Hello from Scottsdale, Arizona, where it is 93 degrees out at midnight!
We started our morning in Grants, New Mexico and set out for HeatSync Labs, in Mesa, Arizona. We had enough time before the meetup that we managed to do something touristy! We spent a couple hours winding our way through Petrified Forest National Park. It was incredible. The scenery in the American southwest is absolutely jaw-dropping.
We rolled into Mesa a few minutes before 7pm to find our friend & former housemate Sondy hanging out in front of HeatSync Labs. HeatSync is located in a retail area in downtown Mesa. It's one of very few hackerspaces we've seen over the past few weeks that gets foot traffic.
HeatSync is a long hackerspace. The way Prescott Ogden, our tour guide, described it was that it goes from clean to dirty. At the front of the space are some worktables, a wall of microcontrollers, a few workstations, a projector and a couple 3D printers. As you work your way back through the space, you move through the electronics area into the lasercutting area. From there, you enter the machine shop, which has everything from CNC mills to a lens-grinding setup.
Upstairs, there's a recording studio, which doubles as a camera obscura. It's super cool. Our photography really doesn't do it justice.
All in all, they've managed to cram an amazing amount of stuff into a relatively cozy space with a really nice feel.
One absolutely unique feature HeatSync has is an 'Emergency Death Metal' button. It does what you think it does. Press the button and the whole space vibrates with 30 seconds of ear-splitting death metal. We're told that the button just generates an HTTP request to a Raspberry Pi server which actually controls the overbuilt sound system. So far, nobody has remotely triggered the button over the internet...
Andrew Crawford, who invited us to come to HeatSync in the first place, brought along a Matias TactilePro keyboard and a brand new, never-before-typed-on vintage IBM M-series buckling spring keyboard. It felt really, really nice. While you can still buy new keyboards made with IBM's old tooling, they really don't make them like they used to.
One of the things we got asked about tonight was about where we're manufacturing the Model 01. While we've gotten a whole bunch of bids from manufacturers, we made the decision not to lock in a contract with any one factory or contract manufacturer before the Kickstarter campaign. We didn't know whether we were going to sell 500 keyboards or 5000. Just about every aspect of production depends on the volumes a product is being produced in. The techniques we used to make a single prototype Model 01 weren't the most efficient way to make 20 prototype Model 01s. (For making one Model 01, we CNC milled the keycaps and all the metal plates. For making 20, lasers and vacuum molding were more efficient.)
Wherever possible, we'll be choosing to work with partners who care deeply about what we're making together. We've gotten the same advice about picking manufacturing partners from numerous folks with a lot more experience than us: "If you can't meet with the factory's boss, you don't want to be there. If the boss doesn't care about your business, things won't go well." It's common sense, really. If you're not an important customer, somebody else is. And nobody in their right mind is going to prioritize an unimportant customer over an important one.
There are factories in all sorts of places that will be a good fit for the Model 01 at the scale it looks like we'll be manufacturing at. Depending on the size of the initial production run, it may make sense to do everything in the US, everything in China, or everything in Taiwan. Manufacturing in the US would make us very happy--being at most a few timezones from your factory can make problems easier to resolve and makes it a lot easier for us to spent a lot of time on the assembly line working with the folks who are making the Model 01. The maple we're likely to use comes from North American forests, too. Manufacturing in China is not without its advantages--most of the electrical components we'll be using are already made there and China's extensive manufacturing infrastructure and culture gives us lots and lots of flexibility. If we're looking for a partner with decades of experience building high-quality mechanical keyboards, Taiwan is hard to beat--they've been at this a long time and have deep experience building what we're making.
The way it will probably shake out is that we'll be doing some parts of the production in the US and some parts of it abroad. PCB fabrication, assembly and testing almost certainly make sense to do in China or Taiwan. The keycap plastics are probably best done in China or Taiwan (and probably need to be done in the same place as the PCB assembly). The maple enclosures, on the other hand, will likely be made somewhere in North America. That's where we'll probably be getting the wood, and shipping it half-way around the world to mill is not the most efficient plan. Another reason that the wood milling is likely to be done closer to home is the result of a cautionary tale from a friend's production catastrophe--if we were to mill the wood in a very warm, wet climate like they have in Taiwan or southern China, and then bring it somewhere cold and dry like, say, Minnesota in February, it might not hold up so well. The reverse, we've been told, tends to go much better.
Tomorrow, we'll be in Las Vegas. It'll be a small crowd and we had a bit of trouble finding a suitable hackerspace to host us, so we're hoping to squeeze everybody into the Pinball Hall of Fame. If we outgrow that space, we’ll go across the street to the Badger Cafe. (Three of our parents are alums of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, the home of Bucky Badger.)
As of tonight, 1,266 backers have pledged $387,160. Today, we drove 363 miles, bringing our total trip mileage to 5561.
Over the past couple days of driving, we've been listening to 11/22/63 by Stephen King. It's more weird time travel story than typical Stephen King horror. At least so far.