December

Lots to get to.

Data recovery

As noted in the last blog, USPS lost the package containing my drive. However, after nearly a month, the drive did eventually arrive. The recovery process was swift and I picked it up in person a few days later. All of the data was recovered flawlessly, despite the shipping hiccup.

Injection molding

Continuing from the last blog post, at the start of this month I submitted the final remade chassis models to the injection molding company. They have been working on the mold for the entirety of this month. I'm expecting a confirmation of the completed mold any day now, but in the meantime, they sent me a WIP photo about a week ago.

As a reminder, once the mold is complete, they'll express ship me a few samples, at which point I'll place the order for the full run, which should have a turnaround of about a week.

Components sourcing

Sourcing was my primary headache this month. I mentioned last month about how the PCBs were done, and the assembly line was awaiting a few components before it could begin. One of those components turned out to be a much bigger headache than anticipated.

This is the GL823K:

The GL823K is a fairly simple chip; it's an SD card reader from Genesys Logic. It's used in this mod to provide access to the SD card over USB so that you can run the Clover bootloader, which hotloads NVMe boot support.

The GL823K is part of the GL823 family, which is essentially the same internal guts, in a variety of different packages. The standard GL823 is a QFN chip:

The "K" denotes the SOIC16 package, which is relatively large, and most importantly, easily hand solderable. I went with the GL823K as opposed to the GL823 for that exact reason, since I was originally planning to hand solder all of the mods.

After deciding to have the mods assembled by a factory, I not revisit this part selection, since it would require another prototype. Unfortunately, that came back to bite me in the ass, because when struggling to source the part throughout November and December, I discovered something pretty unfortunate.

The GL823K has been discontinued.

This means that overnight, prices skyrocketed. What was once going to cost ~$300 in total suddenly became ~$1500. But not only that - frustratingly, there were still listings everywhere for the component at its original pricing. I am not exaggerating when I say that I paid no less than 5 separate companies for this single chip, only to have them come back and say the price increased, after they already quoted me a lower price and took my money.

I was struggling all month to find a vendor for this part, and finally, near the end of December, I did manage to find one, paying roughly twice as much as I originally intended to, but that's much better than paying five times as much.

In future revisions, I will use the QFN version, but I couldn't do that this time because the PCBs and stencils were already done, not to mention the lack of confidence in not having a QFN prototype.

Anyway, that part was finally sourced. There were also a few other mixups with various suppliers for other parts throughout the month, but they've all been resolved. The assembly line is waiting on one other part (which is already in the mail) before getting started, which should arrive within a few days. I don't know what the turnaround time will be on that, but I would expect roughly 2 weeks once they receive the last component.

Product packaging

This is relatively minor, but one of the other things I've been working on this month is figuring out exactly how the product will be packaged. I've had it planned for a long time, but left it in a conceptualized state. Now it's finally time to set it in stone.

Each mod will come preinstalled in your selected chassis, and will be sealed in an anti-static plastic bag. The sealed mod will then be contained inside of the main product bag, alongside a short "getting started" manual, Phillips #000 screwdriver, the other size chassis, a bag of spare screws, and the aluminium ThinkMods sticker badge.

All larger stickers will ship in the same box, but in a cardstock envelope, separate from the mod packaging.

The Deadline

Here's a list of everything that needs to happen before the mods are shipped:

  • The PCB assembly house needs to assemble the PCBs and ship them.
    • I would estimate assembly at 1-2 weeks. Shipping is expedited and only takes a few days.
      • However, they need to receive the last component before they can get started. That should happen this week.
    • ETA: 3rd week of January
  • The injection mold company needs to manufacture the chassis.
    • The mold is nearing completion. After it's done, I have to review the samples. That process will only take a couple days after their completion, at which point the main order has a week turnaround time.
    • ETA: 2nd-3rd week of January
  • I have to install the heat-set inserts in the chassis.
    • I'm not sure how long the heat-set process will take, it's manual labor. I'm only going to process as many as I need to fulfill the currently placed orders, so it shouldn't take more than a few days. This can begin once I receive the main chassis order.
      • The M2 inserts (for the SSD screw) are here.
      • The M1 inserts are being ordered, ETA 2nd-3rd week of January.
  • I have to design and print the quick start guide. 🟊
    • I actually have experience with designing instruction guides, so this shouldn't take too long. Print process takes 3 days.
  • I have to solder the LEDs to each PCB.
    • This is the only part that isn't done with the main assembly. This should not take too long, but is a manual process. As with the heat-set inserts, I'm only doing as many as I need to fulfill the current orders. This should take a day or two, and can begin once I receive the PCBs.
    • These LEDs still need to be ordered, but they are sourced domestically and only take a few days to arrive.
  • I need to flash the MicroSD cards. 🟊
    • Prior to this, I need to finalize the Clover image.
    • The flashing hardware is already set up; I can flash 10 cards at a time. As with the LED/inserts, I'm only going to flash as many as I need for current orders, to save time.
    • This can be offloaded to someone else locally, so I can focus on other tasks.
  • I need to test each PCB.
    • This involves installing the SD cards, attempting to boot an SSD, and testing the LED indicator, for each mod.
    • I truly don't know how long this will take, and this is likely the longest portion. The only thing this doesn't rely on is the chassis.
  • Final packaging 🟊, heatsealing, and shipping.
    • I can offload packaging (adding quick start guides, stickers, screwdrivers, etc to each bag) to someone else locally. I will handle the shipping process.

So, all in all, what does this mean?

Barring unforeseen delays, I expect to begin shipping orders this month. I do not expect that all orders will be shipped by the end of this month, but they'll be shipped by the end of next month. Orders will be shipped in the order they were placed (lower order number = higher priority).

If there are any delays, they should not affect the other work involved here. There are a lot of tasks that need to be done once the final pieces arrive, and those tasks will need to be completed regardless of any hangups in other sections.

I have added a star next to each task that I can currently begin work on.

 

As always, I highly recommend following the ThinkMods Discord server, as I'm constantly posting mini updates there.