What it Took to Make the Octopart PCB Reference Card

Last week our crowdfunding partner CrowdSupply shipped our Octopart PCB Reference Cards to backers from our successful campaign. Below is the letter to our backers by Star Simpson who did an incredible job designing and manufacturing the cards. They’re now available for purchase from CrowdSupply.

pcb_reference_actual

Hello backers!

By now most of you should have received your card or at least the shipping confirmation from Octopart with details about the shipment. It’s been a long journey to get here. We’re going to discuss a little bit about what happened, and what it took to get these cards out the door. Also a bit of an explanation about our more-or-less silence up to this point.

Believe it or not, this project started more than a year ago — well before most of you met us — and from the first sketches and design, all the way to manufacturing, there have been adventures at every turn.

What you have (or soon will have) in your hands is the most compact representation of the resistor color-code chart that has been made, to date. The SMT part footprint side has no less attention to detail, with a copper under layer beneath the Octopart logo helping it to stand out. You’ll also note that we went to great lengths to use a readable font for the legend on the board — not just any stock program’s font, here.

With this design in hand, we went to rather great lengths to ensure that what we’d put together was in fact, manufacturable. Just as soon as the design was mostly complete, we talked to screen-printers to ensure we could find a partner who would be able to work with us on executing this vision. We thought we found the perfect ones, and were in close to constant contact with them starting as soon as design was done, and leading into the crowdfunding project.

With all the pieces in place (PCB manufacturer, screen printer) and a process designed (completed PCB panels shipped to the screen printer, printing, then shipment back to the board house), we thought we were ready to go with the crowdfunding campaign. The campaign funded incredibly quickly (thank you!) and so we had the confidence to go ahead, and begin fabrication before the campaign had even finished — with an eye for hitting our ship dates in December.

Excitement prevailed when we unboxed the first PCB panel, a sample run from the board manufacturer. We duly took this to the screen-printer with a growing sense of glee, so that they would be able to examine the material and test their prints on it. They said it looked great, so we triggered the full order of PCB panels. This is when we hit the snag that would ultimately delay our delivery for nearly 4 months — the screen-printers realized they would not, in fact, be able to get their inks to stick to the panels. (The mismatch in process steps here is striking — at first the screen-printers had actually refused to do a sample run, but after much cajoling they agreed to. In the meantime, we also were convinced that we were nearly ready to print on the full run, and went ahead with the order, not wanting to hold things up.)

So, this was a rough patch. We ended up calling basically every screen-printer in the entire Bay Area at this point (because the job is somewhat unusual, it seemed valuable to start out trying to reach someone whom we could directly speak to in person if necessary). Many of these folks just hung up the phone, while a few were good enough to consider the job extensively before saying no. At this point, despair began to set in.

Things were looking pretty bleak, actually, at the point of our last update. We were no longer certain that our demands of the manufacturing world were feasible, or reasonable. In fact, it is due to that update that we were able to pull through. With deep thanks to Daniel, a backer who read that post and suggested we get in touch with an industrial printer in Milwaukee with a digital printing machine that could work with the variety of colors we needed to apply to our card, and who introduced us to RSP, Inc. Without Daniel, and without RSP, our project would not now be done.

We sent a test panel their way and received back a sample, perfectly registered, with test inks on the back. They looked great. Subsequently, the rest of the time was spent moving the extremely heavy package of PCB panels back to the board house where they were milled down to the final size, and then furnished to the printer. The printers shipped these final units back to Crowd Supply, who with great speed packaged and mailed them to you, whose hands this card now rests in.

May it be your constant companion and aid you when you need it. Deepest thanks to all of our faithful backers.