After several months of intense yet rewarding engineering design and development, the PFx Brick has evolved from a concept to a functional and stable pre-production prototype product. Its development required electrical circuit design, embedded firmware and cross-platform software development, and mechanical design. We have iterated the Printed Circuit Board (PCB) three times, made four versions of the brick enclosure design, and our github software repository indicates that we have made nearly 400 commit revisions to date. All this activity has been aimed at improving and refining the PFx Brick to ensure that it meets our design goals and that it is stable, mature, and ready for production.
The road to production involves several key steps:
1) Capturing and estimating production costs
2) Designing a crowd-funding campaign with realistic and achievable goals
3) Finding supplier partners
4) Making a production plan
Capturing and Estimating Costs
Making an item like the PFx Brick in volume production involves many large costs. Not only for materials, but also for services and labour to build, assemble, and test each unit. There are also overhead costs such as packaging, printing, IT, transportation, and much more which also need to be considered.
The three largest components of the production costs will be:
1) Electronics procurement and assembly
2) Design, tooling, and production of plastic injection moulded brick enclosures
3) Regulatory certification for European CE mark, US FCC part 15, and possibly Canadian ICES-003.
We already have a detailed and sound basis of cost for the electronics components and PCB manufacturing. However, we will still need to estimate the cost for assembling the electronics to the PCB and how much assembly will require individual hand assembly. We will also have to determine how much of the assembly we should outsource? What are the trade-offs and risks?
Making 3D printed prototype enclosures is very different from designing an enclosure which can be mass produced with plastic injection moulding. The costs for designing and tooling plastic moulds are very high. Design errors at this stage can yield very expensive re-tooling costs. Again, our challenge will be finding a plastic moulding supply partner who can deliver high quality brick enclosures at a reasonable cost. We will also have to consider the trade-offs and risks of using local vs. offshore suppliers.
Selling an electronic product into the European Union will require certification against several EU directives relevant to the PFx Brick. Demonstrating conformance to these directives, enables us to place the CE mark on PFx Brick product allowing it to be sold into the EU. Similarly, selling electronic products into the USA and Canada require testing and verification of Electromagnetic Interference and Compatibility (EMI and EMC) performance standards against USA FCC part 15 rules and equivalent ICES-003 rules in Canada. These tests will require verification in a certified facility authorized to verify and declare conformance to these standards. These certified testing services can easily cost thousands of dollars and in some cases well over $10000 for each certification.
Designing a Crowd-Funding Campaign
Before we can start reaching out to people to contribute to our crowd-funding campaign, we have a great deal of preparation work. We need to estimate our required funding level, establish our reward tiers, and choose a crowd-funding platform. Furthermore, we need to make a convincing video describing our campaign as well as preparing plenty of background material for potential contributors to perform due-diligence on our product offering. A lot of this background reference material is already published on this website. We have described and documented the PFx Brick product in as much detail as we can, and hopefully it will be enough to convince folks that our campaign is worth supporting.
Many challenges will be faced in the search for reliable and suitable suppliers for the key tasks of electronics assembly and plastic injection moulding. One of the trade-offs will involve the use of local vs. offshore suppliers. Local suppliers have the advantage of being readily available so that any changes and adjustments can be accommodated quickly. The disadvantage is the higher cost as compared to many offshore suppliers in countries like China.
In order to ensure the volume production of the PFx Brick can be performed in a reasonable time frame, we must establish a detailed and accurate production schedule. This schedule will need to consider every aspect of the production process and what dependancies exist among the various tasks that need to be performed. Everything from the choice of certain electronics components and their associated lead times can contribute to schedule delay risk. Our goal will be to mitigate these risks and establish a realistic plan starting from the end of the crowd-funding campaign up to the shipment of PFx Bricks to customers.
We've looked at and studied other crowd-funding campaigns to see what factors contribute to its success. Also, we are well aware of many campaigns falling short on their delivery schedule commitments and we know that we are not immune to the same risks. However, any effort we make at this stage to be more prepared will ultimately contribute to a better outcome not only for us, but also to our future customers!