rather nice holders. They’re expensive but are one of the few kinds of battery holders we’ve seen that have a small hole (ostensibly for thermal relief) that you can pull a needle and thread thru. Check out this and a dozen other battery holders in the Adafruit Part Finder!
Sewable CR2032 Battery Holder. This battery holder is by far the easiest way to add a battery to a small wearable project. By coincidence, there are two small 1mm diameter holes in the metal connection tabs, just large enough for a #5 or smaller needle to pass through. One tab connects to common ground (negative) and the other tab is +3 Volts.
This holder is meant to be used with Lithium CR2032 (20mm diameter, 3.2mm thick) sized coin batteries. These are almost always 3V at about 200+ mAh capacity. Lithium coin cells are not rechargeable but they are very easy to find, available at any grocery store.
Inserting the coin is easy, the holder is very sturdy, and it snaps out with a push. Its got a nice flat plastic back that you can easily glue in place for extra mechanical stability.