While there's not much to show off this month, there are still a few things. I'm going to start by directly addressing (providing updates on) what I covered in the last post:
- 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 parts took a lot longer to ship than initially expected. The fab received the final parts in the middle of January, but did not begin manufacturing until the last week of January because they mistakenly believed they were missing another part (ugh), which I had already solved with them back in December (bigger ugh). Either way, assembly is underway, and I have some nice full-panel photos to show:
All in all, they look great! Unfortunately, while production is nearly 80% done at the time of this post, they weren't able to finish before the Lunar New Year began, which is going to be a bit of a recurring theme in this post. This means the panels will not ship until sometime after the 18th, which is when PCBWay returns from the holiday. There's unfortunately nothing that can be done at this point, but it's exceedingly frustrating because it's their fault that they missed that window.
- 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
This one, too, slipped a bit, due to the Lunar New Year. The manufacturer actually stopped accepting new orders very early on in anticipation of the holidays. I didn't receive the samples until the second week of Jan. I placed my full order, but they weren't able to begin it before the holiday started. I am expecting the chassis order to arrive shortly after the holidays wrap up.
But not everything is bad! I've got some great injection mold samples to show off!
That's the EC54 chassis, and here's what the mod looks like when fitted into the EC34:
(note, the PCB used here is the R5 prototype; it seems a bit short inside of the chassis because the V1 full version is actually about a millimeter longer, and will fit properly)
Also, for funsies, here's a near-complete shot of what the full product packaging will be:
Everybody will receive a screwdriver, the mod pre-installed in their choice of chassis size, the other chassis size (for swapping to later, if desired), a small bag of screws (not pictured), and a brief instruction guide (not pictured). All mod packages will also include one of the metallic ThinkMods stickers mentioned in the August update.
Early on, people asked about including both sizes of chassis for their order, or making a chassis that could adapt to being both sizes. I tried a lot of different designs for expandable chassis, but unfortunately none of them were really durable or functional enough to my liking. Also, the added time of 3d printing two chassis for each order was going to slow down production a lot, and make scaling in the future very difficult. Once I decided to go with injection molding, however, all of those downsides sort of vanished; it costs me roughly 50 cents to include the second chassis in each order, and for the ease of use and customer-friendliness it provides, I'm more than happy to eat that cost.
Anyway, back to December's stuff:
- 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.
The M1 inserts and all of the screws arrived. Screws galore!
Unfortunately the insert installation sort of relies on the chassis being done. I am planning to recruit help to speed that process along once they're done, though.
- I have to design and print the quick start guide.
- I have to solder the LEDs to each PCB.
- I need to flash the MicroSD cards.
- I need to test each PCB.
- Final packaging, heatsealing, and shipping.
All of these are pretty much at the same stage they were at in December. Most are relying on prior steps, so it makes sense that they haven't begun. The Quick Start guide work actually has begun, but I don't really have anything polished enough to show off yet.
So what was I working on this month?
Well, at the beginning of the month, I was greeted with the unfortunate news that our landlord would be selling our house, and that we were essentially being evicted. We had to find a new place and begin the moving process. Needless to say, it took a lot of steam away from ThinkMods. That being said, I am very excited about my new place, and will essentially have an entire finished floor to myself, with plenty of workspace to work on modding. Once the move is complete, I expect things to ramp up very quickly.
Also, as mentioned earlier, the Lunar New Year (on top of the move) sort of screwed all of my planning up. I was expecting to be done beforehand, but with a couple of headaches involving certain suppliers that I am very upset with, that just didn't happen. Anyone who has ever dealt with China in the past will understand the headache of the Lunar New Year and its disruptions on international production. For those who don't... the largest country in the world, the de-facto production hub for the majority of companies, has what is essentially two to three weeks of time off for all employees of all companies. Shipping, manufacturing, research, you name it, it's disrupted. Don't get me wrong, they work exceedingly hard and I wish all of the workers the best. We all agree that they deserve to see their families! But it does just kinda suck when you're trying to get a product out the door.
For comparison, PCBWay, my PCB manufacturer and assembly service, celebrates the holidays from Feb 6th-18th, so roughly two weeks, but has impacted service for about a week after as well. LCSC, one of the largest parts suppliers, only celebrates for one week, Feb 9th-15th. They're a bit of an outlier. My injection mold company celebrates from Feb 6th-22th. That one is pretty brutal.
So, while the holidays happen over there, I am completely focused on my move. I want to be essentially done with it by the time production ramps up again, so that I'm able to get to work right when they are.
Now that that long ramble is over I realized I didn't actually get to what I did this month - on top of the move, I've also been trying to figure out the VAT situation. Needless to say, Brexit has really thrown a wrench into my plans. For those who are unaware, VAT is essentially Europe's equivalent to US sales tax, except it applies to nearly everything, and is a much higher rate. Depending on country, it goes up to 27%. Unlike US sales tax, however, imports are subject to VAT. This is because, if you only imposed a sales tax on domestic businesses, it would essentially encourage customers to import everything, rather than buy locally.
I did not charge VAT for Indiegogo backers, and have not charged VAT on thinkmods.store up until this point. In Europe, this is actually fine, for the most part - you are only required to register for VAT and collect it on sales if you meet the thresholds for total sales for a country. Those thresholds are very high ($100000/yr in Germany, my largest demographic) and I don't even begin to meet them. What then happens, if you don't charge VAT at checkout, is that once the parcel arrives in the destination country, the recipient needs to pay the necessary VAT at the time of pickup. This is a bit cumbersome, so it's nice to streamline the process by registering for and charging VAT, but generally speaking, European customers are used to this system.
However... Brexit happened. The UK used to abide by those rules, but they do not anymore. Now, if a package is worth less than £135 (which all of my orders are), the seller has to register for VAT and charge it at the time of checkout, because they are responsible for paying it regardless. Customers can no longer pay for VAT at the time of pickup if the package value is below £135. The standard VAT rate for the UK is 20%.
I have been meeting with a couple of tax consultants over the last few weeks, and have another meeting scheduled for Tuesday (the 16th), with the goal of getting my VAT registration complete. In the meantime, there's a bit of a dilemma...
I did not charge any UK customers with VAT. I need to going forward.
To be safe, I've temporarily suspended all new international orders on thinkmods.store, while I figure this whole thing out and get VAT set up. I'm aiming to have VAT registration done for Germany, but at the very least I need to have it done for the UK.
Regarding orders that have already been placed in the UK: There are 16 of you, and I'm just going to eat the cost of VAT myself, because it's way too much of a headache to try and collect it from everyone. Going forward though, I'm definitely not doing that.
So! That just about wraps this up. VAT is a nightmare, moving is a pain, the Lunar New Year is frustrating, and it all boils down to this: I'm not going to begin shipping Expresscard orders until March. I hate this fact, but it's undeniable. I recognize how many deadlines I've set and ridiculously exceeded in the past. I know how frustrating this is for all of you - trust me, it's crazy stressful and frustrating for me, too. I know this feels like one of those Kickstarter projects that flounders and never delivers. This should have been such a simple product... and electrically, it is! It's been working electrically since the very beginning. But mechanically, this thing was a nightmare. 5mm is just not enough space. Not to mention sourcing old-stock parts for a standard from a decade ago...
Anyway, I know this is frustrating. I know my word doesn't mean much anymore, but I promise that the end product will be good, far better quality than what was originally intended, and far more reliable to boot. It's been a long journey but I am very happy with the end result. I just need to get it in your hands.
As always, you can follow the progress live on the ThinkMods Discord server, where all of this has already been discussed as it happened.