So what has been happening since the last Kickstarter update? Admittedly it has been a long time since news was last shared. The fact that the new keyboard membrane design had been physically tested (Industrial Design scrutiny) and functionally tested was a huge step out of the mire.
The resultant prototypes that emerged and were tested demonstrated a viable way forwards for the keyboard. Everything was now in place ready for actual keyboard production. In the case of these keyboard prototypes, they were hand made and assembled. Once approval was sent to our keyboard partner, pilot production was triggered.
Pilot production represents the creation of the necessary tooling for mass production and the subsequent production of a “test run”. A limited number of keyboards to prove that the tooling and the various build stages produce a product which matches that which was signed off.
For proving correct functionality they will test the end results using two methods. One is a machine that tests all lines in the membrane itself and the other is the use of an actual Next running keyboard testing software. This effectively instructs an operator to press a certain key X number of times and reports the success and failure rate. This is done for every key on every keyboard in the pilot production run.
Once these pilot units have completed their testing in China, they will be shipped over to the UK whereby everything being satisfactory, approval will be given to press the big GO button.
The hope is that these units will emerge around the last week of August.
The case for the Next has been sitting in limbo for quite some time now. Whilst we deliberated over matters of the keyboard, all work on the case ceased and the moulds were kept in storage. Should the keyboard have demanded an alteration to the case then the moulds would have been brought out, loaded and modified. It costs money each time this has to be done and so modifications were always grouped as much as possible to minimise this.
No pilot production could take place to test the “mass” production capabilities of the moulds and injection processes until the keyboard was finalised. No pilot production could take place until our case partner and Industrial Designer had a finished keyboard as a final solid reference. Both parts coming together finally.
Now of course this has happened and our case partner has kicked off an activity to produce a pilot batch of cases, in much the same way as for the keyboard. Again these cases will be validated as they have been throughout the process, since we started at the T0 sample in the middle of 2018. Seriously that ago…
In addition to the above, now that all of the pieces are in place, it has been a question of firming up the assembly process (and costings) that will be undertaken by SMS. They plan every aspect of the assembly in great detail and need to understand every factor.
How will the cases arrive, will the legs be fitted, how are the coloured plugs fitted, will the buttons be fitted, will the blanking plates be fitted, will the light pipe be fitted. What kind of validation do they need to perform on each part. How does each part fit together. This process was started long ago but could never be truly completed as the slightest alteration in a part (e.g. adding a new keyboard connector to the mix), or a decision on whether to assemble the case and keyboard in China, or in the UK adds or removes work from their remit, or adds a new step. Once everything was fully understood, this work resumed and a final assembly bid quotation was produced (and signed off I might add).
Specific quotations were given for the build of each of the three cased models, the base, the plus and the accelerated, and of course soldering in 3000 2 way flex tail connectors which will be performed during the assembly.
SMS have the boards, the PSU’s (already placed into their black boxes to match the box fitments), the Raspberry Pi’s, the SD cards. Once the cases and keyboards arrive, there is no missing element anymore. It just moves into the area of logistics and supplying Next boxes and shipping boxes to match the rate of production. Then shipping them out to the patient backers. There will of course be a SpecNext representation there, we want to get our hands dirty and help out with testing!
Thanks again to the many members who make up the team working on the Next in all aspects. Firmware, software, hardware and other kinds of ware.
Thanks again to the many backers (myself included) who are still with us (just). It will get there.
I truly believe that no crowd funded project could ever achieve so much without the community, who have risen up and are now helping to carry it over the finish line. With added bells, whistles and tons of polish.
Thanks also to SMS. Smart Made Simple is definitely what we needed and we would be seriously lost without their constant input and guidance.
PS I believe the manual will be coming soon. All good things! (special nod to Phoebus on this one).