Been a busy few weeks here at Bleugh.Biz industries, working ridiculous hours at my day job, keeping kids from murdering each other during the evenings……But, i’ve been getting some good tinkering time in.
Some very good progress has been made! – and this is the board that’ll hopefully, finally, once and forever physically fit perfectly
Some Notable changes
Balls! – A revised J15 connection method that’ll provide a simple and very robust connection method
Spacings – The holes for the LED inserts have been altered a little to allow easier assembly. It’s still mildly fiddly but easy enough.
Fixtures – The J15 are has now two horizontal slices cut into it – this provides a spring mechanism for the balls. it helps to PCB distortion locally without warping all of the board from Next PCB to inserts
Holes – The whole board is now held with press fit type connection. The two screws holding the Next PCB are removed and replaced with two new ones. this holds the Blinkenator board to the next PCB and the Next PCB to the case. The two holes for the screws have been changed to 5mm!
Positions – The JST style connectors have been re-located and changed from Right angle to Vertical. Now the board’s mounted above the next board there’s plenty of space underneath. The path from the Arduino USB connector is now also free so you can tuck a cable into the board permanently
LED’s – Moar Bling! Each insert location now has a LED colour on the main board. No real purpose other than to look great and provide the end users with some assurance that the board is powered up when they do their first tests with a USB cable outside of the Next
ESP-01 – CPU_RST has been changed to a JST style connector to make ease of fitting. This whole feature is still highly experimental and may not make it into final production (if it doesn’t work, there’d be no point!)
Inserts – There’s now a 0.56mm gap between the jumpers – to fit a 0.6mm wide PCB!. makes a nice snug fit. and easy also to work with – simply trial fit once when you receive your board, that’ll loosen them up. remove and re-fit into the Next
Jumpers – Lots of experimental jumpers! GPIO to arduino, TX/RX to arduino, DB+ integration enabling / passthrough…….and some secret sauce also
THICKNESS – The board’s back to a phat 1.6mm thick. this provides significant stability to the jumpers that hold the inserts in place. Much easier to repeatedly get them soldered straight when assembling
Components – The whole board’s been rationalised for component price – and where possible using @JLCPCB’s BASIC library – that saves quite some amount in production prices as non Basic items incurr an engineering fee per component. Previously 3/4 the components were Extended, now 3/4 are Basic!
Silkscreen – Tidied up and made a bit more slick……..
I’m sure there’s a few more changes i’ve missed, but that’s the important stuff.
Where from here……….IF this last board plugs in, fits well, i’ll be sending out to the key Dev team. I can then kick back, relax a little and start again playing with the software side of things, Both Next side and Arduino side!.
I’ll eventually also need to consider switching over the whole board to SMT, or as much as possible. I’m not that daunted by this as there’s quite a number of ways this can be achieved, including just putting the 32U4 straight on-board, or considering changing the micro type entirely. After all, the main reason i’m using a 32u4 is that it’s cheap, Arduino compatible, has USB built in. All those things give a great ‘dev board’ capability that people can use to simply plug in and tweak!
A very talented Hans Liss from the Facebook group – TheC64 Mini has make a perfect assembled kit.
Drool over the photos below
Note the extras like the hacked up USB hub to make it slimline
The Extra UART connector that he’s added, and the nigh on perfect Keybaord keycap butchery!
Hans also helped by pointing out a few errors i’ve made with the original firmware sent out with the kits. I spent a couple of weeks figuring out how to fix it and have a new HEX file for those that want it.
There’s still some ‘not quite exactly commodore’ quirkery happening – which i’m working on, but i’ll bet that 99% of you won’t be able to figure it out. I’ve only found out due to Hans’s extensive knowledge of the C64 inner workings and also me, downloading the original user manual for the Commodore 64.
1- The Anycubic Photon Mono board is possibly capable of using a 4K LCD
also, i’ve spotted that Chitu systems sells an ESP8266 module specifically for their boards – it could be that Anycubic plans on selling their own, or just goofed up with the polarity of the header on the board!
And, finally, after all the above, that i’m going to publish anyway, i’ve also spotted
With a successful 2nd Kickstarter – The Spectrum Next will have between 8,000 and 9,000 users.
Lets Dream a little and imagine a Bright world where all the users have a Super LED Blinkenator 2000 installed….
9000 users = nearly 40,000 inserts to be made!.
lets say just 10% want the blinkenator, I still have to make nearly 1000 of the things.
I’ve been researching a little and identifying bottlenecks to SUCCESSFULLY produce and deliver my board in those quantities
There’s some scary numbers!
So, I’m now pressing forward with TWO designs. one design, the one you’re all familiar with, suitable for small time production in small batches here and there on my weekends, only ever endeavouring to sell maybe a 150 units ever
and the second, a ‘mass produced’ item that requires minimal ‘hands on’ time from me to deliver, but will require some significant outlay up front.
The pictures above are a first run result of my Design For Manufacture for the inserts….A different injection mould, possibly 2 parts, maybe 1 and using a flexible PCB!
some key notes……..
Advantage – no connector soldering needed on my part – currently I’m soldering 16 cheap ‘bridges’ to each main board. with this insert, someone will be soldering 8 SMT FPC style connectors
Advantage – it’s likely that this design will be easier to make ‘injection moulding’ manufacturable. the existing design is tricky, but not impossible
Advantage – FPC connectors are a bit more reliable and easier to use than my bridges for the end user
Advantage – FPC / flexible PCB ‘legs’ on the inserts will mean a little bit easier installation by the end user
Advantage – Uniformity of Light – This type of construction allows for a much thicker ‘top layer’ – which will diffuse the light far more. Also, more of the insert will be better lit up ‘from below’ rather than from the side that i’m currently doing.
Disadvantage – FPC connectors are more expensive
Disadvantage – Flexible PCB’s are more fragile
Disadvantage – Flexible PCB’s are more expensive than FR4 for small quantities, so prototyping ability is very limited. at The quantities I need though, there’s not that much difference
There’s more i’m sure, once the final numbers are ready, I can see if a kickstarter makes sense, it may not be financially viable if the whole thing needs to be sold at £80 each……
if I can get closer to that £50 mark, then who knows!
I’ve been updating the Dev group on facebook more regularly than here
Progress has been slow but constant!, the new Jumper method of getting the LED inserts to connect to the controller works well, if a little fiddly. I think there’s some changes I can make to allow for an easier installation experience.
A big milestone also – The BETA hardware is at such a point now that i’m happy to send it to the core Dev team for actual installation inside a Next….err, except they can’t have the bottoms on as the USB cable doesn’t fit, D’oh!, another re-design needed!
AND – software – My Arduino code’s finally quite stable – Also, from the Next side of things – the i2c code is great – it runs well at 14MHZ, allowing for some interesting sequences on 8 segments…..I’ll start uploading BASIC programs in the next month or two.
Also, a kind of fork in the road….
Throughout this project, I’ve had an end goal of maybe 5-10% of Next owners owning a Blinkenator. at 3000 Nexts, that’d be maybe 150-300 devices sold over a year or two, making my beer money fund quite happy
Things recently changed……and have made me realise that I’ll probably need to step up my game a little…..
Means that now, there’s over 8000 Nexts in the wild!.
Assuming the same targets, I’d now need to manufacture between 400 and 800 devices…
May not sound much – but at a top level, for just 800 units…….that means some big numbers…..
sourcing 3,200 Plastic inserts….
Sourcing 26,000 LED’s
and with big numbers comes Big Money….and long lead times.
IF someone landed me with an order for 800 Blinkenators tomorrow, at (say) 45 minutes per board, I’d need 600 hours to complete the order.
I have a day job that demands my attention for 160 hours a month. Wife and kids that demand me for a further 80 hours a month…then there’s the whole sleeping and eating thing..
It’d take me a year to be able to fulfil that order 😛
So, the fork in the road……….I may need to do my own Kickstarter!
I’m investigating larger scale manufacture – Full PCBA including through hole, better DFM and Plastic Injection moulding.
All that costs big up front ££…..hence the Kickstarter………is my 5-10% adoption figure massively optimistic. Is it woefully inadequate?
To have any chance at a successful Kickstarter, I need to turn this hobbyist , good quality (7/10, could do better) project into a slicker experience, a better presented finish and professionally produced, not at my dining room table package that would obtain a Crash Smash award, a solid 9.5/10 experience. I KNOW I’m capable of creating the hardware (i’ll learn the software). I’m genuinely uncertain at this time if I would be able to DELIVER that package.
Saying that, I know my limitations, I have a grasp of the fundamentals and i’m costed to the penny for small batches.
Extrapolating that upwards and figuring out where costs stand for different adoption rates is my focus now the BETA 1 boards are ready.
If 30% of Next owners buy this thing, that’s 1800 hours of ‘work’ to do. That’s a FULL TIME JOB!!
scary isn’t it. I have to create budgets that allow for an employee!!
A funny story about multi sourcing components and the importance of testing before shipping!
I used a supplier on Aliexpress to purchase a few thousand switches in a few orders over a few months but their prices went up quite drastically after the last order (doubled!!) they weren’t the cheapest to start with but were reliable and friendly, worth the extra ££
I found another supplier who did a good deal for a full bag of 4000! Ordered them and waited, very quick delivery and friendly also (will buy again!)
I built my first test new keyboard with the new PCB and switches
It didn’t work. Well, actually, it did! Work perfectly…but in reverse :-p …..
If you mashed every key simultaneously then only released the key you want to press….it worked!! Yeah, the supplier sent me 4000 ‘inverted’ switches! My fault for not checking prior to ordering, they ‘look the same’ so ‘must be the same’ was a wrong assumption on my part! (At least they all weren’t the shift lock type!!)
It’s a VERY easy fix though (found after several panicked hours of testing and building Keyboards)…rotate the switch 180 degrees and it’s perfect!
In each kit I’ve included a small errata note and list of basic instructions to help. It’s an annoyance but for you guys it really just means the silk screen doesn’t quite match the switch orientation so just ask first. Look at the pictures and of any doubt, email/messenger/twitter/Reddit me 🙂
Some quick steps right now – photos to follow.. Suggest have two tabs open, this one and the other PICTURES tab for reference
Some videos are up on youtube also
SUMMARY- SOLDER PARTS ONLY IN THIS ORDER
Cut one leg shorter on the diodes – Use scissors . About 1-1.5cm is good
bend the short leg side to a right angle
Note the orientation of the diode – The F Key diodes have a diode picture on them. The white bar matches the location of the black bar on the diode.
put diode in holes and bend slightly to lock in
repeat for all diodes
Solder all diodes
clip the excess legs back
you have a few spare diodes so don’t be afraid to experiment on one or two to get the right bend / fit
Probably best to solder these in now before you forget
I’ve found it useful to PLACE the arduino on the headers (DO NOT SOLDER YET) so it keeps the headers parallel
Make sure the black part of the headers is on the underside of the PCB
Solder one pin of each header
SWITCHES – STEP 1, JUST TACKING IN PLACE
Pay attention to orientation
don’t worry about straightening the switches at this stage, the goal is to just ‘tack’ them in with a single solder blob to hold them in place. They can be wonky, it doesn’t matter.
DO NOT SOLDER MORE THAN 1 PIN OF EACH SWITCH IN ONE GO
The switches are easily heat damaged – they become ‘sticky’ and no longer move smoothly if the plastic is melted due to excessive heat. During the entire soldering procedure for the switches, do ONE leg, move to the next switch. when all are done, move back to the first switch and repeat.
I’ve damaged only 2 switches this way soldering the prototypes but it can happen if you’re not careful
Note that the white part of each switch is asymetrical. One side has a ‘dip’ / inset which guides the switch up and down. the other side is smooth
there’s a marking on the PCB to represent this dip / inset.
ALL switches go the same way
Get a sheet of paper
Insert the top row of switches into the PCB
Place PCB on sheet of paper and fold paper over the top, tightly
flip the PCB over
hopefully all the switches stay in place
Solder just ONE leg of each switch – any one – say the top right
Repeat for Row 2
DO NOT FORGET TO SOLDER THE ARDUINO HEADERS IN PLACE
Repeat for Row 3
DO NOT FORGET TO SOLDER THE ARDUINO HEADERS IN PLACE
Repeat for for row 4
(Hopefully you didn’t forget to solder the Arduino headers in place?)
and finally the space bar
SWITCHES – STEP 2, Straightening
This is probably the most important step to getting a good looking keyboard with all the switches aligned. Spend some time getting this right, you have a handful of ‘spare’ switches so now’s the time to make mistakes and fix them whilst there’s only a single solder blob on them
I’ll post a few videos shortly but there’s a technique.
Hold the board in the air
Use your index finger to push in, and slightly down on each switch whilst soldering the previous blob. The goal is to move the whole switch slightly so that it’s slightly at the top, or the bottom of its footprint.
when you melt the solder whilst pushing in and down, the switch will move slightly, sometimes you’ll hear a little click or snap as the solder melts
repeat this for each switch, pushing in and down slightly – when you look at the final position, there’ll be some of the pad visible at the top of each switch
NOW IS THE TIME TO TEST EACH SWITCH FOR SMOOTH MOVEMENT
of the 5 keyboards i’ve soldered, I’ve had two defective switches, this is partly the reason why there’s a few extras in the kit
of the 5 keyboards i’ve soldered, I’ve broken 3 switches by either over-heating, or trying to remove after putting them in backwards. unless you’ve got a hot air gun, they’re tricky to remove intact, hence check NOW whilst there’s only one solder blob!
When you get close to one side of the keyboard, you’ll have to fiddle a bit to keep pushing the switches in the same direction. I’ve found that changing technique a little and ‘flip’ the board lengthwise works. hold the board against yourself and use your thumb to pull the switch down instead of push
repeat the alignment technique for ALL switches!
SWITCHES – STEP 3, Final soldering
This is the easy / relaxing bit!
DO NOT SOLDER MORE THAN ONE LEG OF EACH SWITCH AT A TIME
do it by rows, clusters, however works for you, but here’s what worked for me
Solder ONE pad of each switch, then move to the next
once all switches are done, start from the beginning
Solder another pad, etc etc
A SMALL CHEAT – You only actually need to solder 3 points. Two on the ‘bottom’ of the switch – these are the electrical contacts. ONE on the ‘top’ – this is for mechanical stability. As you look at the keyboard, the bottom two pins are the important electrical ones. Pick any on the top
on my prototype, I found soldering all 6 pins tiring, so on my second version I just soldered 3 and it worked perfect. Up to you, but DONT SOLDER MORE THAN 1 PIN AT A TIME
Note the orientation of the Arduino by the Small USB socket and a mark on the PCB. Also the silk screen on the PCB will match the letters on the Arduino.
these need a little more heat to solder to the pins
BEFORE this point (or, worst case, at this point) I’d highly recommend you clean the keyboard thoroughly and go, purchase some clearcote / clear lacquer. I haven’t done it yet but will be spraying my next keyboard to get some longevity on the text and paint……...
The mould’s quite bubbly and not really useful for much other than being a support…But, if done with more care – who knows!, Maybe C64Mini Chocolate keyboards?
Next step, Power Tools!
Still not entirely sure if it’s even possible to quickly and repeatedly butcher the C64Mini’s keyboard reliably with good quality.
For doing your own / one off’s, this step, you can take as long as you want. if you plan on doing a few though, taking a day or two individually dremmeling out the keys isn’t my idea of fun.
I do have a CNC – so, worst case I’ll have to learn how to actually use it, then I’d just need to make a protective jig, sit the keyboard on and just CNC the keys out. I’m not really in the mood to spend a few weekends firing that workflow up yet
The Angle grinder wasn’t really a success…..The blade’s too small and the sanding is going to be too uneven. There’s no way this will work .
Ok, first thoughts, it seems to work, abeit slowly and with making my hand a bit sore….
At this point, I figured if I use something soft and large, I could hold the keyboard in place and sand it without hurting my hands so much…..
Puzzled over this one for quite a while till I looked down……..
Found an incredibly inefficient lawn cutting method! – Orbital sanding
Seems to have done the trick!…Pressing down into the grass holds the keyboard in place and also helps resist the vibration of the sander, making it sand more efficiently…………Win Win….Also i’ll patent pend using oribital sanders for domestic grass management.
I moved to another bit of the lawn to avoid totally destroying a good bit of the grass…….I found that sanding till you can see the blacks of its eyes…….the lines between the keys seems to work well. At this step, you’ll want to remove as much material as possible to avoid so much processing / sanding later on
Do resist the urge to twist / remove the keys, try to let them come out almost by themselves
At this point I’d realised that an average household lawn is actually quite abrasive..Have a look at the whiteness of the edges of the keys!
Oops! – ah well, this is why i’m experimenting, so you don’t have to. I’m going to run with the theme though -these keys look a bit battle worn now, no going back so i’ll probably add a similar theme to my C64mini case 🙂 will be good to relive the old days of creating scenery and my Warhammer 40,000 airbrushing . never really did play it, just enjoyed hacking up the plastics……..Anyways…
Keep sanding, get as much material off as you can (it will save a LOT of time later)
Once you’ve got them all separated, make sure to lay them all out in order so you can admire all the keyboardy keycappy goodness that’s resulted from the dismemberment of an innocent miniature recreation of an 80’s 8 bit home computer.
Now, go spending several hours in the garden trying to find the most commonly used letter in the English alphabet!
I’d neglected to factor in the ability of these tiny keycaps to fling themselves a considerable distance in various directions whilst being vibrated several hundred times per second.
Suffice to say, if you’re doing the same thing, try to do it in a location where the floors relatively clean and uncluttered
A colourblind person trying to find a brown keycap in a green lawn that’s not too long, but just long enough to expose the also brown ground beneath……..Yeah, not fun.
After an HOUR of searching though………………..Eeeeeeee….A full keyboard
Next step – post processing. Removing supports.
This step i’d say is the most important. Sand down a bit the bottom and curves of each key. Get rid of all the burrs, bits, etc. you won’t get much of a chance to do this once they’re stuck. Spend a lot of time on this, cleaning each key, just getting it ‘right’
Once your keys are all looking great and sanded, smooth – arrange them again into a the keyboard layout. Then, one by one, transfer them into the mould.
you’ll wanna make sure you get this part right 😛
I did them line by line, starting left to right. I also had taken a picture of the keyboard prior to refer to. Check twice, place once……………
Now i’ve realised that I haven’t actually considered how to stick these things in! – i’ll need to go research glue, D’oh! gotta pause this for another week of research and buying bits
Did an attempt at a jig to make hacking up your own keyboard just a little easier….
it’s fairly easy to hack up the existing keyboard into bits….(get hacky thingy, cutty thingy, hack, cut…maybe smooth off burrs if you’re feeling artsy)
Getting the brand new hacked up bits of plastic that once looked like a keyboard to sit straight on the switches and resemble the previous keyboard resemblance …..not so much.
Turns out that making things ‘straight’ is hard……..so, some ideas
3D design and print new keycaps with locking mechanisms that work with my chosen keyswitches (still onging, it’s been MONTHS of work)
My first other idea…….. create a form to fill with plaster of paris, press the plastic full keyboard into that form, leave to set…
Remove keyboard and admire a perfect negative image of the keyboard.
Two things that could be done with this
Use that plaster of paris as a form to create resin keycaps (without any lettering) – I’m working on that!
second – it can be used as a perfect ‘form’ to sit the newly butchered keycaps in, fill with epoxy glue, sit keyboard PCB on top and let the keycaps become glued on, all nice and straight like!
it’s fairly easy to export the keyboard PCB outline from EasyEDA as a DXF then import to Fusion, extrude and…voila!
But…There’s an ever so tiny mistake in the image above
That’s the printed version…The holes line up great!
Yeah, the keyboard should be face down!, D’oh!
i’ll see if the snips’ll work
The other thing….
Fits like a glove….
Nice and snug – Note the top row of keys is level…..
Some small design work needed but the idea has promise!. I just need to re-jig the hole widths a little to accommodate the angle of the keyboard better!
I’ve purchased another couple of C64 Minis so that I can improve this jig more. I’m not quite certain where the keys will ‘fall’ once they’re seperated from the base of the plastic moulding.
The more I think about it, i’m thinking that there could be a shedload more work in this jig – one ‘saving grace’ though – due to the way injection moulding works – there’s a slight taper on the existing fake switches. And, I suspect that the rear of them has been modded so that they’re almost perpendicular to the base. this will help the whole mould ‘pop off’ the injection machine…
That also helps me with this jig as it really means that, at the base of the keys, all the keys seem to have the same uniform rear rising, almost perpendicular taper and front curving taper. kinda like the below diagram
That could turn the whole change into just re-extruding the jig key holes at the 8 degree angle of the keyboard as above……..