Corporate Cats

Here at Screaming CIrcuits, we're all busy making sure to get everyone's assembly orders shipped off on time so here's a picture of one of our corporate kitty cats.

COrporate kitty

We have a pair that live on campus here. They seem to be quite content to buzz about the parking lot and surrounding hedges all day while we build things. That's for the best because we do keep them off our production floor. Cats can cause static electricity and that would be bad.

Duane Benson
Make sure the dip with your chips is lead free before eating it

How Do You Know?

This isn't a Thanksgiving blog. It is Thanksgiving day, and if it were a Thanksgiving blog, I would have to be working today, but we're shut down for the holiday, so I'm not working. I just woke up pondering what it would be like to do business with us (or anyone like us) and decided that I wanted to hear myself speak (metaphorically) for a bit. A word of warning though; I'm in a long-winded rambling mood today.

Take an example; the Beagleboard. I use that because it's a complex board that's open source, so I can freely talk about it. It was originally put together by Gerald Coley and Jason Kridner. I don't know how Beagleboard face onlong they spent designing it, but according to a UBM study, a typical product design cycle is about a year.

So, what we're really talking about is a year of a couple of engineer's lives. It can be a lot of cash money too. When ordered in large quantities, the Beagleboard and it's progeny are inexpensive enough to be sold for quite a decent price. However, when purchased in small quantities - say five - it can cost several thousand dollars.

When the Beagleboard was new, we built a few just to kind of show off. We took the open source files and ordered all of the parts. We tried to get some PCBs fabbed, but in that quantity, they would have cost us $1,200. Instead, I posted a request on the Beagleboard.org forum and found someone with some bare Beagleboard fabs.

I got those boards and the parts and ran them through our system. Had a customer quoted the build, it would have cost somewhere (if my memory serves correctly) around $800 per board for assembly. That would be $10,000 for a set of prototypes. That may seem like a lot for a board that retails for $150.00, but that's the difference between ordering hundreds of thousands and ordering five.

That cost comparison isn't the point. If you're in this business you know that getting small quantities of complex stuff in short notice is expensive in direct dollars, but more than worth it in time and effort saved. The point is that, while we build a lot of sub-$1,000 orders, we are frequently given orders that are valued at $10,000 or more. Sometimes CONSIDERABLY more. We've seen projects where parts alone are tens of thousands of dollars. I've seen a single FPGA cost several thousand dollars alone. Yikes!

You've spent a year of hard labor on a design. You hit "Save" for the last time. If you're like me, you want nothing more than to get a working board into your hands. The gap between that save and a fully built board is painful for me. But the prospect of shelling out $20,000 to some unknown company for the purpose of turning that year of my life into a physical product is positively terrifying.

Well, if you don't already do business with us, we are that "some unknown company." That makes me wonder how this all happens. I design boards myself - not the big ones, but I do design a fair number of them. Right now, I have four boards I'm actively working on and about that many that I've shelved for a few months. I understand a bit of the fear of handing a design off. Of course, I have an unfair advantage. I can just send some boards through our shop and get them done just about any time.

It's easy for me to trust us. I got a job here and I know that I take the stewardship of that big check and year of your life very seriously. I treat it like it were my own. I also know that I don't work for companies that don't share that philosophy. I've tried, out of necessity, twice in my career, working for companies that didn't treat customers they way I would and I ended up pushing my agenda so hard that I got fired. It wasn't pretty.

I've established that I (as in me) trust us. How do you get to the point that you can give us (or anyone else) the same trust? The Beagleboard guys didn't know us enough to do so. We built some of their boards on our own. Plenty of people do know us well or are somehow willing to make that leap. We quite literally* have built things that have gone up into space, down into the ocean and everywhere in between. It's pretty fun to look through our customer list and see so many names of companies doing really cool stuff.

All of the marketing mumbo-jumbo I spit out is designed to somehow convince you to let us take care of your design. But those are just words. Words are meaningless without the deeds. It's what all of the other people in my company do that really counts. I spill out glurge. They do their best to treat your project with the same respect and care that you do. I'm thankful for that, because if they didn't do that, I wouldn't want to work here. If they didn't do that, my job would be meaningless and stupid. Hey - this did turn out to be a Thanksgiving post!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Duane Benson
* The word "literally" is terribly misused these days, but I'm actually using it by the correct definition. Well, okay, the "everything in between" isn't quite literal, but "space" and "under water" are. And it's comprehensive a representative sample that I'm in the spirit of "literal."

Designing The Future: The Automobile

Here's a small glimpse into the future of the automobile. Granted,these guys had to take the dash off and hard wire in, but imagine this with a not-secure-enough wireless access.

 

Duane Benson
And... some of us here are helping to make this happen...

Canada's Singing Astronaut

If you're going to exit, you may as well exit in style and I can't think of a better example than Commander Chris Hadfield's "good by" from the International Space Station on Monday (May 13). Thank you, Astronaut Hadfield.

Since this is my  electronics blog, I've got to tie it into electronics design and assembly, so, like um... If you're building electronics for space, you might need to better insulate your PCB traces or put wider gaps in because otherwise you might get arcs and stuff. And be sure to shave your tin whiskers.

Duane Benson
Please sir. May I have some more

What?

Usually, these days, I seem to hear the word "what" as a part of a "Wait... What?" statement, as in a short-cut for: "That sounds good" - pause - "No, it doesn't. It doesn't even make sense." It can be funny in that context, but I think it's wearing a little thin at this point. My prediction is that the expression has another year. Two at most.

But that really has nothing to do with this blog post.This blog post is about what we can do for you. Obviously, we are a company that wants to be profitable and stay in business. I would assume that most companies want to do that. But what's important is the way we become profitable and stay in business. It's not a matter of being profitable no matter what. There are a lot of ways to be profitable and stay in business that I really don't like and don't want to have anything to do with. For example, bank robbery is not allowed here (actually, to be precise, no kind of robbery is allowed here). Being a pirate isn't allowed either.

It's also not about never making mistakes. While we aspire to that, I have yet to find someone that doesn't ever make mistakes, and if I do find that person, I'll probably be too intimidated to talk to them. So, it's not about profit at all costs and it's not about never making mistakes. What then, is our purpose?

Tactically, our purpose is to put parts on PC boards. We can buy the stuff or you can send it to us, but that's fundamentally the physical activity that we perform: we put parts on boards. "We put parts on boards." Five words. Not a lot to think about. But, since that's not a lot to think about, what else do we fill our brains with?

Sometimes we fill our brains with Dr. Who or with motorized wireless beanie cap networks. When we're on the job though, the word "what" comes into play. As in: "What can we do for you?" What can we do for you?

  • The purpose of our website is to make it as easy as possible for you to get your work done and be happy with the part of it that we do for you. It has no other point.
  • The purpose of this blog is to pass on bits of information that might be helpful to you or anyone in the electronics industry. Non-electronics people can read it too, but it likely won't make much sense.
  • The purpose of our people is to make all of that happen.

What we want to do is make you happy that you did business with us, happy that you read this blog and learned something, happy that you referred someone two us, happy that it didn't snow last night - things like that.

If it's not helping you, then there's really no point - I'd just stay home and re-read "The Lord of the Rings" for about the 20th time. If for some reason, what we've done isn't helping you, then it's a good idea to let us know. You can call us, comment on this blog, email us, knock on our front door, send us a message on Twitter, whatever the case, as long as you get the message to us. Flying a plane overhead with a banner behind it probably won't do the job though because we're in Oregon. It's usually raining and cloudy, so we couldn't see it on, maybe, 302 days out of the year.

Duane Benson
I leave you with this thought:
How can you tell if an introvert likes you?
He or she is staring at your shoes instead of their own.

Fun With QR Codes

Does anyone remember the CueCat? I think it came out in 1999 or something like that. It was a system that involved putting bar codes in print articles, advertisements and such. Users would buy a CueCat scanner and could then scan the bard codes which would send their web browser to a specified URL .

Chart2011-10-25 Chart2011-11-28Kind of cool and a bit ahead of it's time, but really? Who's going to spend a hundred dollars to buy something that makes it easier to look up advertisements? That reminds me of a job interview I had around that same time. The gentleman interviewing me had invented a system that would push advertisements to cell phones via text message for businesses close by. The idea was that phone owners would sign up for the service by giving their number to the company. Other companies like grocery stores, coffee shops or insurance agents would also sign up for the service and would send ads or coupons to people close by. Again. Really? Someone's going to sign up to get ads on their phone? And that was back when most phone plans still charged per text message.

Chart2011-12-21Well, today, we have QR codes to more or less do the same thing. They're square bar codes that can contain information such as an electronic business card or a URL. The big difference now is that you don't have to sign up for anything or buy anything. Most smart phones can read them with a free app.

That was a long, round-about way of saying that I'm trying the system out. All of the QR codes here link to a blog posts of mine. There are no advertisements in these and none of them will sign you up to visit a timeshare sale pitch. I just like these particular posts. Get out your phone and try it out.

Duane Benson
Fight Uni!

Chart2012-04-24 Chart2012-06-13

 

 

 

 

Chart2012-06-27 Chart2012-07-05

Screaming Circuits introduces new Cordwood assembly service!

Tired of all those small parts? Can't figure out how to route traces to all 1,900 balls on that hot new FPGA? If 0201 passives have you running scared and the thought of 0.3mm pitch parts has you on the floor, Screaming Circuits has the answer.

Take a few steps back and use our new Screaming CordwoodTM assembly process. It'll feel good to put your hands on a honk'n 2-Watt, through-hole resistor again. No need for fancy, multi-headed SMT assembly robots with Screaming Cordwood. No need for precision anymore. Just put those parts a quarter inch apart and you'll be suckin amps just like the good old days. And if you don't think it's high-tech enough; consider that Cordwood construction has taken man to the moon and back. You can't say that about surface mount!

5498264788174

Duane Benson
He likes both of me and I like both of him 'cause I live in a split-level head

Robots on Mars!

Msl5_PIA15973-br2And tSuperLaser_reasonably_smallhe Curiosity Rover has landed! People can be so cool when we set our minds to it. Touchdown at 10:14:39 Earth Pacific Daylight Time.

 

 

Duane Benson
One small step for A robot. One giant leap for the rocket that got it there.

Retrospective

The other day, I needed just a few things at the grocery store which, given the small town I'm in, should have been a quick no-stress fifteen minutes. But, some kids were sitting in the middle of the first intersection I came to and didn't seem to want to move out of the way of my five thousand pounds of rolling danger. Traffic at another intersection was backed up due to a train. On the next block, I had to follow someone, likely looking for an address, at about ten miles per hour. Then there were pedestrians crossing the street far slower then human body mechanics are designed for. In the store, it seemed like every isle I tried to go down was blocked by carts or people. The "short line" at check out turned out to be short because a customer and checker were having payment issues. The drive home was much like the drive in. In short, there was nothing short about the trip. Nor was there anything low-stress about it.

But this is a blog about electronics stuff. It's not a shopping blog or a driving blog. The point is, that trip reminded me of projects I've been involved in years ago. Someone changes a spec after that part of the design is complete. The only version of a key component on the approved vendor list has a 12 week lead time. It's Friday, at 4:00pm, the board files have to be shipped off by five, but there's still several hours of double checking left to do. While placing the prototype parts order, you keep getting distracted by loud talking in the background.

Ugh. Not only is such a thing blood pressure raising, but it also can lead directly to problems any of us would never dream of letting out the door. Like these here:

Too little time can cause problems. So can too much stress and distraction. There's not always a good solution, but anything to reduce stress and agravation while doing final checks is probably a good thing.

Duane Benson
Is there "lab rage" like there's "road rage"?

Ode to Competition

Thanks to Theodore Roosevelt, we almost all have competition of some sort or another. I'm not a big fan of the statement made so often: "We welcome the competition, It validates the market." or similar such sentiments. You usually hear that from a spokesperson when a new competitor enters the market. My guess is that most people who say that are probably thinking to themselves: "Yeah. In a pig's eye" while stating it.

Theodore RoseveltI'm also not a big fan of the phrase so often heard in start-up companies: "We don't have any competition." To me, that's a warning sign. You might not have much competition, but you always have some. At minimum, other companies (maybe even with non-competing products) are competing for the same dollars. If someone thinks they don't have competition, I would suggest they look a little closer at what their customers need and are doing.

The number three statement that I'm not a big fan of: "Imitation is the fondest form of flattery." I do understand it. If someone is copying you, that must mean that you're doing something right (the possibility of the blind leading the blind not withstanding). In a business context I do believe that all three of those statements are a form of saving face. You can't stop competition from showing up, but you can pretend to be noble and welcome it. It's not always possible to stop people from copying you, but you can pretend it's a complement.

Here's what I think about competition: It's my job to give you better value than our competition. Plain and simple. If you come to me for business and I give you better value: What you want, when you want it at a fair price, then I have earned your business. If a competitor gives you better value, it means that I'm not doing my job right. We are all in this to make money, but we're in this to make money in such a way that we are the best value for you. Not the lowest price, but when you add up our reliability, quality and technical capabilities, doing business with us should save you time, aggravation and money.

So why the maefesto? It annoys me when competitors place comments on our blog linking to their website. Especially when they don't identify themselves. Yes, it means that they believe that we are doing things right. Yes, it means they think we have enough customers that it's worth trying to lure some away from us. So, in a sense, it is validation that they think we're doing a good job. I don't really see that form of "validation" as being worth much though. What I really care about is that the people who give us money think we're doing a good job and that they get their money's worth.

Duane Benson
We are with you, sire! For Sparta, for freedom, to the... to the... Um...
to the sucess of your project!