There's been a lot of cool stuff going on in our project, even though I haven't updated this Hackaday.io page a much in the last six months or so. Here' s a quick summary:
DEC. 2014 - COMPANY LAUNCHED
Established in December 2014, I started Tin Whiskers Technology, LLC in order to provide a platform to sell kits and finished units to various people around the world. I realized early on that my business skills were lacking, so I brought on Felix Banuchi as a co-founder. Between his MBA and startup experience, and my technical leadership, we're hoping that we can avoid the common pitfalls that open-source companies have made recently (some bad for the community, like Makerbot going closed source, and some bad for the companies like Arduino LLC vs. Arduino SRL)
The name Tin Whiskers is sort of a dual-meaning. Most veteran electrical engineers and other folks in the world of electronics manufacturing know about tin whisker growth all too well. It's the metallurgical phenomenon where little metallic tendrils seem to grow out of a flat metallic surface. This problem has worsened since the switch to lead-free solders and other repercussions of RoHS. On the other hand, tin whiskers also means something to the lay person, it brings up images of cats, hipster beards, and robots... Which seems very fitting for such a cool company.
MARCH 2015 - PRE-ORDER KITS GO ON SALE
This week, we've begun selling pre-orders to our initial group of beta testers. We're doing 50 units for the first run, followed by possibly more after that. The idea is to get hardware in the hands of as many developers as we can, so that we can get immediate feedback on a common hardware platform. This is much better than a DIY approach where everyone ends up with different machines. Obviously, hardware incompatibilities, lighting conditions, feeder types, machine accuracy and precision, differences between DIY machines vary greatly... And that added complexity makes software development a real nightmare.. that is, unless we can get identical kits in the hands of our testers. We set out to do that in late December, and now in March, a few months later, we're to that point, albeit a few months behind where we wanted to be.
PRICING ISN'T $300, BUT IT'S STILL CHEAP COMPARED TO EVERYTHING ELSE
In order to make this happen, we've had to do a lot of parts sourcing, cost estimation, BOM analysis, design-for-manufacturing changes, etc. I quickly realized that my original estimate of $300 was off by quite a bit. Those that have been following this project for a while, remember that this project was initially titled "the $300 Pick and Place / 3D printer". I REALLY did want to make a machine this cheap, and that number was based on what I wanted the final price to be.. Our BOM cost has hovered from $300-700 depending on options... I figured that assuming I got some wholesale accounts, and get some sourcing lined up, that I could get the price down to 1/2 of that, sell for a bit of a markup, and still meet the $300 goal. Well, after Felix joined the team, I quickly realized that's not the way things work. Once our company was formed and we actually tried to secure these wholesale and vendor accounts, we've not gotten a single 50% price break. That simply won't happen unless we're selling 5000+ units. That might actually happen someday, if I get my wish. We also have to make enough markup as to not go out of business quickly. We're not getting rich by any means -- We'd get better markups manufacturing women's perfume or costume jewelry... Or social media web-apps, e.g. the next AirBnb or Instagram.. Hardware companies are very capital intensive, ours is no different. We've got a lot of money tied up in this, with not much to show for it at this point, other than a lot of hope, and some excited and eager beta testers.
In the meantime, FirePick Delta will not cost $300. I take full responsibility for anyone that's disappointed in the price difference, by the way. We're even still hesitant to throw a price out there because we're still trying to find that fine line where supply and demand meet... We'll have to get a bit more data on that. Because the beta kits are being produced in quantities of 50, don't expect the full kits to be under $1000 for now.. But if you look at other kits out there, it's still not that bad of a deal, and we're just getting started.
Considering that a full-blown SMT line will still cost you $50k up to $2 million USD, we think that our price is very reasonable :) My old boss referred to his Samsung pick and place machine has his Ferrari. And he wasn't kidding. He could have sold it and all the feeders, and bought a Ferrari off of the show room floor.