February + March 2021
The PCBs are finally here, in my own hands.
To recap, while I showed a completed panel in the last update, that was a photo taken at the factory, and it was only of a single panel. While the factory estimated the full production run would be done before the Lunar New Year, it was not, and had to be finished after, which added weeks of delays.
Part of this was due to the fact that there was an issue with a few panels where one of the rideshares broke off, and they asked me if I wanted to continue the order with those panels, or get new ones made - new ones would have guaranteed it would be done after LNY. I was, of course, totally fine with them using those damaged panels as normal, since the rideshares were fairly insignificant compared to the main project. Unfortunately, while I replied almost immediately to tell them this, they didn't confirm the reply until a full day later, and that day may have been what caused the run to slip.
There was also a bit of a delay in shipping due to some issues with customs. The factory tried to fudge the numbers on the invoice included in the package, which had quantities with zero bearing on reality, in an attempt to not pay import tariffs. That was just delightful and required multiple trips to the nearest FedEx office to get sorted out.
Regardless, after all those delays, the panels are now in my hands. I've begun testing them, and so far every single one works, which is really great - it's fairly common for PCBs this small to end up having about a 10-20% failure rate from the factory. For comparison, out of the 5 final prototypes, one had a bad solder job and required manual rework.
So, where does that leave us? Well, unfortunately, I'm still waiting to receive the chassis order. The injection mold company has been overwhelmed since the LNY, and hasn't yet finished my batch. I'm told the batch is being made right now, but I'm not sure when it will be finished. Optimistic predictions would be a week or two. In the meantime, I will continue testing PCBs, soldering LEDs, and flashing SD cards. Orders should start shipping within the next couple weeks. I don't know how long it'll take me to work through the backlog of orders; I have roughly 500 units to process, but will be posting updates on the Discord server as that unfolds.
An update on international shipping and VAT
I've now held meetings with a VAT advisor and am in the process of getting registered for UK VAT. In the meantime, I unfortunately cannot accept new UK mod orders.
Regarding the rest of the world, though - not only have I reenabled shipping, but I've also been able to set up new (cheaper!) shipping rates, thanks to Pirate Ship's Simple Export Rate program. These rates are across-the-board better than the old USPS First Class Package International rates, especially for Asian countries. For comparison, shipping a 16oz (1lb) package to Canada used to cost $20.19, but now only costs $10.49. Shipping that same package to Australia costed $28.26 with the old system, and now it's only $15.49. These are some of the best-case comparisons, but the prices are always going to be cheaper with Simple Export Rate, even if it's only slightly cheaper in some situations - for instance, 8oz packages to Germany used to cost $13.78, but now cost $10.49.