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Insights into small-scale manufacture

Andrew Back

The 16th Open Source Hardware User Group (OSHUG) meeting had a manufacturing theme and talks explored some of the practical considerations, options available and issues that may be encountered when taking something from an idea through to small-scale manufacture.

From Breadboard to Finished Product

Omer Kilic Presenting

The evening kicked off with a general introduction to the topic from Omer Kilic and a presentation entitled From Breadboard to Finished Product. This set the scene by outlining the process of going from a concept through specification, design and prototyping, to test, revision, production and, finally, compliance testing. Drawing attention to considerations that, whilst perhaps obvious to many who have manufacturing experience, may not be to those for whom this is new territory. Such as the need to create a bill-of-materials (BoM) early in the process and to check with suppliers that parts will remain available across the manufacturing lifetime, and that where necessary parts can be substituted.

Some of the PCB related tips included checking layout tool created Gerber files in a different viewer prior to sending off for manufacture — just to be doubly safe. And where supported by tools rendering the design to a 3D model to check for errors that may not be easily spotted with a 2D board plot. When it came to PCB manufacture, an example was provided showing how costs can vary wildly from one board house to another, and a strong case was made for paying the extra to have boards electrically tested.

Omer also briefly covered topics such as the manufacture of plastic enclosures, benefits of SMD assembly, testing and product certification.

Arduino Shield: From Design to Manufacturing

Sukkin Pang Presenting

Sukkin Pang built on the previous talk and led us step-by-step through the journey that he had taken in the design and manufacture of an Arduino CAN bus shield. Starting out with an introduction to CAN bus and providing the rationale behind design choices that had been made. Then proceeding to cover prototyping and initial testing via a CAN bus simulator, before moving on to describe live testing with a real car, and how he had to make use of a bus analyser to debug problems that surfaced at this stage in development.

In covering manufacture of the shield Sukkin told how hand assembly of SMD boards quickly became tedious, and explained the pros of cons of various outsourced manufacturing options.

Design and Build of Modular RepRap Electronics

Alan Wood Presenting

Where Sukkin covered the development of a commercial product, Alan Wood explained how a group of enthusiasts set about the task of designing and manufacturing electronics for their own use.

Determined to build their own 3D printers entirely from scratch and without using ready assembled PCBs, the Thames Valley RepRap User Group (TVRRUG) came to the conclusion that they had little option but to design a new set of RepRap control electronics — given that most constructors were hobbyists with only basic electronic skills this introduced certain constraints, such as the need to make use of through-hole technology. The group also decided upon a fully modular system which would be easier to debug and maintain, and whereby boards could be put to use in other applications with similar requirements, such as in a CNC milling machine or plasma cutter.


In the first talk of the evening we were told how manufacturing, even on a small scale, required you to “think different” to when you are constructing a one-off as a special, as part of research or as a hobby etc. And as the evening progressed this became very much apparent, as points that Omer had made were reinforced by the experiences of the two speakers that followed.

In the second talk we learnt how it is possible for a small business to bring a product to market with minimal resources, and were provided with an insight into some of the practical considerations and issues that may arise. Whilst the final talk of the evening went on to demonstrate how significant cost savings can be made by communities of interest collaborating on design and manufacture.

A common observation across all three talks was how the barriers to entry associated with manufacture are constantly being lowered. This can only be good news, and especially when you consider that it is increasingly being suggested that manufacturing could have a significant part to play in economic recovery.


With thanks to DesignSpark for sponsoring OSHUG No. 16!

Top three images copyright Rain Ashford. Above image copyright Andrew Back.

Open source (hardware and software!) advocate, Treasurer and Director of the Free and Open Source Silicon Foundation, organiser of Wuthering Bytes technology festival and founder of the Open Source Hardware User Group.

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