A Look at the WhiteFox and Producing a Custom Board
I understand it’s easy to be upset about delays when there’s no insight into the decision making process, but it makes me sad for people like Matt3o and the team at Input Club whenever someone makes a post somewhere about how it must be greed or incompetence behind every decision or delay. With that in mind, we want to give some transparency to how custom projects work and how little things can cause pretty big delays. I highly suggest reading the following links to see the level of passion and dedication that Matt3o puts into his projects. http://matt3o.com/whitefox-the-making-of/, https://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=77434.0.
For a lot of people the White Fox might have been their first custom kit keyboard and with it, the ‘waiting game’. In the age of Amazon the online shopping experience has been streamlined to as low as 2 hours in some places. It’s understandable that there would be some confusion about how a keyboard could take months to show up at their door.
Typically when you buy something online it’s a product that exists somewhere already. Sitting in a warehouse waiting for a robot to swing by and put it on a truck that then heads out to your house. It’s a mostly automated process and just involves transporting an item from point A to point B. The months or years of product development and sample testing to get to mass production is something of the past for that specific product.
For a community created product on Massdrop, one of the defining features is ‘design by community’ so that actual buyers get to have input on the development and features. This means as a buyer you get to see the process from conception to production. All the incremental steps in design, back and forth decisions, quotes from manufacturers, redesigns, requotes, lining up production with several facilities in multiple countries, sourcing materials, etc.
The following is a very truncated timeline for the WhiteFox to give you all an idea on all the steps, problems, and decisions that were made or encountered along the way.
All told there were about 3 months of delays by the end of it. How do we minimize that going forward? Mostly, it comes down to having processes that are fully tested and optimized for real world mass production. That step is taken care of now. We are also going to remove the least popular layouts, Winkeyless and Jack of All Trades. The top three of the existing layouts accounted for 90% of the orders and having less configurations will help streamline the entire process. We are also going to pack the PCB a bit more securely to avoid any possible damages incurred in transit.
Also, based on feedback from the community there will be a few simple changes in the next run including square LED’s and semi-circular rubber feet.
Which brings me to the last point; thanks everyone. We know it’s been a journey and the discussion has gotten a little heated at times, but you’re all great and without you we wouldn’t be able to make the fun projects like this. A few years ago a project like this wouldn’t have even been possible, and it is only through patient and enthusiastic people like yourselves that dreams such as the WhiteFox can be made a reality.
I’m sure there’s still questions which we’ll try to answer, so ask em if you got em. Otherwise, thank you for your patience and support through it all and enjoy your WhiteFox.
- 2011-2014: Matt3o designs and builds the prototypes for the Steely/Brownfox, and the Elf board
- Early 2014: Matt3o begins interest checking for a group build of his new unnamed keyboard based on his previous designs with a blank pcb and the parts to solder yourself
- Mid 2014 - early 2015: Matt3o and Input Club talk about how to make a programmable version of his keyboard with the Infinity firmware
- Early/Mid 2015: Andrew Lekashman and Massdrop begin lending a hand with manufacturing and prototyping.
- Several PCB facilities all being tested for the ability to make a white PCB within the tolerances needed
- A lot of meh results and a lot of revisions
- Case redesigns a plenty
- Begin designing new keycaps
- Mid/Late 2015: Keycap samples
- Reached out to PBT keycap manufacturer to make a prototype dye sub set
- Denied repeatedly until we finally were able to get a set made
- Disappointing quality and then our contact disappeared
- Had to find another keycap maker that could do dyesub
- Found someone willing to buy all the tooling needed to create the White Fox set
- The sample looked great. Thumbs up all around
- All designs and samples complete with lead time and estimates from manufacturers/suppliers
- December 2015: Drop launches on Massdrop
- 3 month lead time on all the parts with some buffer.
- Should be good for April delivery
- Existing Keycap Vendor goes dark and an alternate is found
- January 2016: Improving Ergonomics
- Reworked case to be shorter, allow for rubber feet, tilt and compatibility with High Profile keycaps
- Had to scrap all existing height specifications and redesign and prototype a majority of the case
- +2 weeks
- New keycap samples show up.
- Dye sublimation is just “all right”, alignment is a little off
- Went back and forth looking into why the dye sub was so bad only to discover the dimensions were loading incorrectly
- +4 weeks to retool everything, send a sample from China to New Jersey to Italy, get approval, and proceed.
- February 2016: Chinese New Years is especially long
- Everything is shut down longer than expected
- Just have to wait it out
- +2 weeks
- March 2016: Plate issues
- Discover two issues with the plates
- Scratches. Lots of them. Many plates need to be redone
- +2 weeks
- One of the layouts is completely wrong due to a file conversion error affecting stabilizer placement.
- +2 weeks to remake the entire batch